Stop for a moment and ask yourself: what are the blessings God has given me? I’ve asked that question of various groups at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center. Their most common responses: spouse, children, good health, and faith. None has ever said God blessed them when they were ill or unemployed or in the midst of grief.
Many, unknowingly, believe that if we follow God’s will, then good material things will follow. But when bad things happen, perhaps God is displeased with us, or we’re being punished for something we’ve done. When I submit that God blesses us always, not only in good times, but even in bad, I hear murmurs of surprise. And why not? The gospel of prosperity permeates our nation’s spiritual culture. We hear on TV and the radio: “Pray for that money or that house, and expect a miracle!”
It’s nothing new. It was even alive 2,000 years ago when the crowd was drawn to Jesus with his healing miracles and his feeding of the crowd with loaves and fishes. The crowd failed to recognize these miracles as signs pointing to who Jesus is, the Son of God. “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves, and were filled,” Jesus says to them. “Don’t work for food which perishes, but for food which remains to eternal life.”
And yet, the meeting of our physical needs never seems to lose its appeal. If we follow Jesus, as the crowd did, then we can rightly expect a miracle – like more loaves and fishes, a bigger house, a prestigious job or pay raise. It’s easy to follow Christ for these things. But who needs his spiritual food? What difference does that make in our lives?
Jesus tells us, as he told the crowd. We need this spiritual food because it gives us true nourishment. This is the food that rightly orders our lives and souls so that we might draw closer to God and follow Jesus in good times and in bad. This is true blessing, the true prosperity of eternal life.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.