May 2, 2006, Feast of St Athanasius: John 6 30-35

I MYSELF AM THE BREAD OF LIFE. NO ONE WHO COMES TO ME SHALL EVER BE HUNGRY. By the time St. John recorded these words of our Lord, many years had passed. The evangelist had given a great deal of reflection to the exchanges Jesus had with the various groups of people whom he encountered in the course of his ministry. More, he had been living the faith, acting from the conviction that the Risen Christ continued to preach his message of salvation through his chosen apostles. Accordingly , he was able to understand depths of meaning in our Lordís words that were present but implicit, hidden, at the time they were spoken, even from those who believed in him. Having come to know by experience that Jesus continues to live and to act in the world, especially through his Church, he had grasped more clearly than others, the life-giving effect of his divine person on those who opened themselves to him by faith.

And so in this chapter of his Gospel he develops in extensive detail the role of faith and the meaning of the Eucharist for those who decide to believe his word. That Jesus is the bread of life, John makes clear throughout his Gospel, refers to his person as the source of the true life that is not subject to death; life eternal emanates from him who comes to bring knowledge of the Father.

On the night before he died, our Lord, as he brought to a close the Last Discourse, spoke a fervent prayer addressed to his Father in which he explains the essence of that life he brings: "This is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3) This knowledge is experienced in love; it is accessible only to those who by the obedience of faith submit themselves to him with trust.

This brings us to the second part of our verse: No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry. To come to Jesus is to welcome him by a faith that acknowledges him as the Only Son of God. It is for this reason that in the same discourse on the bread of life, a large portion of Jesusí words deal with the need for faith in him and in his teaching. "This is the work of God that you believe in him who he sent" (John 6:29) He added: "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life, but there are some among you who do not believe" (6:64) Peter spoke for all believers when he responded: "Lord, we have believed and we know that you are the Christ, the Son of God."(6:69) He did not understand all the implications of his act of faith at the time, but implicit in his belief was an acceptance in advance of the fullness of meaning that would unfold after the resurrection.

In the course of history, those who came after the apostles imitated Peterís faith and his eventual faithful witness to the person of our Lord as the source of eternal life. Prominent among them, at a time of great crisis for the Church was St. Athanasius of Alexandria whose feast we celebrate today in this liturgy. His fidelity became an inspiration for many others as he suffered persecution for many years. Five different times he was forced into exile because he resisted the attempt to deny to our Lord equal divinity with the Father. His steady and courageous witness served not only to maintain the fullness of faith against the Arians, but led to the spread of the Church and to the growth of monastic life. He spent one lengthy period of exile with the monks of Egypt in the desert, thus gaining an intimate knowledge of their way of life and spirituality. His Life of Antony, written in 356, A.D., five years after Antonyís death contributed to a more informed knowledge of the monastic life that had such a strong influence on the Fathers of our Order. Because he spent one of his exiles in the West, his work, appearing in Latin in a very early translation, served to stimulate monastic vocations in the Roman Church. It played a crucial role in the conversion of St. Augustine. When he heard the account of the conversion of two courtiers occasioned by their reading of this Life of Antony he was deeply moved and could not put aside the vision it imparted to him of a life wholly dedicated to seeking God. St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nazianzus were greatly assisted in their successful efforts to maintain the fullness of faith in Christ as Son of God who, being Divine is equal to the Father, by the teaching of this Patriarch of Alexandria. Athanasius based his conviction on an argument he considered conclusive. Our human race is called to be united with God, which is possible only to those who become like God. But no one can be thus divinized save by the Divinity. Since Jesus restores us to likeness with God it is clear that he is Divine.

Todayís Gospel reminds us then that in offering the Eucharist we receive the Bread of eternal life, the risen Lord Jesus. May we approach this great mystery with faith and gratitude and make our lives worthy of the children of God.

 Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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