The use of signs and symbols within the Catholic Church is an integral aspect of our faith. Christ Himself made use of them, not only to teach but also to signify through miracles and symbolisms that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Just as Christ knew it, the Church over the centuries has come to understand that the use of signs and symbols appeals to the mind via our physical senses. 

How wonderful it would be that every time we are in doubt, God could show us a sign from Heaven giving us some definitive guidance or direction just like we read in the Old Testament. There is no doubt that many of us when finding ourselves at the crossroads of life, would have asked God for a sign. There are times when the sign is clear and there are times when it may be vague or even absent. 

The Gospel this Sunday continues from the account of the feeding of the multitude that we read last Sunday. After the miraculous feeding, Jesus is now going to explain the significance and the mystery of the event to a crowd that came looking to see more signs: “What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you?”, they asked. Jesus knew this and questioned their motives for seeking Him.

Jesus will make clear that this sign which He just performed and those that are to come, are not ends in themselves but rather a means to invite them to a spiritual relationship with Him.  Knowing that the crowd sought Him not because they were looking for God’s presence in their midst, Jesus is going to turn their desire for more bread into an opportunity to teach about the “bread of life”. The crowds followed Him because they saw Him as the source of bread, but He now invites them to discover the ‘source of life’, 

In this prolonged pandemic, many of the signs and symbols in celebrating the sacraments, especially of the Holy Eucharist, that we have been accustomed to for decades have been absent in our lives. Experience tells us that when we do something repeatedly, there is a high probability that we can lose focus of the significance of a particular act – the same can be said of going to Sunday Mass and receiving Holy Communion. The Gospel today does not refer directly to the Eucharist but rather to Jesus, the Word made flesh.

We long to return to Church because we want to “receive Jesus” – that is not a bad thing. However, let us not see this absence just as a void in our lives but look at this as the opportunity to reflect on the mystery and significance that our rituals and practices have offered us over the centuries. The practice of our faith is directed towards a deepening of our relationship with the “source of life”, Jesus Christ.

Yes, rituals and practices are integral to our faith, but at times like this when we have no access to them, what can we rely on? We have to rely on the bare essentials founded on our relationship with God. No one can take away the relationship we have with God unless we deliberately choose to do so. At a time like this, we can quite easily be like the Israelites who kept complaining to Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, about what the Church is not doing for us. Or we can ask ourselves, in this somewhat wilderness that we find ourselves in, what am I doing to help quench the thirst and satisfy the hunger for God?

We need to fix our eyes on the central mystery of our faith – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At this time, every question, problem, concern, and confusion, can only find meaning in the person of Jesus Christ – let us not lose our way to Him – “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.”

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (1 Aug 2021)