Our salvation is brought to us by God’s grace, but it is maintained by our cooperation. We are all aware of this – left to ourselves we can’t obtain eternal life in heaven – only by God’s gift can we enter our home. However, it isn’t a free ride – St Paul tells the Philippians and us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. St James tells us in his letter: “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him.” In today’s second reading St Paul tells the Ephesians: “that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
We are called to participate in our own salvation, our action is required. In short God calls us home to Himself but He never said it would be an easy trip. Our fallen nature makes us look for the easy way – as today’s first reading from Exodus highlights. The Jews, being freed from slavery under the Egyptians by God, look back to their subjugated, but comparatively easy, life as the better way than walking forward with God through tough times. “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” they lamented.
Throughout our history mankind would rather live in the squalor and darkness of sin because it is easy; then try to move forward into the loving embrace of our God; because that takes work, brings the pain of self-awareness and radical personal improvement, and calls us to feel for others. But ultimately, we must endure the desert of our fallen lives and the journey through it to our real life with our Creator. There is no other way.
However, today’s Gospel highlights we are not called to endure our journey through our desert alone. God walks with us. Christ, Himself, stands with us; indeed He feeds us with His Body and Blood. We have the gift of divine nourishment to strengthen us on our way. It just takes our self-surrender to the loving help God.
“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus tells us. Have faith, take what I give you; trust it will be enough – for it is. All we have to do is open the eyes of our hearts and see what is taking place on this Altar at every Mass; see the gift from God. When we do, never will we have to ask what those people in the Gospel asked Christ “Sir, give us this bread always.” Because we see the Bread of Life come down from heaven and we partake and never hunger, never thirst and are strengthened to participate in our journey of salvation.