The Thinking Anew column in today's 'Irish Times'.
In tomorrow's Gospel we read that Jesus is the bread of life, “… come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world." (John 6: 51)
What does that mean? Does it require a “leap of faith” to believe that, to believe in God, to believe in an afterlife?
At the beginning of August I was sitting opposite a man at a wedding banquet. We got chatting and early in our conversation it was clear we were getting on well together. He was younger than I, clever and well informed.
He told me he was a school principal and then later in our conversation I learned that it seems he was spending most of his free time during the summer reading the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
I know little about Kant but I did know that he was born in Königsberg, which is now Kaliningrad. My friend was not aware of the name change and that what was once a German/Prussian city was now in the Russian Federation.
But it seems he knows his Kant. The conversation moved to God and he was most emphatic in pointing out that there is no God nor no afterlife. Was he arrogant? Maybe a little but he spoke with conviction. An interesting person.
Two days later a 22-year-old young man said in my company that he hated going to Mass. He said it with a mix of boredom and anger. He was on his way to a family Mass, which he was obliged to attend. And most likely he has never heard of Kant.
In a sea of unbelief what can one say or do? What can one believe? I happen to be a Catholic because it is the faith into which I was born. Anytime I tell someone I will remember them in my prayers I always insist in pointing out that my prayers are “faltering and maybe even dodgy”.
Is there a God? Is there no god? It certainly is a profound question. It is something that has exercised the minds of mankind for a long time. It seems to me, to come down on either side with certainty, bordering on arrogance is simply not helpful.
Christians come in many varieties. As in any walk of life, there are liberals and conservatives, fanatics and middle-of-the-road class of people. There are those who “go with the flow” and those who have absolute and unassailable certainty.
Then there are the “experts” and the lawyers who know exactly what God is 'thinking'. I remember how we were told it was a mortal sin if we did not go to Mass on Sunday.
But then I think of Jesus saying that he is the bread of life. That Jesus is the bread of life and that we have been invited to join Him in that mystery stops me in my tracks.
Surely there's more to this world about us than the immediate now? There's more to this world than the joy and the pain that is part of our lives? Maybe it is only in God we can truly take our rest?
That Jesus is the bread of life is at the centre of our faith. And yet is that the experience of people when they go to church and break bread with each other?
Maybe we need a real conversation, one with another, about what it means to break bread in communion with our fellow Christians?
There's something deeply unattractive about all forms of certainty. Give me any day the person for whom faith is a struggle and yet can still be inspired by the words of tomorrow's Gospel.