What is the medicine for hunger? Food? Drink? Sometimes, when you’re most hungry, you find that you eat much less. Yet, food never completely cures hunger. It may cure the temporary physical hunger, yet it’s not only food and drink that we hunger for; we also hunger for peace, justice, safety, friendship, intimacy and love. We hunger for meaning, direction and purposeful existence. Above all, there’s the hunger to which the human person is condemned, whether we’re aware of it or not, which is the hunger for transcendence, the hunger for God. We do not have any choice about this. Whether one is a card-carrying atheist or a pious believer, we are simply hard-wired for transcendence. God put a hunger in us that only He can satisfy. To assist in satisfying this hunger, God gave us the spiritual food of His own life. In the incarnation He takes material flesh which He turns around to give us in Christ. Corpus Christi celebrates this gift of God, which aids us in our journey (Viaticum) back to Him.
It was hunger that drove the Israelites to Egypt. After a prolonged stay, food no longer satisfied. The hunger for freedom outpaced that for food and drink. No sooner had they found freedom than the hunger for food made its way back; and in answer, God gave them the manna. They still hungered for a homeland in which they will dwell in peace, safety and security, especially from the desert serpents and scorpions as well as attacks from other nations. Possessing this homeland demanded even more doggedness and desperation, as they would continually fight to keep it from their foes. Hence, they sought a secure and eternal homeland which they wouldn’t anymore need to fight for.
Jesus draws our attention today to the fleeting nature of earthly solutions to hunger and invites us to partake of the food that will truly satisfy: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, ...Whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall not thirst” (Jn 6: 51; 6:35). Not even the manna sufficed: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died...Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:49, 58). In the world, we are tormented by a plethora of deserts in the form of temptations, hunger and thirst, and opposition to God, often as fierce and cunning as serpents and scorpions. By nourishing ourselves with the food of the Lord’s Body and Blood, He promises that we’ll escape the death which the manna was not able to prevent for the Israelites.
Consider also that in this food—the Eucharist—we do not only eat the Body and Blood of the Lord, we literally become one body with Christ. St Paul alludes to this when he said: “The blessing cup we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body” (I Cor 10:17). In the Eucharist, we partake of the body of the Risen Lord, which unites us in an intimate and immortal life, love and friendship with Him. If you need a “bet” or pledge for the life of heaven, the Eucharist is your best bet.