EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
Have you ever felt the discomfort of an inner emptiness? If so, you are human. Have you ever experienced a hunger that seems to gnaw at the very fibers of the soul? If so, you are human. Have you ever known within yourself the stirrings of a desire that nothing earthly seems able to satisfy? If you have experienced these things, you are blessed indeed. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:6). Hunger for holiness is hunger for God himself. Hunger for union with God is what makes us uniquely human. The fulfillment of that hunger makes us divine.
Deep within each human being is an empty space that God alone can fill. As long as this capacity for God within us remains empty, we experience it as a kind of throbbing pain, a hunger that nothing earthly can satisfy. People cope with this inward hunger in one of three ways. The first way is denial; the second, substitution; the third is the way of the saints: union with God.
Those who belong to the first category deny that they have a spiritual component. They would limit their human reality to the satisfaction of their animal and rational needs. Comfort and reason circumscribe their notion of happiness. Such persons take pains to stifle any spiritual stirring within. They attempt to live as if a home, a family, food on the table, good health and the means to live comfortably are enough to be happy.
It is possible to have all of the above and yet be profoundly unhappy and incomplete. The visibility of the Church makes such people uncomfortable precisely because it suggests that there is more to human life than what is visible between the womb and the tomb. People who live in denial of their spiritual hunger are never really happy. They are often stalked by depression and various other psychological and emotional ailments. These complaints can be the soul’s way of crying out for attention, of saying, “Feed me, feed me with God.” When an individual risks opening his emptiness to God, he begins to experience a wholeness and a happiness that surpasses all that he could have imagined or dreamed.
Those who belong to the second category recognize the inner spiritual hunger but want to fill it on their own terms rather than on God’s. One often hears them say such things as, “I am a religious person but I do not go to church,” or “I am in favor of spirituality but reject religion.” Such people are an easy prey for cults and false spiritual teaching. They dismiss the piety of their grandparents as superstitious; yet buy into the deceptions of the age. They read all sorts of books on the way to successful living, on meditation, self-healing, dream interpretation, inner peace and personal fulfillment. In spite of all this, they remain hungry for something more. Their nibbling at the trendy “spiritualities” of contemporary culture leaves them empty and unsatisfied. This is the soul’s way of crying out for God, of seeking the nourishment given by the hand of the Lord and by no other.
Those who belong to the third category, having heard the Gospel, put their faith in Jesus Christ. True believers hear the word of the Lord in today’s first reading and take it to heart: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good. . . . Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Is 55:2-3). Christians recognize the hunger deep within themselves as the soul’s cry Godward. They know that this hunger can be satisfied only on God’s terms.
What are God’s terms? Saint Paul preaches them in today’s second reading. God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. In Christ he has made known the everlasting love for which we all hunger. The emptiness within is a yearning for a love stronger than death, an unconditional, faithful and all-powerful love, a love that cannot fail, nor disappoint, nor deceive. In Christ that everlasting love is communicated to us. In Christ, as we sang in the responsorial psalm, “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs” (Ps 145:16).
Christ nourishes us and cares for all our needs through his Bride, the Church. The Church feeds us with the living Word of God in the Sacred Scriptures and with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. She sets before us each day a table laden with the choicest food and drink; it is ours “without money and without price” (Is 55:1).
Only in Holy Mother Church are the spiritual needs of the human person correctly diagnosed and adequately addressed. A man is only fully human when his spiritual hungers are recognized and when his inward emptiness is filled by nothing less than God in Christ, acting through the Church and in the Church’s sacraments.
Years ago while at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., I met a young Presbyterian graduate student named Paige. She attended services in her church in Georgetown each Sunday and taught Sunday School there. On weekdays, however, Paige would slip into the local Catholic Church and attend daily Mass. She was drawn closer and closer to the altar, attracted to the Eucharist as to a magnet. I had the joy of receiving Paige into full communion with the Catholic Church.
In the light of conversions like Paige’s, it is tragic to see so-called “cradle Catholics” go through life suffering the torments of a hunger that the Eucharist can satisfy. It is even more tragic to see fallen-away Catholics who have so anesthetized their souls as to no longer feel the hunger pangs that are God’s way of letting them know just how much they need Him. Once baptized into the Catholic Church one cannot really leave her; one can only disobey her. Those who leave the Catholic Church will suffer from a gnawing for the Eucharist, for the true Body and Blood of Christ. The taste of eternity is something the soul cannot forget.
What is the role of a monastery in relation to all of this? Is not a monastery made up of those who, having left all things, set their hearts on the one thing necessary? The essential witness of a monastery is a witness to the Eucharist. Today’s Alleluia Verse says as much: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4b). A monastery draws life from every word of Christ but, most of all, from the words he pronounced at the Mystical Supper in the Upper Room: “This is my Body which is given for you. . . . This is the chalice of my Blood. . . . Do this in memory of me.”
The Instrumentum Laboris prepared in view of the upcoming Synod challenges monasteries to be models of Eucharistic faith and practice:
Because of the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church always approaches this mysterythe essence of the Liturgywith fear and trembling, and likewise, with great trust. Reverence towards the mystery of the Eucharist and awareness of its sublime character are much needed today. . . . Much will depend, however, on having places which can serve as models, places where the Eucharist is truly believed and properly celebrated, places where people can personally experience what the Sacrament isthe only authentic response to a person’s every need in the search for life’s meaning.
There you have the particular vocation of a monastery in this Year of the Eucharist and in this new millennium.
Today, Christ looks into the hearts of each of us. He sees some who are in denial of their spiritual hunger; he sees other who would attempt to still its pangs with various substitutes; and he sees still others who believe, who recognize their inner emptiness for what it is a sign that the human heart was created by God for God and that God alone can fill what he has created for Himself. Let us open ourselves to being fed by the hand of the Lord in these Holy and Life-giving Mysteries, to having all our needs met by him. Approach with the fear of God and with faith to receive the Sacred Body of the Lord and to drink of the Chalice of his Precious Blood. According to the word of today’s gospel, “they shall eat and be satisfied” (Mt 14:20).