Oasis for the Soul
by Rev. Msgr. Stanley J. Krempa
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will life forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
They say that Death Valley is an unforgiving place. It is the lowest place on earth. The heat and the lack of water can damage a person psychologically and physically. That is why it is called "Death Valley." This is probably true of all the deserts of the world. The Sahara is much larger than Death Valley. It is as large as the United States and it is as relentless as Death Valley. The lack of landmarks can lead to wandering and death. The sands are shifting constantly so a person has no markers for guidance.
I think we can understand the welcome sight that an oasis is in any desert. These are places where water is close to the surface. Travelers gather there to refresh themselves, reorient themselves, get their bearings, meet with other travelers, hear about dangers ahead and get strength for the journey.
This connects us with Elijah in today's first reading. He is in flight from Queen Jezebel through the barren landscape of the Middle East. Finally, he receives refreshment from the Lord to give him strength, the assurance of God's presence and the vigor to continue to Horeb, the mountain of the Lord.
When you think about it, the Mass is like our spiritual oasis, an oasis for the soul. We live in a kind of moral desert today. The sands of popular opinion and preference are shifting constantly. Shortly, we will be in a campaign season when we will hear all kinds of claims, charges and counter charges. We live in a time of was and insurgencies when none of us is sure what the political landscape will be like in five years.
In all this, we need an oasis. We need a place where we can come and renew ourselves in God's grace, revive our commitment to Jesus Christ, hear the truth of the Gospel, be informed about dangers ahead, receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion for the strength to continue our journey in the desert to the mountain of the Lord. In fact, Holy Communion, in an old Latin hymn was called "esca viatorum" - food for travelers, food for the journey. Every Sunday Mass is another oasis where we can gather with other travelers, other followers of Jesus.
In today's Gospel from chapter six of St. John's Gospel, Jesus tells us that he is our spiritual food. He is food for the heart, the mind and the soul. Here, every week we celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death and draw from the power of his resurrection to carry the burdens and challenges of our life. Here, we realize that we are part of a church, the body of Christ that fills. In our own individual way, we are part of the story, the drama of salvation.
What happens when a person stops coming to Mass on Sunday? Slowly, gradually, he or she is captured by the desert winds, blown this way and that because there is little strength to resist. Slowly, they can lose direction and be deceived by mirages, the illusions of the desert.
Gradually, they forget they are part of a larger whole and easily get lost. Bit by bit, they are no longer nourished by the Gospel but are drawn in desperation to anything that seems to satisfy the hungers of the soul, even though it may be dangerous. The Mass, the Eucharist, is our oasis given by the Lord to renew us and to heal us.
St. Paul writes to the Ephesians in today's second reading that we should "remove all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling." These sound like features of talk radio and social media. The Eucharist has great healing pow3r if we allow ourselves to be swept up in Christ's love that purifies and cleanses all the loves of our life. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to introduce the angers of the world into church life rather than letting the peace of Christ flow from the church into the world.
We cannot change the world and its people overnight but we can seek an oasis where we can find truth, grace, healing, moral clarity and renewal. As Catholics, we can live without an arm, without a leg, without a lung. We can even live without smart phones. But to be faithful Catholics, we cannot live without the Mass, our oasis in the deserts of today.
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