By Father Alonzo Q. Cox
The summer before my priestly ordination, I had the opportunity to work at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. It was going to be my last summer job ever so I wanted to make the best of it.
My primary purpose for the job was to save money for the upcoming festivities of my ordination. I had followed a long line of seminarians that worked at the diocesan cemetery office, so many of the office employees were accustomed to seeing seminarians for the summer months.
My job was very simple. I was to enter files into the computer data system, re-organize the current filing system and give the location of gravesites to those who came to the office looking for their loved ones.
St. John’s is a quite large and beautiful cemetery. During my lunch hour I would walk around the vast grounds of this stunning and sacred place, taking in the exquisite and ornate mausoleums and headstones that were constructed as final resting places for the faithful.
On one of my walks during a warm summer day, I came across a woman who sat on a bench in front of a gravesite. She was weeping profusely. As she sat on the bench with her head in her hands crying, I noticed that there was no one around her. She was alone with no one to console or comfort her.
Not knowing really what to do or what to say, I decided to walk over to her and gently whisper, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
The words just came out of my mouth. She immediately turned around to me and drying the tears from her eyes, she said thank you.
As we engaged in conversation, she told me that it had only been two months since her husband had died, but for her, it still seemed like yesterday. When I had arrived, the headstone had just been placed, and immediately it brought her to tears.
I told her that I was a seminarian and that I would be ordained a priest next summer. I asked for her prayers for my classmates and me. She told me that she was an active member in her local parish and that she would include us in prayer. She said that her husband encouraged her to become more active in the church – jokingly telling his wife that when he died she would have something to do.
She had become a lector and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Her involvement in the church brought her the consolation that she needed in the weeks following her husband’s passing.
As we ended our conversation, she said something to me that I will never forget. She said: “I am so thankful to everyone who consoled me during my husband’s illness and death, but the greatest consolation that I received was from Jesus in Holy Communion.”
I recall those words and my encounter with that lady at St. John’s Cemetery as we think about our Scripture readings. This weekend we hear again from St. John’s Gospel, and the Bread of Life Discourse. Jesus tells us that He is the bread of life and whoever eats this bread will live forever.
Not only will Jesus give us the strength and nourishment that we need in this world, but He also gives us that same nourishment in the world to come: “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.” (John 6:51).
The woman that I encountered at the cemetery was consoled by those very words. Jesus, the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation, brings life eternal for those who believe. Death is not the end for those who believe in Christ the Lord.
Gives of Himself
Just as Elijah was nourished by the food and water provided for him in his time of need and stress, so too does the Lord feed us in our time of need. Jesus gives of Himself in order for us to continue the journey of building up the Kingdom of God here on this earth, so that ultimately we can enjoy the kingdom that awaits us in heaven.
Our second reading today encourages us not to grieve, but to be imitators of Christ our Savior, who always provides for our needs. We pray that by the power and working of the Holy Spirit all of us will continue to spread the Good News of Jesus, encouraging and consoling one another with His words.
May Jesus, the Bread of Life, bring all of us to everlasting life.
Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19: 4-8
Psalm 34: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 4: 30 – 5:2
John 6: 41-51
Father Alonzo Q. Cox is the pastor of St. Martin de Porres, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the diocesan coordinator of ministry to African-American immigrants.