03 June 2009

The Bread Of Life

From the Gospel of Saint John (6:44-52)
No man can come to Me, except the Father, Who has sent Me, draw him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught of God. Everyone that has heard of the Father, and has learned, comes to Me. Not that any man has seen the Father; but He Who is of God, He has seen the Father. Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believes in Me, has everlasting life. I am the Bread of Life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the Bread which comes down from heaven; that if any man eats of it, he may not die. I am the living Bread which came down from heaven. If any man eats of this Bread, he shall live for ever; and the Bread that I will give, is My Flesh, for the life of the world.

A Homily by Saint Augustine
How are we to solve this question, “No man can come unto Me, except the Father, Who has sent Me, draw him”? If he is drawn, says someone, he comes unwillingly. If he comes unwillingly, then he believes not; but if he believes not, neither does he come. For we do not run to Christ on foot, but by believing; nor is it by a motion of the body, but by the inclination of the heart that we draw near to Him. Do not think that you are drawn against your will. The mind is drawn also by love. Nor should we be afraid. I say it is not enough to be drawn by the will; you are drawn even by delight. What is it to be drawn by delight? “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” There is a pleasure of the heart to which that Bread of heaven is sweet. If it was right in the poet to say, “Every man is drawn by his own pleasure,” -- not necessity, but pleasure; not obligation, but delight -- how much more boldly should we say that a man is drawn to Christ when he delights in the truth, when he delights in blessedness, delights in righteousness, delights in everlasting life, all of which Christ is?

But what is this, “Whom the Father shall draw,” when Christ Himself draws? Why did He say, “Whom the Father shall draw”? Let us, brethren, turn our minds to, and, as far as we can, apprehend how He would have us understand it. The Father draws to the Son those who believe in the Son, because they consider that God is His Father. For God begot the Son equal to Himself, so that he who ponders, and in his faith feels and muses that He on Whom he has believed is equal to the Father, this same is drawn of the Father to the Son. One whom the Father has drawn says: “You are Christ, Son of the living God.” Not as a prophet, not as John, not as some great and just man, but as the only, the equal, “You are Christ, Son of the living God.” See that he was drawn, and drawn by the Father. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father Who is in heaven.” This revealing is itself the drawing.

“Amen, amen, I say unto you, he that believes in Me, has everlasting life.” He willed to reveal Himself, what He was: He might have said in brief, He that believes in Me has Me. For Christ is Himself true God and eternal life. Therefore, he that believes in Me, He says, goes into Me; and he that goes into Me, has Me. But what is the meaning of "to have me"? To have eternal life! Eternal Life took death upon itself; Eternal Life willed to die; but for you, not of itself; for you it received that whereby it may die on your behalf. Of men, indeed, He took Flesh, but yet not in the manner of men. For having His Father in heaven, He chose a Mother on earth. Accordingly, Life took upon itself death, that Life might slay death. “For he that believes in Me,” He says, “has eternal life." Eternal Life gave eternal life also to the flesh which it assumed. He came to die; but on the third day He rose again. Between the Word taking Flesh and the Flesh rising again, death which came between was consumed.

“I am,” He says, “the Bread of Life.” And what was the source of their pride? “Your fathers,” He says, “did eat manna in the desert, and are dead.” What is it you are proud of? “They ate manna, and are dead.” Why did they eat and die? Because they believed that which they saw; what they saw not, they did not understand. Moses ate manna, Aaron ate manna, and many ate manna, who were pleasing to the Lord, and they are not dead. Why? Because they understood the visible food spiritually, hungered spiritually, tasted spiritually, that they might be filled spiritually. For even we at this day receive visible Food: but the sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the sacrament another. How many do receive at the altar and die, and die indeed by receiving? Whence the apostle says, “Eats and drinks judgment to himself.” It was not the mouthful given by the Lord that was the poison to Judas. And yet he took it; and when he took it, the enemy entered into him: not because he received an evil thing, but because he received a good thing in an evil way. See, then, brethren, that you eat the heavenly Bread in a spiritual sense; bring innocence to the altar. Though your sins are daily, at least let them not be deadly.

“This is the Bread which comes down from heaven.” Manna signified this Bread; God's altar signified this Bread. Those were sacraments. In the signs they were diverse; in the thing which was signified they were alike. The real Christ is in the Word and in Flesh. “This is the Bread which comes down from heaven, that if any man eats of it, he shall not die.” But this is what belongs to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; he that eats within, not without; who eats in his heart, not who presses with his teeth.

“I am the living Bread, which came down from heaven.” Living, because I came down from heaven. The manna also came down from heaven; but the manna was only a shadow, this is the Truth. “If any man eats this Bread, he shall live for ever: and the Bread that I will give is My Flesh, for the life of the world.” When did flesh comprehend this Flesh which He called Bread? “Is My Flesh,” He says, “for the life of the world.” Believers know the Body of Christ, if they neglect not to be the Body of Christ. Let them become the Body of Christ, if they wish to live by the Spirit of Christ. None lives by the Spirit of Christ but the Body of Christ. Understand, my brethren, what I mean to say. You are a man; you have both a spirit and a body. I call that a spirit which is called the soul; that whereby it consists that you are a man, for you consist of soul and body. And so you have an invisible spirit and a visible body. Tell me which lives by the other: does your spirit live by your body, or your body by your spirit? Every man that lives can answer. My body, of course, lives by my spirit. Would you, then, also live by the Spirit of Christ. Be in the Body of Christ. For surely my body does not live by your spirit. My body lives by my spirit, and your body by your spirit. The Body of Christ cannot live but by the Spirit of Christ. It is for this that the Apostle Paul, expounding this Bread, says: “One Bread,” he says, “we being many are one Body.” O mystery of piety! O sign of unity! O bond of charity! He that would live knows where to live. Let him draw near, let him believe; let him be embodied, that he may be made to live. Let him be a fair, fit, and sound member; let him cleave to the Body, live for God by God: now let him labor on earth, that hereafter he may reign in heaven.