Only God Can Satisfy All Our Desires
August 4, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 55:1-3) Reading II (Romans 8:35, 37-39)
Gospel (St. Matthew 14:13-21)
In the first reading this morning, the prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, says to the people of the Lord, "Come to the water, you who have no money; come, receive grain and eat. Drink wine and milk." And he goes on to ask the question: "Why do you spend your money for what fails to satisfy?" All of the things that we get ourselves into…why do we spend our time and our effort on so many things that cannot satisfy what the heart desires?
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord, looking around at all the people, says to His disciples, "They do not need to leave; give them something to eat yourselves." The disciples do not understand what it is that He means; all they know is that they have only two fish and five loaves and there were probably well over 10,000 people there - 5,000 men not including women and children, it says. So one would have to assume that there were probably more women and children present than there were men, consequently, more than 10,000 people. The disciples, looking at all of these people, cannot imagine how they could feed them. But they did not understand what Our Lord was doing. They had been with Our Lord all day long and the Lord had been feeding them - spiritually. He had been giving them what it was that they needed. I think it is important to notice that the people were not complaining that they had not had anything to eat because their souls were filled.
But when we think about our own society and we think about the way we spend our time, our effort, even our money, how much of it is really on secondary things? How much of it is on things that fail to satisfy? How much of it is on things that are really quite meaningless - momentary and completely fleeting little pleasures that are gone? A few weeks ago, as the 4th of July came around and the whole neighborhood was suddenly exploding and things were flying through the air and popping and all sorts of things were going on with lots of noise, I thought to myself, "The amount of money that these people spent just so they could hear a firecracker go 'pop'! What a waste!" Some of those things, I suspect, cost them several dollars for one second's worth of a little bit of fleeting excitement as the thing exploded. What a waste!
If we would just stop and think about what it is that we put our effort into, where we put our priorities, I think what we would find is that our priorities center around one person: the self. That is why everything is so empty for us; that is why it is so fleeting. We are constantly looking for something that is going to fulfill, something that is truly going to make us happy, and nothing ever does. We keep running and running and running, looking for anything that is going to make us feel better, and we keep getting deeper and deeper and deeper into the muck because nothing is going to make us feel better - except Our Lord, the One who is able to fulfill the needs of the heart, the desires of the heart.
But most of us are far too interested in the senses to worry too much about the spirit. We are more concerned about the body than we are about the soul. Instead of fulfilling what the soul is desiring, we seek to fulfill what the body desires. We look at the various senses and say, "Well, what is it that we have put our effort into? To make sure that the stomach feels better? To make sure that our sense of hearing is fulfilled, that we put on some music to make sure that feels better? To make sure that we are looking at pleasant things so that the eyesight is fulfilled? To make sure that the things around us smell real nice?" All these things to make sure that the body is taken care of. It is not that any of these things in and of themselves are wrong; it is a question of where the priority lies. If that becomes our priority rather than something which is secondary for us, then we have got it all backwards.
And what happens, as we all know too well, is that once you start giving in to the desires of the flesh - and I do not simply mean impurity, I mean any of the desires of the body, any of the sensual desires - all that it wants is more. It gets a little bit and the senses start screaming for more. They want more of whatever it is that you have given them. All we need to do, again, is just look at ourselves, and I suspect most of us have had the experience of either trying to break away from the TV set or trying to break away from the radio or trying to break away from some habit of whatever it may be: eating too much chocolate or eating too many sweets or eating whatever it might be. Just try to pull away from it, and then listen to your body. Not that there is anything auditory that it is saying, but it screams at you and it says, "I am being deprived of what I want. Give me something to make me feel better! Let me eat what I want; let me watch what I want; let me listen to what I want - and give me more!" That is the nature of the body.
What we need to recognize is that none of these things can satisfy; all it does is leave us longing for more and it leaves us empty. But we keep putting ourselves back into that because the senses seem to require it. What we need to learn how to do is put the soul first and what the soul needs. Saint Paul told us in the second reading that nothing created - nothing created - can keep us from the love of God that comes to us in Jesus Christ. Nothing. The only being which can keep us from the love of God that comes to us in Jesus Christ is the self: "I can make the decision myself whether I want to love God or not." And it is not that most of us are going to consciously say, "I don't want to love God," but what we do is put ourselves first instead of God. And so our priorities get all mixed up. In so doing, even though we may not completely leave the Lord, we put Him at an arm's distance. Or if what we choose is mortal sin, we do cut ourselves off from the love of God; literally and completely, we cut ourselves off. It is not the Lord who is doing it. It is not the devil who made us do it; he cannot. The devil can tempt us; we are the only ones who can choose it.
And so the Lord is saying to each one of us, "Come to the water, the Holy Spirit. Come, receive grain and eat." He is offering to us everything that the soul needs. That is why He asks, "Why do you spend your money for what fails to satisfy?" Only the Lord can satisfy us, only He. Even for those of you who are married, as much as you love your spouse, you recognize that being a human person and a creature, that spouse of yours, as wonderful of a person as he or she is, cannot completely fulfill what the heart desires. Only God can do that. And only if you love your spouse with the love of God is your heart going to be fulfilled. Most often, we have it all backwards: We are looking for the other person to fulfill what we want. If only we would realize that we would be fulfilled only by loving the other and then being loved in return. But it is not with any of our own stuff and it is not by them alone that we are going to be fulfilled, but it is by the love of God that comes to us through that person and by the love of God with which we love that other person.
