Dead Ancestors & the Bread of Life

“Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died.” (John 6:49)

What a morbid thing to say!

The ancestors, our ancestors, the original pilgrims seeking the Promised Land, freed from slavery, bearing the Commandments in the Ark. The Almighty showed His love and providence not only by dividing the Red Sea for them, but also by feeding them Himself, directly from heaven.

Alas, poor YorickWe have no identity; we have no holy Scriptures; we would have had no ancient Temple and no Holy of Holies in it—were it not for the venerable ancestors, who walked alongside Moses, arrayed as the twelve tribes of Israel.

But they died.

What a cynical thing to say!

Worms slither and cavort along the creases of their rotting bones. Their tibias and fibias serve as rollercoasters and waterslides for the earthworms.

How lovely!

How could our Lord Jesus Christ speak so coarsely? “They died.” The original Chosen People, who sang to the Lord as He covered Himself in glory, with Miriam dancing, tambourine in hand. “They died.” They ate manna in the desert. But then what happened? They died.

“I am the bread of life,” saith the Lord.

Do we go too far to say that the Mass is a matter of life and death?

billie-jean-jacksonLet’s consider some of the great exploits of the 20th century. Einstein discovered the Theory of Relativity. But what happened to him? He _____. The Wright brothers gave us the airplane; Henry Ford mass-produced the automobile; Steve Jobs gave us Apple Computer, Inc. But, wouldn’t you know it! They all _____. Josef Stalin took over half of Europe, but… Neil Armstrong walked on the moon! Wow! Then… Michael Jackson went mult-multi-platinum and then ______.

Hard. It’s a hard business. People live through beautiful springs and smell the roses in the garden and eat lots of delicious omelets and fruits and berries and such things, but, before you know it,…

My point is: the Mass is a matter of life and death. The Bread of Life lives, never to die more. The Father draws us to Him, so that we might truly live.

The Kind Will of the Father

This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life. (John 6:40)

The Father wills our salvation, our eternal life. The Father has planned that our difficulties, struggles, and even our inevitable death—all of it leads to a goal, the goal, the most unimaginably wonderful outcome.

The Son has passed through to eternal life. God has taken us to Himself, in the unique Person of Christ, and He has brought it all to fulfillment already, the consummation of our human life in eternal glory.

resurrectionOur Scriptures bear symphonic testimony to this. And the fearless death of so many Apostles and martyrs—not to mention the self-sacrificing lives of so many saints—these witnesses put the whole business into stark contrast: Either everything Jesus said is true, or all these people have been insane.

We have a beautiful-enough life on earth now. But we can see clearly that nothing about it is permanent. April 2014 offered us a lot. But now it is gone, never to return. California Chrome won the race on Saturday. But next year somebody else will. And even Google Chrome will someday fade into memory, and then be forgotten altogether.

But the Holy Spirit of Christ can attune our minds, our hearts, our spirits, to the eternal, unmoved, unchanging divinity that makes light shine and music harmonize. The Holy Spirit makes us friends with the Father Who wills that we, too, pass over, like Christ, to eternal life.

Maybe it seems like a wheeling merry-go-round—this pilgrim life we live now—or maybe like static on a broken t.v., or like a gondola ride, or like twelve years of slavery, or like a 30-day juice fast that never results in adequate weight loss. Whatever it seems like, it ain’t eternal. It will end. It is a movement, an episode, a road trip, a canto, a song.

And Jesus has taught us that the kind Father—the Singer—He wills that we still stand, alive, with ears and bright eyes wide open, when this song ends, and the Singer Himself becomes the everlasting song.

Melchizedek, Eternity

Peter Paul Rubens Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek

Melchizedek. Offered bread and wine. Our father Abraham approached him to offer sacrifice. The head of the People of God gave Melchizedek a holy tithe, the tenth of all his goods.

St. Paul points out to us children of Abraham that we do not know where Melchizedek, our forefather’s priest, came from. We really don’t know who Melchizedek was at all–except that he was a priest who offered bread and wine and presided as king over a city of peace. And what became of Melchizedek? Don’t know.

What we do know is that Christ offered His sacrifice of Himself as a priest of Melchizedek’s order.

Which means that we, too, are priests of the order of Melchizedek. Those of us consecrated to minister at the altar in the place of Christ our Head—we offer bread and wine like Melchizedek. And the Lord transforms these offerings into His Body and Blood. And all of us—all Christians—offer ourselves to the Father along with the holy sacrifice of the altar.

Seems to me that to say that I belong to the order of Melchizedek—which I do, which we all do—seems to me that saying this is like saying: “Where I am from and where I am going are actually very mysterious questions.”

James Bond SkyfallPeople think James Bond is a mysterious dude. Where is he from? Well, I think it turns out that he’s from Scotland. Or something like that.

Whereas, we members of the holy order of Melchizedek of old: our origins and our destiny are indescribably more mysterious. Where are you from, chief? Northwest Washington? New Jersey? Lackawanna, New York? ¿Distrito Federal?

Not quite, pardner. Not quite.

And where are you headed? Disney World? Florida? Six feet under?

Not exactly.

Where did Melchizedek go, after he made his holy sacrifice? He went back into the city of perpetual peace.

The young Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed dissatisfaction with the idea that the church exists solely to save souls. We should not focus exclusively on the next life. We’ve got to address the injustices of the here and now. Where love is lacking in this world, we must fill the gap with ours.

Amen. Right? After all, what will we have to offer on the altar as priests of the holy order of Melchizedek, if we do not strive and struggle to be heroes of love in this world? If we do not stand up as champions of people who have no champion?

But, with two generations having passed since “The Sixties” actually began in the second half of the 1950’s, we have to address new kinds of questions.

The question then was: How do we translate our faith in the eternal into action for our poor brothers and sisters here and now?

But now the world is full of people who simply do not know the answer to questions like: Why be just at all? Why be loving? Why should I do the right thing? Why should I seek the truth?

And the only really convincing answer to these questions is: Because every single moment of our lives on this third rock from the sun has eternal significance. Because God is real and everywhere and always. And the great priest of the order of Melchizedek, Jesus Christ, has revealed to us that we have been made for nothing less than eternal life in the kingdom of peace. And He is our way there.


The man is incredible:

Whoever wishes to come after me must take up his cross and follow me. –Mark 8:34

tombstone cross

This is what the Son of God said. He went to heaven after He rose from the dead, so we certainly want to follow Him.

But wait: Are we fools to want to follow Christ? To come after Him, we must take up our crosses. This is what He clearly says. We have to be clear on what He means.

The cross was the implement the Romans used to kill their worst criminals. The cross may mean many things to us, but when the Lord first used the term 2,000 years ago, the cross meant one thing: execution, the death penalty.

Among Christians, to speak of one’s crosses has become a metaphor for all kinds of difficulties. It is a good metaphor.

But: We cannot use the phrase as a metaphor if we do not first consider the literal meaning. We cannot forget what the cross essentially is. The cross is an instrument of one thing—death.

Continue reading “Death-Defying”