The following is a homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary time, year B. The readings for this Sunday can be found here.
Does anyone here every get “hangry”? For those who don’t know, hangry is a combination of the words “hungry” and “angry,” and it’s the feeling some people get when they are so hungry they become irritable and impatient and just difficult to be around.
I am one of those people.
With a full stomach, I’m a normal, polite, functioning human being. But as soon as my stomach begins to rumble… I become completely useless and impossible to be around. All I can focus on is food. I have no motivation, no focus, no patience. Yeah… it’s kind of embarrassing. Maybe you know someone else like that…
What I find really amazing about being “hangry,” though, is not so much how I act or feel when I’m without food, it’s how quickly I can change with it. One minute the world is ending—I’m dying of starvation, my brain doesn’t work, I want to yell at people for nothing and steal food right out of their hands—but get me a turkey sandwich, maybe just a bag of chips or some popcorn, and immediately I go from being the Hulk back to Bruce Banner like nothing happened. All is good now. The phenomenon is so commonly understood, in fact, that Snickers built an entire ad campaign around it: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
I think it’s because we understand this feeling so well on a visceral level that the experience of Elijah is so easy to relate to. Here you have a man who has been a fugitive on the run, nothing to eat, no snacks with him, and he is just famished. He is weak. So hungry that he’s decided to give up. He just can’t go on any more. The world seems impossible. Even taking another step seems too unbearable.
But Elijah isn’t on this journey alone, is he? No, at his weakest moment, an angel of God comes to him and gives him bread—offers him a snack—provides him with the little bit of nourishment that he needs. And then, all of the sudden, he’s back to his old self and can continue on his journey. Just like us after getting an afternoon cookie.
God knows that without food, our bodies grow weak and eventually break down and so, in Elijah’s time of serious physical need, God provided what he needed to go on.
Of course, we know that we are not simply physical beings with physical needs. Holding us together, animating who we are and what we do are our souls and spirits, and it is because of this that Jesus reminds his people that they cannot live on just bread alone, that bread—or food of any kind—will not fill them. If all they have is physical food, they will be satisfied for a moment, but they will become hungry again. They will eat of it, but still die. No, what they need is spiritual food. What they need is the bread of life, the living bread from heaven. What they need, what we need, more than anything else, is Jesus Christ.
Hopefully this should not come as a new revelation to anyone. Hopefully we all know—hopefully the reason that we are all here—is because we seek the bread of life, the grace of salvation found in the Word spoken and the sacrifice offered on the altar. My guess is that we know that God pours God’s grace out on us in this sacrament and that is why we are here, to be spiritually nourished.
But here’s the million dollar question: Are we? Do we come to church weak and broken but get our turkey sandwich (so to speak) and find ourselves back to normal, ready to take on the world… or do we come to church weak and broken and leave just the same? Are we nourished by what we receive here, or might our lives reveal that in fact, we are quite spiritually “hangry” after all?
Even though this is truly the bread of life, the real presence of Jesus Christ offered to us, simply coming to communion doesn’t mean that we will be spiritually nourished. The reason for this, as far as I see it, comes down to a simple distinction: do we approach the grace we receive a “what” or a “who”?
You see, sometimes we talk about grace as if it were a “what,” a thing, a sort of supernatural substance from God with powerful properties. Maybe it’s the elixir of life, an energy force, a power that works on us, but what we know is that when we take the Eucharist or receive one of the other sacraments, we are given this special power that acts on us—making us stronger and better and holier.
And that’s a good thing, right? We want to be stronger and holier. But there’s also something a bit strange about this way of talking about grace, isn’t there? If grace is simply a “what,” a thing to be collected, we begin to treat it like something that acts upon us without our knowing and without any faith; it is something that “works,” like a magical weight-loss drug or allergy medicine that doesn’t require you to change your diet, you can eat anything you want and still lose weight!
And while this might sound appealing for diets and weight loss, it doesn’t sound too fulfilling for our spiritual lives, does it? In this view, there is no need for conversion, no need for free will, no need for us to do anything. It just “works.”
Instead of a “what,” something to be collected and administered, I want to suggest that we need to begin to see the grace that God gives us as a “who”: Grace is the gift, not of some created substance of God, but of God’s very self. In the Eucharist, in the Word, in the sacraments, in every moment of our lives, God does not give us some supernatural energy separate from God… No, God gives us God’s very self; we receive the real presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
And what a difference this makes on our part! Rather than passively sitting back as a force acts upon us without our knowing, what we receive is an invitation to a relationship, a relationship that calls us to be more like the one we receive, a relationship that gives us a measuring stick for what holiness looks like. When we receive Christ’s very self, living and breathing and radiating in us, we cannot just do nothing and hope things get better in us—we are not just ourselves with supernatural powers— we find ourselves as beacons of the real presence of Christ, called to go out into the world to live and share what we have become. That is spiritual fulfillment.
Unlike with our physical selves—unlike just eating a sandwich—nourishing ourselves spiritually takes more than just showing up and eating a meal, simply coming to mass and taking the Eucharist without any change, any commitment, any desire to be different. This is not going to ultimately satisfy us. We can eat all the Eucharist we want, come to every mass on Sunday, but we’re going to be left as spiritually hangry as when we walked in the door. Coming to the table is only the first part. To really fill ourselves up, to find the comfort and nourishment that we desire, it takes saying yes to God here at this table, but also saying yes every minute of our lives outside of these walls.
Because, ultimately, just like our physical selves, unless we feed our souls, we will have no life within us. Without nourishment, we will find ourselves hangry, like Elijah, ready to give up. And that is just a shame, because God is offering us all we ever need to stay full for the rest of eternity.
Say yes to God. Say yes to letting God grow in you and be known in you, and never be hangry again.