By KATIE GROSS
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me
not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
I once had a theology teacher who would always warn us about worshipping the “vending machine God.” By this, of course, she meant that we shouldn’t pray as if we were making demands of God, or seeking to get something out of Him. This is a trap that is all too easy to fall into, especially as we go through trials and recognize our needs. However, we must remember that God alone fulfills our needs—not any emotion or consolation that we may get from Him.
Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. I am a teenager. If any of you have teenagers or have worked with teenagers, you probably know that we are big bundles of emotion with a dash of reason thrown in. As such, a trap that many Christians my age are tempted into is the trap of the “emotional God,” who makes us feel warm and accepted. Of course, this is not a bad thing—God does love us and accept us, and we certainly can feel His love in certain situations. However, there is often the temptation to latch onto emotion as the basis of our faith. There is a problem here. Emotions change. Emotions fade. If faith is linked to emotion, our faith will change and fade with it. This is not just true for teenagers, but for Christians of all ages. We must remember that Jesus is not a feeling. Jesus is a human being—just as human as you and me.
Mother Teresa is one of my favorite saints. As I frequently write about on this blog, a group from my school and I volunteer from time to time at a shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity in Dallas. The sisters there really sparked in me an admiration for Mother Teresa, a truly selfless servant. Something that Mother Teresa deeply understood was that faith is not based on emotion. In fact, she admitted before her death that she did not feel God’s presence for the majority of her ministry. In her novel, she wrote the following: “I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul… I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” Of course, I do not wish this darkness on anybody. I do not wish it on myself, either. The point is that we are called to persevere in our faith even when the emotional aspect is completely absent. Mother Teresa is now on her way to canonization and has one confirmed miracle. I am sure that her joy is now complete in God, and that her perseverance was completely worth it.
Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life,which the Son of Man will give you. One time when I was on a retreat, a song leader said something that really struck me. We had had adoration as a group the previous night and were preparing to have Mass. In case you don’t know, some youth ministers are skeptical about offering adoration because many young people get frustrated if they don’t have an emotional experience and one of their peers does. The song leader understood this, and said something along the lines of, “Don’t make adoration the height of this retreat. Mass is where you actually get to receive the Lord. Mass should be more beautiful.” Mass may not always be an emotional experience for us. Sometimes, we may not “get anything out of” Mass. However, we must be wary of such reasoning—even if we do not “feel anything,” we must remember that Jesus gives Himself fully to us at every Mass. Emotions are food that perishes. The food that endures for eternal life is Jesus himself.