Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our Hearts are Restless Till THey Rest in Thee

Today is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Gospel we have is a continuation of last week's Gospel in which upon being asked by Jesus, "Who do you say that I am?", Peter answers correctly, "Your are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  Jesus gives Peter the 'keys of the Kingdom of Heaven', a unique authority that extends from Christ Himself.  What is Peter's first act as keeper of the keys?  When Jesus tells the apostles what being the Messiah actually meant, Peter wants none of it.  In arrogant presumption, he takes upon himself to rebuke Jesus as if Jesus were insane or at least taken temporary leave of His senses.  What leads Peter to such a bold move?  Jesus describes the role of the Messiah as one of being rejected by the religious leaders. put to death, and then rising in 3 days.  This was not the job title Peter had in mind for a Messiah.  Jesus was supposed to go to Jerusalem, wow the religious authorities (and maybe even the Romans) and through either that or through war, establish a new Davidic kingdom.  Peter is looking to the things of this world to satisfy his longings and is tempting Jesus to do the same; a temptation that Jesus had already experienced in the 40 days in the desert when Satan tempted Jesus to do the same by promising to hand over all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him.  Jesus has the same response both times; he refutes it.  This time, He instructs His apostles (and by extension all who would follow Him) to fix their gaze not on the things of this world, but in the things of God.

It is easy to chide Peter as if he were some singular dope who didn't get it.  But that is the story of humanity, isn't it?  We continually seek within the things of this world fulfillment and contentment.  For some it is an accrual of wealth and power, for others it is knowledge.  Take, for example the saint whose feast it is, St Augustine.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine talks about his searches  for contentment within this world.  He talks about how he chased this inner longing God places within us and tried to fill it with the things of this world.  This lead him to sinfulness and even a heretical cult.  He describes how his mother, St. Monica, who had herself found the answer to that longing in God Himself, had desperately prayed for her son to do the same and had invited him over and over again.  Augustine persisted in seeking in the world, but eventually converted to Christianity and understood what is was that his mother had, saying in the Confessions , "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."  He would find in God what the things and pleasures of this world had failed to provide and stopped building his own temporary kingdoms and gave himself over to the Kingdom of God.  St. Augustine, after this self surrender to God, would become a prolific writer and preacher whose teaching still greatly influence the Christian faith.

There is a powerful lesson to be learned from both of these: Specifically, what fills that hole within us.  It is easy to look to the things of this world to fill that need.  In fact, the world will tell us that there is no God, so if we are to find fulfillment it will be here and now.  This way of thinking can subtly or not so subtly drive our lives, even those of Catholics.  Ambition for the things of this world and the possibility of their filling that longing is not just a feeling that Peter or Augustine felt, but one common to our human condition.  Sometimes we can replace the refrain from today's Responsorial Psalm, "My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God" with trying to satiate that thirst with wealth, power, status, influence, and reputation.  When those inevitably do not work, the emptiness gets numbed.  In his book, "Prayer Primer", Fr Thomas Dubay writes the following: " When one rejects the real God, he inevitably substitutes lesser things to fill his inner emptiness.  If we are not captivated by the living God and pursuing Him, we will center our desires on idols, big or small: vanities, pleasure seeking, prestige, power... while idols never satisfy, they often do serve as narcotics that more or less deaden the inner pain of not having Him for whom we were made and who alone can bring us to the eternal ecstasy of the beatific vision."   So many times our quest for fulfillment in this world is dashed by the realization that no matter how good the feeling provided, it soon or later goes away.  This leads us to double down on stupidity in the hopes of a permanent fix.  If a little materialism doesn't work, maybe more will.  If a little sexual promiscuity doesn't work, maybe more will.  If my use of narcotics and alcohol doesn't work, maybe more will.  Much like a person smacking their head against a brick wall and wondering why they are dazed and bleeding, we can keep going to the same unfulfilling trough  thinking maybe this time it will be different.  The bottom line is that our longing will never be totally fulfilled by the things of this world because the things of this world are temporary.  We who fix our hopes on the temporary set ourselves up for our own disappointment, disillusionment, and unhappiness.  Were simple accumulation of wealth or power a constant in the fulfillment of the human condition, there would be a level at which every person would declare that they are totally satiated.  Does that sound like the world in which we live?  When we chase after specters, we will have nothing but a haunted longing in the end.  We are meant and made for far greater than what this world can provide.

In the Gospel, Christ invites us to walk in his footsteps and in doing so find both the focus and locus of true and lasting fulfillment. We cannot expect the eternal from the temporary.  To find that which is lasting, we must look to that which is eternal.  Those who find it, find it easy to detach from this world and find joy regardless of the wealth, health, prestige, power, reputation and such they have or lack thereof.  This is because when we find that which is eternal, that which is temporary is recognized and treated as that which is temporary; but finds in the temporary the visage of the God who made the temporary as well as the unending life within the Kingdom of Heaven. We always have the choice to pursue the things of this world or the things of God; we have the ability to try and find fulfillment in the here and now (if you are into exercises in futility) or we can broaden our vision to the eternal.  God gives us His grace to do so.  His footsteps show us the path.  This means that the love of God must influence all that we are and all that we do. For it is agape that fills us with what the world promise but cannot deliver upon.  It is our choice to walk in frustration or fulfillment.  Be aware, though, that St Augustine is right in that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

As one who has seen with my own eyes the ruins of a great and powerful empire (Inca) that is now consigned to the dustbin of history along with every other empire, it is wise to understand the Latin saying, 'Sic Transit Gloria Mundi'..that is, Thus passes the glory of the world.  We are called to a far greater dignity and promise.  Let us set our sights on that which is of God while we live it that which is of this world.  It is difficult to be sure, but if we truly want to experience a foretaste of the eternal union and fulfillment of heaven, it will by striving, though the grace of God, for it in the here and now.

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