A reflection on the readings for Sunday, August 8, 2021 — the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

When it comes to consuming junk food, Americans are number one. Here are some statistics I came across that prove the point:

  • Most Americans eat fast food 1-3 times per week.
  • 1 in 3 Americans eats fast food on any given day.
  • Americans between the ages of 20 and 39 eat the most fast food on any given day than any other age group.
  • Men consume more fast food than women.
  • 83% of American families eat fast food at least once a week.
  • The average American household spends 10% of its annual income on fast food.
  • 34% of children In the US eat fast food on any given day.[1]

One of the problems is that fast food—most of which is junk food—is so available to us. It honestly just seems so convenient, especially when we’re in a rush and don’t have the desire to cook. And, let’s be honest, most of us love to have good junk food once in a while. But the truth is we know that these foods are not good for us. “Regular fast food consumption increases your risks for obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes & depression.”[2] The more junk food we eat, the less we hunger for healthy, nutritious food: the food that is good for us, the food that gives us energy and helps us to stay healthy.

While it’s true that Americans eat way too much junk food, I think it’s safe to say that we also consume too much spiritual junk food. Just as the only way to stay physically healthy is by eating the right nutritious foods, the only way to stay spiritually healthy is by avoiding spiritual junk foods and by feeding on the right spiritual food.

For example, look at Elijah in the first reading of today’s Mass. He’s in a crisis. He’s in the desert because he’s fled the wrath of Jezebel who wanted him dead. He’s near despair (a form of spiritual junk food), but the angel of the Lord brings him hope. He orders Elijah to eat “or else the journey will be too long” for him. This scene foreshadows the Eucharist. Just as Elijah is urged to avoid despair and to eat the bread that will give him strength, so too are we called to avoid spiritual junk food and to hunger for the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, that gives us strength for our life’s journey. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

There are many forms of spiritual junk food in which we indulge. Besides the spiritual junk food that so many of us consume daily (e.g. mindless television, vulgar music, excessive time on social media), we also give into less subtle forms of spiritual junk food: unforgiveness, anger, despair, gossip, etc. Or, as we hear from St. Paul today, “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling.”

The more we feed on these forms of spiritual junk foods, the further we distance ourselves from our Lord. There’s only one way to eliminate the harmful effects of spiritual junk food: it’s by choosing to fast from spiritual junk food and to feed on the right spiritual food, the Holy Eucharist. There’s a saying, “you are what you eat.” How true that is with the Eucharist. The more we receive Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, with love and devotion, the more we become like him.

We all need the Eucharist! Jesus is our Bread of Life. He is our food for the journey. And we need this food, “else the journey will be too long.” With all of the trials that we encounter in this life, we need the Eucharist to sustain us. This is why we must never be casual about missing Sunday Mass. We can’t afford to miss the grace that God is giving us in the wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist.

We should all resolve to diet! Turn away from spiritual junk food and hunger for the Eucharist. The more we hunger for the Eucharist, and the more we receive the Eucharist with love and devotion, the more we will find that spiritual junk food has less control over our lives.

Notes:

[1] Statistics taken from https://www.thebarbecuelab.com/fast-food/

[2] Ibid.


Image: Adobe Stock.


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Fr. Michael Najim was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Providence in 2001. He currently serves as the pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Westerly, RI.

Avoiding spiritual junk food
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