Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, tells a story of his childhood. His family lived at the base of a mountain in Vermont. He remembered how he would gaze upward in awe of this mountain, pondering its significance, wondering whether he might ever be able to climb it. But for his fourth birthday, he recalled that his aunt made him a plate of fudge, which from that point onward distracted him from mountain musings. How easily his appetite for this world’s pleasures had leveled his lofty ideals (cf. J. Harbaugh, S.J., A Twelve-Step Approach to the Sunday Readings, 165-166)!
Just that easily would the people of Israel forget what the Lord had done for them time and again throughout their history—how He had freed them from Egyptian slavery and sustained them in the wilderness with food and drink, and most importantly, with His Presence. The crowds would also fail to recognize the caring Presence of God in Jesus Christ. They reduced Him to His earthly parentage, so they could dismiss whatever He told them. Grumblings of the mind are favored over grumblings of the stomach; a plate of fudge surpasses the Bread of Life.
And yet the Lord reminded the crowds, as He reminds us, of our appetite for instruction. The Creator has installed in us the capacity for a lively personal relationship with Christ, in the Church, through the Eucharist. He has made us to be ultimately dissatisfied with anyone and anything less. Like the Israelites of old and the crowds of the Gospel, we will find in the living flesh of Jesus contentment for our murmuring, certainty for our objections, and direction for our wandering.
In her doctrinal heritage, sacramental order, and moral principles, the Church has consistently offered a program to counter spiritual malnourishment. Many of us, at various points in our lives, rather resemble those noncommittal crowds. As in the physical order, spiritual inactivity breeds discomfort and disease, in the forms mentioned by St. Paul: “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling.” It is never too late to get off our spiritual couches, to move our minds toward deeper understanding and our wills to greater discipline. As with any regimen of diet and exercise, we must start small, but continue consistently for best results. Replacing one television program or YouTube foray with a little reading of the Bible or Catechism would start a revolution of Olympic proportions.