Are we too satisfied to accept what Jesus asks?
By Father Timothy Hepner
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Aug. 1
Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Psalm 78:3-4,23-24,25,25,54; Ephesians 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35
One of the worst things that can happen to us is that we become satisfied. In the first reading the Israelites complain to Moses, “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” When we are satisfied we don’t move, and if we don’t move we die. This is true both biologically and spiritually. If we thought we had everything we needed, we would stop working, moving, and growing. So being unsatisfied is, strangely, a gift from God to keep us alive.
A fundamental problem occurs when we think we are satisfied because the only needs we are aware of are the ones that can be fulfilled in this life. As a pastor I don’t come across much atheism, hatred of the faith, or outright rejection of Church teaching. Instead, I encounter many people like the Israelites, who are happy with their fleshpots and bread and very reluctant to get up and move toward an authentic encounter with God.
There are a great deal of Catholics who have achieved their life goals of earning a good living, establishing a nice family, and planning for retirement. They go to church when someone gets married or dies and they pray when they are in trouble. But their focus is largely earth-ward, and suggestions that they spend substantial time seeking after spiritual goods through more prayer or spiritual growth will annoy, confuse, or discomfort them.
It is easy to become frustrated or judgmental toward those who seem too satisfied to move beyond their comfort zone into the desert, the place of encounter with God and ask, why don’t people come to Mass? Why don’t they pray more, or believe what the Church teaches? Why don’t they listen to Jesus’ words, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life”?
But we are also challenged to recognize the ways in which we ourselves have become too satisfied.
ARE WE MISSING OUT?
Are we willing to seek out Jesus in the deserted, lonely places of our heart? Are we willing to let him identify the areas where we need to grow? Are we ready to increase the amount of time we pray, or the depth of our prayer? Are we willing to talk with the Lord about things that we’d rather keep hidden? If we have grown away from mortal sin, do we examine our conscience for venial sin? Do we make resolutions from our time of prayer which lead us to love others in more radical, practical ways? Are we more committed to living the duties of our state in life out of love for Jesus and accepting divine providence without complaint as if it were nourishing food given directly from a loving Father?
Often a coach of a losing team will say that their opponents “wanted it” more than their side did, or that they were “hungrier.” When we stop being spiritually hungry, we slow down or we cease moving all together. We miss out on profound encounters with Jesus and new opportunities to serve and love him. We may even miss out on heaven. But we also inadvertently tell those around us, “Stick with this food that will perish and ignore the food of eternal life.” We encourage others to be lukewarm even as we judge them for it.
But when we begin to pay attention to that deeper hunger, the hunger of our souls, we lift our eyes beyond this world and we hear Jesus say to us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Then the real adventure begins.
Father Timothy Hepner is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Monmouth, and St. Patrick Parish, Raritan. He also serves as chaplain for the St. Augustine Newman Club at Monmouth College.