Your heart is right in wanting the infinite, but your heart is wrong in trying to make its finite companion the substitute for the infinite."
-Fulton Sheen, The Four Tensions of Love
Bishop Fulton Sheen, in a talk on the tensions of marriage, once said heaven is where we can have the thrill of the chase and the fulfillment of the capture. But here on earth the two are rarely enjoyed simultaneously. More often than not, whether it be the pursuit of things or people, the thrill is gone once something or someone is obtained. And so when thrill subsides, we move on to something else. The reason for this, Sheen went on to say, is that we are created for the Infinite. Finite, material things simply will not suffice. The key to happiness is not increasing your belongings, but rather, decreasing your wants…the want of material things.
On July 28th, in Sunday’s Gospel reading, our Lord made us a promise about happiness. He said, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
The question is: What is it that we are guaranteed to receive or to find or to have opened for us? It may disappoint some but at the end of the Gospel passage our Lord promised that the Holy Spirit will be given to those who ask, to those who seek and to those who knock. Quite often, especially when we are in desperate want of something, we take his promise to mean that we will get things when we ask for them. Instead, what the Lord was saying is that, in the end, the human heart wants God and must have God if he or she is to be satisfied.
Nevertheless, we are human. Material or temporal things such as people, food, shelter, a job, a vehicle, health, etc. contribute to our well-being. It is through these things that the Lord communicates his goodness to us. And wanting these things in moderation is not a bad thing. Perhaps, this is why Psalm 20 reads: “May he [the Lord] grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.” But it is when things do not go according to our plans- such as when we are unemployed, infirmed, or grieving over the loss of a dear loved one -that we come to realize just how dependent our happiness is on earth on these things. And as stated, even when things go our way we get restless and want more than what we have.
Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, The Light of Faith, said that when man no longer is oriented towards God, “he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants.” In other words, the worldly person lives for the moment and that moment, at least for the person, is not part of a bigger, more meaningful picture. More and more people are living for the experience…the experience in the moment. This is why, in my opinion, the rate of young couples cohabiting is going through the roof. The institution of marriage- what it means for their soul, their relationship and what it means for society –is too big of a concept for them to grasp. So, in response, they settle for the pleasures and conveniences of the moment.
But even in the thrill of having a new sex partner and then living with him or her- morally disordered as it is –there is something about God that young couples want. Whether it be sexual attraction, a successful career, or wealth, there is something in these things that reflect God’s goodness. However, it is only when people pursue these things as ends in themselves or use them without any reference to God that life goes seriously wrong.
Still, our Lord attracts souls to Himself through His creation. At every Mass we pray, “Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” It’s not just the sunset at the end of the day, the stars at night or the beauty of a scenic drive that this principle of glory applies to. No. God’s glory also shines through relationships, experiences and the circumstances of everyday life. Etienne Gilson, Catholic philosopher and author of the book, The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy, said this: “It is because God is beautiful that things are beautiful; because he is good that they are good; because He Is that they are.” “All action,” he continues,” whether conscious or not, and even whether good or bad, contributes to the glory of God, for our acts may be deprived of their good, but nothing can deprive God of his glory.”
Without knowing it, therefore, the single person who desperately wants to get married, the poor person who seeks a better home for his family, and the sick person who wants to recover his health is really in search of God. And God, in his goodness, frequently answers us when ask for these things. After all, they are legitimate human desires.
But in the end, sooner or later, the good Lord moves us from the desire of things to desire Him for His own sake. This is the toughest lesson of life to learn. As Bishop Sheen said, when we love people and things too much, there is discontent; but when we love too little, there is emptiness. Yet, it is true, nevertheless, that anything, any experience and any person that ever made us happy has done so because what we got, in part, was God Himself. But as the great St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
For this reason, our Lord Jesus bids us to ask so that we can receive what we really desire. Many think they want this or that, but what they really want is Christ Himself.