To be human is to be restless and not fully satisfied most of the time. Ask a high school senior, an engaged couple or a seminarian in his last year of formation if they are ready to move on to the next stage of life! We seek all sorts of things to fill up the emptiness inside us – new friendships, a spouse, a job promotion, a bigger house, a smaller nose, more money, athletic victory, popularity, and yet when we achieve what we have been pursuing, it is never enough. Our hearts still long for more.
Our Catholic faith tells us that this restless dissatisfaction is a good thing! How can that be? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (27).
In other words, God has placed a homing device in our hearts that will ceaselessly keep us seeking more until we rest in God. St. Augustine knew this truth well; living in the waning years of the Roman Empire, he embraced various philosophies, lived with a woman, fathered a child, feverishly looking for the ultimate meaning of life until he listened to the preaching of St. Ambrose in the Milan cathedral and his heart opened to the truth of Jesus Christ.
Knowing my restlessness to be a good and holy thing helps me to channel my desires to God as my ultimate end. When we are tempted to fill our interior emptiness with anything less than God, we can more consciously remind ourselves of what is actually going on here, that we are really seeking the divine.
If only God can truly satisfy all my longings, then money, alcohol, career prestige, a new car, pornography on the Internet, going shopping or any of the other distractions that tempt us are ultimately illusions that leave us disillusioned and emptier than before. When I am drawn to sin, to put something or someone in place of God, I try to immediately pray, to refocus the desires of my heart on the only One who can truly satisfy.
Helping others name their interior longings is a great form of evangelization. When a friend shares her grief over a broken relationship, we can gently turn her toward the Lord as the one who heals and consoles.
When a coworker talks about his mid-life crisis, we could suggest that maybe he is looking for God without even knowing it. When a relative is battling an addiction, we can talk about the need to surrender to a higher power.
As G. K. Chesterton said, even the alcoholic and the prostitute are looking for God; they just don’t know that that’s who they are really seeking. It is our job to help them to know.
As we enter into this exciting Year of Faith, the church invites us to explore the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for in these pages we will find raised the ultimate questions that each person must answer. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here? Does God exist and how can I know that? Can I be forgiven? Why is there so much suffering and evil? Does death have any meaning? Is there life after death or is there just nothing? What is heaven really like?
Because humanity, down through every age, has always sought answers to these questions, we can say that the human person is fundamentally a religious being. Only religious faith can attempt to resolve such fundamental and perplexing mysteries that gnaw at our minds and souls.
“In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior; in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations and so forth. These forms of religious expression … are … universal … “ (CCC, 28).
For us, as Christians, the Lord Jesus is the door, as he says in John 10, which leads to life, salvation, forgiveness and peace. In his perfect union of divinity and humanity, Jesus is the complete expression of God to us and the fully integrated person who stands before us, inviting us to become fully alive by giving ourselves completely to him and the reign of God.
This Year of Faith may be just the time to examine what is dead, sinful, incomplete or frustrated in us and to turn it all over to the healing power of the Lord.
Are we still looking for love in all the wrong places?