Sunday, August 09, 2015

Beneath The Surface (Rerun)

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
(Singapore National Day; Day 7 of RGS Retreat)

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 33:2-9; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Sisters and brothers, are you familiar with synchronised swimming? The sport where pairs or groups of women perform dance routines in the water? Perhaps you may have watched it during the recent SEA Games. Or in the Olympics some years back. It’s quite amazing what those young women can do, isn’t it? They perform such amazing feats as appearing to walk on the surface of the water. And even leaping high up into the air. While keeping their movements synchronised at all times. And they make it all look so easy. So effortless. Truly sensational to watch!

But we wouldn’t be getting the full picture if we stopped there. What we have just described are only some of the things that happen on and above the water. As you know, what’s even more important is what goes on below the surface. It’s only if we look through underwater cameras that we begin to see more clearly. That we can begin to better appreciate the extent of the swimmers’ talent and mastery. When we look beneath the surface we can see, for example, that the person who may seem to be walking so effortlessly across the surface of the water is actually being supported by many others, strenuously treading water below. So that, although synchronised swimmers are awarded points based only on what happens on and above the water, it is still what they do beneath the surface that makes all the difference.

It’s what happens beneath the surface that makes all the difference. The same can be said for our Mass readings today. At first glance, they may seem very straightforward. They’re all about the benefits of eating. In the first reading, the prophet Elijah is tired. But he eats the food given by God, and is re-energised. In the gospel, Jesus tells his listeners that it’s not just any kind of bread that is worth eating. Not even the manna that their ancestors ate in the desert. For all of them have died. The food that is truly worth eating is Jesus himself. Whoever eats him will live forever.

Although this message may have been extremely shocking to Jesus’ listeners, we Catholics find it very ordinary. No surprises for us here. For we know that Jesus is not suggesting that we slice off a piece of flesh from his body, stuff it into our mouths, and chew on it, even as the blood drips down our chin. We know very well, or think we do, that Jesus is talking about the Eucharist. And this is precisely what we are here to do, aren’t we? We gather to eat the Bread of Life. So we’re already doing what Jesus wants us to do. In fact we do it every week. Some of us even every day. What more can our readings tell us that we don’t already know? That we aren’t already doing?

And yet, could it be that this is only what is happening on and above the water? Could there be something more? Could it be that we need to look deeper? To use underwater cameras to see what is going on beneath the surface?

We do this by paying closer attention to the actions of the prophet Elijah. At the start of the first reading, we find him running from Queen Jezebel, who wishes to kill him. He is exhausted. Worn out. He wants to abandon the mission that God had given him earlier. But still, even though he is totally burnt out, Elijah’s journey into the wilderness seems more than just an escape. For, in the wilderness, Elijah does something that a true escapee would probably not do. He prays to the same God from whom he seems to be escaping. I have had enough, he says, take my life. And it is in response to these very honest words of utter desperation, this prayer of deep disillusionment, that God sends an angel to encourage and to nourish him. So that, even though Elijah keeps falling asleep, the angel insists on rousing him. Strengthening him to persevere on his journey. Until he finally arrives at the mountain of God. Where he receives a new mission.

Here, already, we begin to see that eating the Bread of Life involves more than just routinely showing up in church, and lining up to receive a tiny communion wafer. Which we then proceed to pop into our mouths without a second thought. From Elijah’s experience, we learn that to eat the Bread of Life, to truly experience its energising effects in our own lives, we need first to be conscious of the mission that God has given us at our baptism. The mission to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom. To bear witness to the Dying and Rising of Christ in the concrete situations of our daily lives.

And, out of this consciousness of our mission, we then need to find that place in our experience where we too may be feeling tired and discouraged. Where we too may be ready to say to God, Lord, I’ve had enough. That location in our hearts where we may be sorely tempted to stop walking. To lie down. And to fall asleep. Perhaps we may be close to giving up on a difficult person we’ve been trying to help. Or on a challenging community member we’ve been tolerating. Or on a demanding assignment we have received. Or perhaps we’re worn out by our efforts at speaking or fighting against injustice in our workplace or in society. Or grieving the loss of someone we love. Or struggling against a stubborn sin, of thought, word, or deed.

Whatever the actual situation, like Elijah, we need to enter the wilderness of our hearts. And, from there, to honestly address our prayer to God. For when we courageously lay bare our weakness and vulnerability in this way, God sends an angel to strengthen us. A heavenly messenger to feed and to nourish us. So that we too can continue our journey to the mountain of God.

But that’s not all. Elijah’s experience should also remind us of someone else. Someone who also received a mission from God. Someone who also found it difficult to go on. Someone who also cried out to God. And received new strength. Whom are we talking about if not the Lord Jesus himself? Jesus, who, in Gethsemane, cried out in anguish: Father take this cup away from me… Jesus, whose sweat fell like great drops of blood. Jesus, to whom the Father sent an angel to give him strength. Jesus, who rose from his prayer, even as his companions remained fast asleep. Jesus, who was given the strength to keep walking. Courageously. To Calvary. The mountain of God.

Isn’t this, sisters and brothers, a more complete picture of what eating the Bread of Life looks like? To be fed on this food, as Elijah was, is to participate in some way in the mission and sacrifice of Christ himself. It is to do the very thing that our second reading encourages us to do. Try, then, to imitate God as children of his that he loves and follow Christ loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God. This is what should be happening beneath the surface, whenever we gather for the Eucharist. In some way, we should all be imitating and following the Crucified and Risen One. Receiving strength to proclaim the Gospel. And walking courageously to the mountain of God.

Sisters and brothers, in a few moments, when all of us approach the altar, like synchronised swimmers, to receive communion, what will actually be going on beneath the surface today?


  1. O Lord, indeed, I am at my wits' ends... what can I do and how better can I do so, from now on?
    It's so easy to give it all up - yet I cannot do so... out of love for You and for the one whom You would like me to reach out to.
    Show me Lord Your ways and teach me to SYNCHRONISE my ways to Your ways, bend my will to align with Yours.

    Lord, indeed Your ways are not my ways and Your thoughts are not my thoughts.

    May YOU INCREASE as I decrease.


    Sih Ying
    9 August 2015

  2. O Lord, teach me to be IN SYNCHRONISATION with You.

    In our current contemporary SECULAR world, it is so easy to be following the crowd (herd mentality) and just do as everyone does.

    Yet Lord, please grant me the courage to DARE TO BE DIFFERENT - to stand out from the crowd and the vast majority - and to REMAIN IN SYNC with you.

    As I watch these swimmers - the picture that came to my mind are the swans - they too are lovely to behold above the waters, yet in order to keep afloat, the swans are kicking their legs "furiously" under the waters.

    O Lord, keep me close to You always and let me always be IN SYNC with You.


    Seeing Is Believing.


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