Coming to the Eucharist as a beggar to a feast

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola gives advice to his Jesuit Brothers on how they should counsel men and women with spiritual problems. If the director should see that a person is longing for God, he should assist them and encourage them in their quest. If he should discover, however, that what the persons longs for is personal power, or wealth, or fame, he should not be worried. For these desires, these longings can be worked with and re-directed. The only kind of person for whom spiritual direction will fail is that man or woman who is cold, bland, indifferent, self-satisfied, without any real spiritual urges one way or the other. Such a person will not be responsive to the counsel offered in the Exercises.

In some ways, this is last case is what we see in the story of the rich, young man in today’s Gospel. We wouldn’t think so initially. After all he comes to Jesus with a desire for salvation. And shows that his longing is real by what he has already accomplished. But when Jesus asks him the hard question, he draws back and leaves disappointed. For in the end, he did not desire God enough, he did not long for him enough, he was not hungry enough for God. This is why Jesus says it is so hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. When we are rich or completely content, or totally self-satisfied, we do not recognize our hunger or need for God. Our appetite is not truly whetted for him.

The Eucharist we celebrate is about our hunger, about our dependence on God, about our utter need for him in our lives. Without this awareness of our hunger, we do not come to this table worthily, and we do not eat with the relish that Jesus intends for us to have. What prevents us from coming to the Eucharist hungry, without real desire, urgency, or longing for God? Sometimes it is our own hardness of heart that makes us forget just how much we need Christ and this food he gives to us. Sometimes it is our own false sense of who we really are, a kind of self-righteousness, that causes us to act as if we were bringing God a priceless gift, as if we are doing the Lord a favor by sharing in this meal. Sometimes, like the rich young man, it is our wealth, the fullness of our busy lives, the emotional satisfaction we receive from our relationships, the pleasure of our work that prevents us from seeing how contingent everything that we have is, how completely needy we are, how dependent we are upon God and his mercy. We forget that each of us comes to the Eucharist as a beggar to a feast. We have no right to be here, it is all a pure gift from our Lord who invites us with lavish generosity.

The poor, the lame, the sick, and the blind recognized their need, and they flocked to Jesus. For this reason they went away satisfied, in a way that the religious leaders of his time did not. The poor, the sick, and the homeless were aware of their terrible hunger and longing for God and they went away full. Now none of us is homeless, none of us is materially destitute, none of us is starving from malnutrition. Nevertheless, each of us comes here truly hungry for the Bread of life, for this precious Body and Blood of Christ, for this gift of which none of us can ever be worthy. We come here with our hunger pangs, with our appetites whetted, with the deepest longings of heart seeking to be met. And Christ will fill us tonight, inviting us to eat richly, to taste sweetly his own flesh and blood, so that we may continue to hunger, so that we may continue to eat with gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving.