The first reading, for Mass yesterday (Monday)  of the 18th week is taken from the Book of Numbers. It features the Israelites grumbling about the manna in the wilderness in these words:

Would that we had meat for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna.  (Numbers 11:4-5)

While it is possible for us to marvel at their insolence and ingratitude, the picture here presented depicts the human condition, and very common human tendencies. It is not unique to a people once in the desert. Their complaints, are too easily our own complaints and struggles.

Let’s look at a number of the issues raised, and see how it is possible for many of us today to struggle in the same way.

I. They prefer the abundance of food and creature comforts along with slavery in Egypt, to the freedom of the children of God and the chance to journey to the promised land. And this too easily  is our struggle. Jesus points to the cross, but we prefer the pillow. Heaven is a nice thought, but it is future, and the journey is long.

Too easily we prefer our version of “melons and leeks.” Perhaps it is possessions, or power, or popularity. Never mind that the price of them is a kind of bondage to the world and its demands. For when the world grants its blessings, we become enslaved by the fact that we have too much to lose. Hence we will compromise our freedom, which Christ died to purchase for us, and enter into a kind of bondage of sin.  We will buy into lies or commit any number of sins, perhaps we will suppress the truth, all in an attempt to stay popular and well-connected. Why? Because we have become desperate for the world’s blessings and we will make increasing compromises that harm our integrity or hurt other people just to get blessings we can’t live without.

We are in bondage to Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. We prefer it to the freedom of the desert, with its difficult journey to a Promised Land (Heaven) we have not yet fully seen. But the pleasures of the world, it’s melons and leeks are currently displayed and available for immediate enjoyment.

And besides, we can recast the slavery of the world call it by different names such as: being “relevant,” being “modern,” being “tolerant” and “compassionate.”  Yes, even as we descend into deeper darkness and bondage to sin and our passions, we will call it “enlightenment” and “choice” and “freedom.”.

And so the cry still goes up: “Give us melons, give us leeks, give us cucumbers and fleshpots! Away with the desert, away with the cross, away with the Promised Land, if it exists at all. It is too far off, and too hard to get to. Melons and Leeks please. Give us meat, we are tired of Manna!”

II. There is the boredom with the manna. While it’s exact composition is mysterious to us, it would seem that Manna could be collected, kneeded like dough and baked like bread. But as such, it was a fairly plain substance. It seems It was meant more to sustain than to entertain.

The people remembered their melons, leeks, and the fleshpots of Egypt, and  were bored with this plain manna. Never mind that it was miraculously provided every day by God, in just the right quantity. Even miracles can come to seem boring after a while to our petulantly demanding desires. The Lord may show us miracles today, and too easily do we demand even more tomorrow.

We are also somewhat like little children who prefer Twinkies and Cupcakes to vegetables and other more wholesome foods.

Indeed the boredom, even repulsion of the Israelites against the miracle food from heaven does not sound so different from many Catholics who say, “Mass is boring.”

While it is certainly true that we can work to ensure that the Liturgy reflects the glory it offers, it also remains true that God has a fairly stable and consistent diet for us. He exhorts us to stay faithful to the “manna,” to  the wholesome food of prayer, Scripture, the Sacraments, and stable faithful fellowship in union with the Church.

And in our fickle spirits, many run after the latest current fads and movements. Many Catholics say, “Why can’t we be more like the mega-churches with all the latest, including the Starbucks Coffee Café, a rock-star-like Pastor with a seeker sensitive, toned down preaching with many promises and few demands, contemporary music and all that jazz?!”

But as an old spiritual says regarding this type of person, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out!”  And thus some will leave the Catholic Church and other traditional forms which feature the more routine but stable and steady manner for the hip and the latest, the melons and leeks. But frequently they find that within six months they’re bored again.

While the Church is always in need of reform, there is a lot to be said for the slow and steady pace of the Church, as she journeys through the desert,  relying on the less glamorous but more stable and sensible food: the manna of the Eucharist, the word of God, the Sacred Liturgy, prayer, and fellowship  not just with the latest and greatest, but with stable and tested things.

III. Who Feeds You? Beyond these liturgical preferences of many for melons and leeks over Manna, there is also a manifest preference for the food of this world.  There is a tragic tendency for many Catholics, even regular church-goers, to get most of their food not from the Lord, not from Scripture, not from the Church, but from the Egypt of this world.

Most eat regularly at the banquet table of popular entertainment, secular news media, secular talk radio, etc. And they eat this food quite uncritically! The manna is complained about, but the meons and leeks are praised without qualification.

And while it is true the Christian cannot wholly avoid any contact with the world, or avoid all its food, when do the melons and leeks ever come in for criticism? When does a Christian finally look and say to themselves and others “Look, that is not the mind of God!” When do they ever conclude that this food is inferior or even poisonous to what God says and offers?  When does a parent finally walk into the living room, turn off the TV and teach their children that “What you have just seen and heard is not the mind of God” ?

Tragically, this is rare and the food of this world is eaten in an abundance far surpassing the food of God. The melons and leeks of the world are praised, and  the manna of God is put on trial, because it’s not like the food of the world.

This of course, is backwards for a Christian. The world should be on trial based on the Word of God. But as it is, even for most Catholics, the Word of God and the teachings of the Church are on trial by the standards of the world.

So the question is, who is it that feeds you? Is the world, or the Lord? What proportion of your food comes from the Lord, and what from the world? Honestly? What is more influential in your daily life and your thinking, the world, or the Lord? Honestly? Who is really feeding  you, informing you, influencing you? Is it the melons and leeks of the Egypt of  this world? Or is it the faithful, stable, even miraculous manna of the Lord and his Church?

IV. And finally,  there comes this question, “Whom are you feeding?” This question is drawn more from the Gospel of Monday’s Mass. Jesus’ disciples ask  the Lord to dismiss the crowds so that they could go and get food for themselves. But Jesus said to them, and us, “Give them something to eat yourselves.

So, who are you feeding, and with what? The Lord gave the apostles food, and they gave it to the people. Is the Lord giving you food? And are you feeding others with it?

People are going to need food, from day-to-day. Will they get it from the melons and leeks of this world? Or will they get the manna from us?  You and I must decide that.

There are many legitimate complaints today about silent pulpits. And where there  should be a setting forth the manna of God’s Word plainly, too often, there is silence or sermons filled with abstractions and generalities. This is rightly deplored.

However, silent pulpits are not the only problem, so are silent dining room tables where parents, have not studied the Word of God, and handed it on to their children.

Deplorable too is the public square, and the public media where  the melons and leeks of this world are in abundance, and the manna of God is hard-to-find. Theoretically, this has been a largely Christian country for the last 200+ years. So the darkness and ignorance of these times has expanded on our watch.

It is easy to blame others, but there are too many of us who are prefer the melons and leeks  of this world, and have  failed to supply the manna, given by the Lord to this now deeply confused world.

Here then, are some probing questions for all of us drawn from an ancient wilderness. God’s people who tired of the manna harm themselves and others too.

Have mercy on us, Lord our God. Give us a deep desire for the manna you offer. And having received it in abundance, help us to share it as well!

11 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for giving me something to think about. My estranged husband frequently accused me of being boring (he is right!). But those who are in search of excitement kind of scare me. Manna is predictable and you can’t go wrong with it. Even if life is less exciting this way, I want to follow Christ as closely as possible. When people talk about “shaking things up,” I get nervous. Coming from a family of wild partiers, nights spent at home in the company of my children and the rosary that I have learned to pray through YouTube seem like the safe harbor I’ve been trying to reach my whole life.

    Excitement is overrated.

    • Repent and Believe the Gospel ! says:

      “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.”-
      John 6:55

  2. Candida Eittreim says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope. This message has been on my mind for over a week. When are we, who are so enslaved, going to rise up, gird our loins and come out of Egypt? If we still had television in our home, I’ll be frank with you, I would not be here reading your excellent reflections.It is the mother of our enslavement. Instead of prayer, Scripture and seeking the comfort of God, television has become the great teat that we derive much of our food today. And we don’t even see it for the danger it is to our spiritual lives. If it had not been for God, i’d still be living my life in front of the big screen.

    i remember.. i had been at the computer and gazing out at God’s magnificent beauty and i felt that certain tugging. i jumped up and walked quickly to the sofa and began watching TV. I heard Him say “Why won’t you let Me love you? Why do You always run from Me?” I wept. 1 week later TV was gone and my life changed forever. Egypt no longer holds any charms for me. Only the love of Christ does that. My prayer is that others will be touched and come out of Egypt and never look back.

  3. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Although cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and garlic are nutritious they are, apparently, more pleasant to eat than manna. This reminds me of the first chapter in the Book of Daniel where he rejected the gourmet food in favour of the not so tasty, but nutritious vegetables. He even showed the administrator how to determine this through an early model scientific experiment.
    Will the Lord send us another like Daniel to guide us? In His time and in His way He will do what is right and, even though we must be patient, we can keep the light burning so as to see while we lay the foundation. I thank Him for resources such as this ‘blog and for the inspiration for patience which I find in Psalm 90:4.

  4. mark says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    As I read scripture yesterday, I was reading Peter I, it occurred to me that we have forgotten that we are in a struggle for our salvation. So when the Catholics in name only or the secular society, try to influence other Catholics we must be ready to sacrifice our earthly mantle and by willing to feel persecution before we find salvation. If we stand only for our own glory we will have forsaken those in need of the Love of Jesus.

    Amen I say to you my brother, the Lord has given us the way, the way is full of hardship and the journey always arduous, however the reward of eternal life out weighs the splendor we are fooled into seeing while chained to this earthly life. When the shepherd forgets to use his staff to bring those wondering sheep, how will they know of the protection he provides. Preach of the wayward soul; and we shall follow.

  5. Donna L. says:

    Slow and steady wins the race!! We are in a marathon, for sure.

    Thank you, Monsignor for this valuable reflection. It helps me to see that I must continue to examine my walk with God, and to strive to enter through the narrow gate. Like many other Christians, I am guilty of vacillating – “hot” one day, “cold” the next… mindful, then forgetful; grateful, then indifferent or dissatisfied…

    I think part of my problem is that my life is full of so many distractions – too many things competing for my time and attention, so that at the end of the day I have not done the things that I am supposed to do and I have not taken sufficient time to pray and reflect. I’m in the process of simplifying my life so that there is plenty of room for the things of God.

  6. Mike says:

    Thank you for the reflection, Monsignor. Those doggone Israelites… if it wasn’t one thing it was another. No wonder Moses got exasperated. I squirmed pretty much through the whole first reading Monday.

    All the same it is encouraging and humbling to reflect that God has never given up on me no matter how ungrateful I’ve been or how many times I’ve spit the bit.

  7. RichardGTC says:

    Amose 8:11-12: “[11] Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will send forth a famine into the land: not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. [12] And they shall move from sea to sea, and from the north to the east: they shall go about seeking the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.”

    Maybe that is why Jesus decided to come to us also as food, that is, to bring relief for the famine of the word of God.

    I have never been inside a mega-church. I would like to go inside one to see what one looks like.

  8. debbie ptak says:

    great medatation monsignor.Gives me alot to think about.Im guilty ,i say i want to follow God but im running everywhere else but to Him .Please please pray for me.to richardGTC: Thank you for the scripture passage from amos.8:11-12.It sounds prophehtic.Look what is happening in the middle east with our christian brothers and sisters.Is thats what is going to happend here if we do not take a stand for our faith?God Bless All

  9. Jim Mazzarelli says:

    Thank you for this, Monsignor Pope. You are truly blessed with the gift of powerful preaching, and this meditation is no exception. In fact, it’s one of your best in my opinion. It hit me like a load of, well, Manna. THWAAAPPP!!! Right upside the head ; ) God Bless.

  10. Annette Strachan says:

    The hymn, liturgy of St. James, second verse, is about the “King of kings, Lord of lords, giving all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.”

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