Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for August 1, 2021:
Discernment is the ability to notice the fine-point details, to judge something well, or to understand something. Sometimes we Christians narrow the meaning of discernment to apply only to discerning one’s vocation. But every day is a new opportunity to discern what God is calling us to do right now as we seek our different vocations.
St. Ignatius of Loyola talked about discernment of the spirit, which he divides into three categories. As opposed to choosing between “good” and “evil” each category asks you to choose between two “goods” (such as between religious life and marriage). Your personal love relationship with God and your struggles impact your discernment process. Spiritual struggle defines who we are as Christians.
In today’s first reading and in the Gospel, we hear people asking for food. “The Israelites said to them, ‘Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!”” (Ex. 16:3). Later they asked, “What is this?” In today’s Gospel, Jesus told the people who were looking for 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.”
We need nourishment in order to survive. The Israelites asking Moses for food and the crowd looking for Jesus had genuine needs, but the food given to them also had a deeper meaning. It was a sign, and a sign always points to something else. Think about the signs and symbols we use during baptism. They point to an inner grace that we can’t see. The Israelites and the crowd around Jesus did not see that. They were content with having their stomachs filled. They wanted only what they wanted, not what Jesus wanted to give them. “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (Jn. 6:27).
As Christians, we have been called away from our former lives, to live in the newness of the life God has called us to. In every kind of situation we are faced with, we should discern what God is calling us to do. In the second reading St. Paul summarizes what kind of life we are called to live, “Brothers and sisters: I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Eph. 4:17, 20-24).