November 8, 2105 –– 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Conversion Series: Soul-Hunger
The Lord has given our pastor a vision of renewed conversion for all of us in the parish in this sermon series. How often do we think about the incredible responsibility of being the “point-guard” for the many souls connected to this congregation? I thank God for the pastor he has given us, but it’s not all up to him. How often do each of us give explicit attention to our own souls?!
We have been reminded that our world is broken, and yet there is something deep within us that cries out for “better”. In our hearts we know there is more, and the deepest truth is that the God who created me wants more for my life, just as I do. The deepest desires of our human heart are for a true holiness––a life marked by God’s truth and beauty and love.
One of the ways God reaches out to us is to make us aware of the gap between where we are and where we long to be. Every dissatisfaction––even every tinge of guilt––is actually a stirring of God’s Spirit within saying that things can be better. Sometimes I am hit with a little vignette from my past. I will suddenly remember something stupid I did years ago, and I am internally embarrassed at myself. Or a particular sinful action or desire that once marked my life will pop into my mind, and I will groan that such a thing once had such a hold on me. Yet even as my soul blushes as I think of these things, I also find encouragement. I am encouraged when I realize that I do not want stupid and sinful things to mark my life, and I am encouraged when I realize that the Lord has worked his grace into me so that I am not the person I was ten, twenty, and forty years ago.
We need personal reflection time. Because God is always at work, always seeking our attention and our hearts, it is good to find time and space to hear him speak to us. One way we learn to hear God’s voice is through contact with other people who have already developed an ear for God’s Spirit. That is the way preaching is supposed to work; at its best, a sermon is listening to someone who has been listening to God. Or it is helpful to read the lives of people who have walked closely with the Lord. Good Catholic formation will include the lives of the saints. In my early formation there were people whose witness gave similar examples. Soon after a major conversion experience when I was fifteen years old I began to read biographies of great Christians. At age sixteen I underlined this observation (and it has stayed with me for almost fifty years):
The soul does not seem to mind what it is occupied with, but only cares that it be kept occupied. It is passive as to choice. I choose, my soul responds, with ringing laughter, emotion, or pure worship. It is a tool, not a craftsman, and must be controlled…. Discerner of my sittings down, my risings, wilt Thou hallow this soul of mine? The choice is mine, you say? Ah, yes, the choice is mine (Eliot, The Shadow of the Almighty, p97).
Then, in another entry, there is an extension of this thought that I also marked all those years ago:
I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds. ….he will not allow quietness. Satan is quite aware of the power of silence. The voice of God, though persistent, is soft…. Let us resist the devil in this by avoiding as much noise as we can, purposefully seeking to spend time alone, facing ourselves….. (Eliot, The Shadow of the Almighty, p85).
This was written years before the day of cable sports networks, 24/7 news channels, and electronic pads. I fear that most people stay too distracted even to realize their soul is hungry. Our entertainment keeps us distracted.
Is it because we are afraid to face ourselves? If embarrassing and guilt-laden memories sometimes invade our thoughts spontaneously, why make time for even more of them? Well, first of all, I am not encouraging a life lived by looking constantly in the rear-view mirror. That kind of perspective is just another trick of the devil to discourage us. Yet we can benefit from sometimes looking back if we are willing to learn. It has been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Can we look back and see in our recurring embarrassments and frustrations, and even in our guilt, our underlying desire for what is right and true and good? And if so, can we dare to believe what St John Paul II told an audience of young people in the year 2000? “It is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness.” Each dawn brings a new choice; each day new grace. If you’ve tried life according to your own plan, it is time now for you to fall on your knees and fully give your life to the Lord.
There is a consistent witness among Christians who have opened their hearts to intimacy with Jesus. The psalmist said it this way several thousand years ago, and it’s still true:
Hungry they were and thirsty;
their soul was fainting within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their need
and he rescued them from their distress
and he led them along the right way…
For he satisfies the thirsty soul;
he fills the hungry with good things (from Psa 107).
Every one of us is hungry in our souls. Every time we try to find happiness in amusements and every time we find ourselves stressed over the many things that seem to consume our days, we need to stop long enough to remember: God is calling me. Jesus wants me to love and trust him.
Prayer: You fill the hungry with good things, Lord God, and break the sinner’s chains. Hear your people who call to you in their need, and lead your Church from the shadows of death. Draw us into all it means to be your people and to live in your love, through Christ our Lord.