Only with Christ can we be fulfilled. If we try to put other things first, we are going to be frustrated. And I think as Americans we all know what that feels like. We cannot figure out why there is so much depression. We cannot figure out why people are so angry and so frustrated. While there are certainly a variety of reasons, I think if we look at it for the most part, it has to do with the selfishness. It has to do very often with trying to find something external to ourselves to make us happy; and when nothing makes us happy, we get depressed, we get frustrated, we get angry. It is only in the Lord that we are going to find what the soul desires. It is only in Him that we are going to find the fulfillment of what our heart is seeking.
In order to do that, first and foremost, we must begin to mortify the body. We must learn to say "no" to those things that are not of God. And the things that are good and necessary for our lives, we need to learn even there to say "no"; that is, to learn how to temper it and not to give in to everything the body desires. For instance, we need to have food. We do not need to have the richest and fanciest and nicest of food. We do not need to eat until we are stuffed. These are the things we can look at and say, "These are good things but we need to temper our use of them."
Then there are things that are not good, things that the body will desire but that are not good at all. Anyone who was raised from the 1950's until the present knows the addictive nature of rock 'n roll music, jazz, rap, and all the garbage that has been presented to us since then. Anyone who grew up with that stuff, listening to it, knows that it is completely addictive and it is very difficult to get away from. It is not good; not even in the least bit is it good. But your body tells you that it is because it is addicted to it. We need to reject that stuff because it leads us away from Christ. It cannot separate us by itself, but when we choose that over the Lord, we are separating ourselves from Christ. People get angry when I tell them that stuff is thoroughly, completely, and 100% inspired by Satan. You do not have to take my word for it; you can ask the so-called rock 'n roll artists who will tell you that it is inspired by Satan. They do not make any bones about it! But we do not want to listen to that; we would rather listen to the trash coming out of the radio than listen to the voice of God.
That is what the Lord is getting at. Why are we spending all of our time and effort on this garbage that cannot satisfy when we can listen to the voice of God? But we cannot hear the voice of God because we have drowned it out in our society. Between the noise coming out of the radios and the CD players and the noise coming out of the TVs and the telephones and everything else, all we are doing is listening to other voices but not the Lord. We are feeding our bodies and our senses with all kinds of external things but we are not feeding our soul with what it needs. And so the Lord says to us, "Come to Me heedfully and I will fill you." Heed the voice of the Lord. Reject the stuff that leads you away from Christ; and the stuff that is good and necessary, use it with temperance. Learn how to say "no" to the desires of the flesh. Begin to mortify yourselves; start pulling back from these things. Today, it might seem like something you cannot live without; just try to give it up. Once you make it over the hurdle of thinking that you cannot survive without it, which usually takes several days, then suddenly you start realizing that you are happier. You are more free. Life suddenly has far greater value to it. You have greater insight. Everything is more simple. Then you begin to wonder why it was you thought that you could not live without this thing. Then when you give up the next thing, you find the same thing all over again. And as you begin to pull away from all the things which destroyed the soul, you suddenly realize that there is a fulfillment you have never known before. You suddenly start being able to hear the voice of God. You suddenly start listening to a voice that you have not been able to recognize because it was drowned out by all the noise. Suddenly, what is happening in the soul becomes evident because you are bringing the body into subjection.
That is what the Lord is getting at, so He says to his disciples, "You give them something to eat." They did not understand. They thought He was talking only about the body, and they did not have anything to feed them in the body. But the Lord was talking about the soul, and He invites each one of us to come to Him and to receive freely. He does not charge for the truth. He gives Himself to us out of love; there is no charge. All that He asks is that we would open our hearts to receive Him, and in receiving the love that He gives to us that we would love in return, that we would choose freely to give what we have received freely - and that is Jesus Christ.
We need, once again, to ask ourselves about our own priorities. I think for most of us, if we are honest, we would have to say the number one priority is the self. And even in looking at the self, the number one priority is the body, the senses, all of the selfish desires that we have. When we can admit that, we realize then that we have got the priorities backwards. Remember, Jesus tells us what the priorities have to be: to love God with your whole heart and soul and strength, to love your neighbor as yourself. So the self comes third, not first. God comes first; those around us come second; the self comes third. It is only when we have the order right that we are going to find the fulfillment our souls desire. It is then that we will have the joy we are looking for. But as long as we put the self first, we are not ever going to be fulfilled. And even with putting the self first, if we put the body in front of the soul, we are not going to be fulfilled either; it is only when we have the priorities right.
So the Lord invites us to come to Him - to Him - not to anything else, not to the TV stations or the radio stations or the fast-food joints or anything else - to Him, to come to Him heedfully and He will feed us. He will give us what our souls really need. But we need to stop listening to all the other voices then, and we need to put our own priorities right. We need to learn to deny what the senses are screaming for, and we need to listen to the voice of God in our soul. We need to allow the Lord to feed us. He will re-establish that everlasting covenant, which is represented in the twelve baskets that were filled up with all the fragments: the twelve tribes of Israel.
As the Lord brings each one of us out into a desert place, into a place where we can be alone with Himself, it is there that He will feed us. It is there that He will feed the soul before He feeds the body. It is there that He will show us what the priorities really need to be. But only we can make the choice. There is nothing else in the created world which can separate us from the love of Christ; but if we choose to put the creature before the Creator, then we allow those created things to separate us from the love of Christ. Do not walk away saying, "Because those things cannot separate us from the love of Christ, then I can immerse myself in them." No, if we choose to put those things before the love of Christ then we are separating ourselves through the means of those other things from the love of Christ. It is us, and us alone, who can make the choice. Each one of us must make that choice individually for ourselves to set the priorities right; within ourselves, to put the soul before the body; and within the order of creation, to put the Creator before the creature. When the priorities are right, when we come to the Lord and listen to Him heedfully, then, and only then, will we be fulfilled.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.