Panis Angelicus: Man ate the bread of Angels (Ps. 78:25).

In the desert, two things were happening for the Israelites at the same time. First of all, they were facing death daily. Their problems were real and serious. In the last post, they faced poisonous water. No one can last long in the desert without water, and the problem is compounded considering the provisions for a whole congregation of people. Now after traveling a few days, they came to the Wilderness of Sin (16:1), the first of seven deserts crossed by the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land. Food now becomes a problem. In these difficulties, God never makes light of their plight. He is remarkably patient with the people. The other thing that is going on is God’s marvelous provision. He displays his power at the Red Sea, and turned bitter water into living water, led them to springs, and now was about to provide for them bread from heaven, the “bread of angels.” We must not be quick to condemn the Israelites for murmuring at every test along the way. Again, Israel is everyman; she is a mirror into our own souls. It is shallow to assume that if we had seen all the wonders they had seen that we would calmly walk through the desert joyfully, always in expectation for the next miraculous provision. This is the ideal, but how many of us actually live the ideal in spite of all the evidence of God in our lives? Here the Israelites are so angry at God for leading them into the desert that they utter a death wish (16:3), and fantasized about the “fleshpots” in Egypt as if their former masters were their cooks and waiters. The problem is that they were living by their senses, from the outside in, and not the inside out. We humans lose our dignity when we live from the outside in, always driven by our physical appetite. Our dignity is living from the inside out, from the spirit in the depths of our being, which in turn rules the soul with its reason, imagination, will and emotions, and from there to our sensual and physical exteriors. (See The Haunted House “… I was afraid…” Sept. 24, 2013) It is this dignity God is intent on restoring. Israel finds herself now in the school of God. Exodus chapter 16 is a classic text in spiritual formation. God addresses their need for food, but He does so in a most directed way. YHWH rains bread from heaven down upon them, but they must be extremely careful with how they handle it. They are to gather only what they daily needed. The miracle here is not only that the bread came from heaven, but that however much anyone could gather, in the end each individual had just the right amount for him or herself. (16:18). This informs us that God fully satisfies everyone no matter what capacity they have to receive, whether things spiritual or physical. But if we become gluttonous and try to hoard things physical or spiritual, what we gather rots and turns to stench as the manna did if the Israelites kept some overnight (v. 20). God was teaching them to enjoy Him morning by morning with their daily bread without fear for the future. Moreover, they were to gather it each of the six days of the week, and only on the sixth day were they to gather for the Sabbath day, for on the Sabbath day there was no manna. The Sabbath is not a day where the people were to gather; it was their dignity to rest in the presence of God. In God’s school we are to learn not to live to eat, but to eat to live, not to live from the outside in, but from the inside out. Spiritual formation is all about restoring our dignity lost at the fall when humanity chose to live by the senses and not by the spirit. No purely natural explanation for the manna will suffice. The name itself, derived from the Hebrew mah hûʹ (man hûʹ is an etymological corruption from which we get the word “manna”), means “What is this?” The Hebrews themselves did not know, and could only compare it with coriander seed and honey wafers. We do know that it was material and thus earthly, but that it was “from heaven” as well. It was so special that the Lord commanded Moses to place some in a jar “before the Lord” for all generations to come (vv. 31-36), and ultimately placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Heb. 9:4) at the very heart where the transcendent God touched the temporal, the most holy place on earth. This connection with heaven and earth makes Manna a clear type of Christ who in His incarnation was both from heaven as the Eternal Logos and made of this earth through the Blessed Mother, as well as the Eucharist, where Jesus plainly teaches that His flesh is the bread of life come “down from heaven,” (John 6:22-71). God always works salvation through the physical; it is never purely a spiritual affair.

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