1 Peter 1:17-21
Did you know that we can only find what we are already looking for? For example, have you ever scanned an unordered list for a name, say, "Evans"? Someone might ask later, "Did you notice if 'Jones' were on the list?" But you really can't say for sure because you weren't looking for "Jones"; you were scanning for "Evans." I recall as a youngster that some boys were very good at spotting arrowheads in a shallow brook full of flat stones. They narrowed the filters of their minds spotting arrowheads like a laser. They passed quickly over the near look-alike stones with ease. It is simply the way we are made. But they saw nothing else .... but arrowheads.
Our whole world is made this way. Our lives are organized around what we are looking for. Indeed, one of the Four Great Doctors of the Latin West, St. Augustine, wrote that the direction of our desires determines our destination in life, even our identities. — that whatever it is we love, that is what we become. In fact, whatever we think from moment by moment is what we become day by day, year by year, until our formation becomes nearly irreversible. Consider, if you will, the far-right political conservative or the radical left-wing liberal. They will never see eye-to-eye, for each views the world through desires that are so powerful that each man has become his categories — not merely people who find certain ideas to be intriguing or attractive or compelling, but identities and realities that have hardened into stone. And it all began with thoughts that then became a pattern of thoughts, that then continued day by day, and then decade after decade.
This principle holds true for all aspects of our character, for whatever we do, we are being formed in it. Now, mother might have cautioned us to stay away from this thing or that because, you see, it is habit-forming, but it turns out that everything forms our habits. That is why a saint over time finds it so easy to be saintly. Alternatively, the same principle holds for someone lost in wrong desires. For over time, their vices become their identity, even their reason for living each day. And it all began with a simple question: What do you want? What are you looking for .... as you scan the horizon of this world?
Let's ask the question a little differently: what or who do we love? Consider a young women of marriageable age. What sort of man is she drawn to? — We have nieces and grandnieces; some of us have granddaughters and daughters; we see this going on around us all the time; and we know that this is no small question. — For the answer will decide the rest of her life: her emotional welfare, her moral formation, her economic future, and all her happiness. And it all began, as St. Augustine would say, with a simple truth: whatever we love, that is what we become.
Who does not agree with Jackie DeShannon when she said in 1965, "What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love"? On the face of it, this might seem like a very good thing. On the other hand, we might reply, "Well, that depends on what ... or who you love." And this leads us to another, more recent, song title: "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places." And we all recognize that familiar cry, "How could I have been so blind?" ..... usually said when one's world is unraveling because we languished under the spell of our desires.
In the end, there is only one desire on this great, green earth that will lead us to happiness and personal fulfillment, and that is the desire for God. "Oh, no!" I can hear young people saying. "If I could just sit in a pew all day and sing hymns, this would lead me to the eternal happiness of sitting in a heavenly pew and singing hymns!" But that is not what I am saying. St. Augustine saw that the entire world is divided into two categories: the things that are of God, which will lead us to Heaven, and those things that are not of God, which will lead us to .... well, let's just say, away from God forever.
Let's go back to the young woman praying for a husband, or a young man whose heart yearns for a wife. Only a spouse that enlivens the soul to see Heaven's light and to hear Heaven's music will be the right one. Only that person. Nothing else will matter if the one we choose to marry is our soulmate in God's sight. All other challenges will be mastered; any personal failing will be accepted and amended; all burdens will be borne ... and with equanimity. For it is nothing but Heaven all the way to Heaven (as St. Catherine would say), and all this world has to offer will be seen for what it is (as St. Peter comments in his First Letter, which we read this morning), which is cheap and shallow by comparison. In the end, the question is always the same: "Do you have eyes to see?"
The Sadducees and the Pharisees were looking for God in all the wrong places, but this was not a failure limited to their religious parties. Jesus' own disciples could not see Who and What He was. And their short-sightedness continued on the road to Emmaus. For what kept them from seeing Him (as we read in the Gospel of St. Luke this morning) was their own categories and expectations. They were not open to seeing Him, and His flinty rebuke would be swift: "O, foolish men! And slow of heart to believe .... !" As St. Peter says in our reading from Acts, the Holy Spirit has poured out what we hear and see at Pentecost (among other places and times). But our faith depends on who is open to it.
Fifteen years ago I was present to hear a famous Yale professor lay down an audacious challenge to a large audience including clergy and prelates gathered in New Haven on the occasion of an honorary degree being granted. She asked them if they would ordain St. Francis of Assisi if had aspired in any of their dioceses today. And as she recounted St. Francis' exact attentiveness to the Gospel in deciding his manner of life, his exquisite sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, the fact that he was a purist theologically (which is only to say that he was Catholic!), that his orthodoxy was unbending, it became obvious to her audience that St. Francis would not fit into any diocese of the Church. This was a valuable moment for me as I journeyed forward through the Church in the ensuing years because it gave rise to another, more audacious question (which might have been the one she was really asking): Would Jesus of Nazareth be deemed ordainable in our dioceses today? It is quite obvious that He would not be. He would be labeled "too spiritual," "too orthodox in His faith," "too unconventional in His manner of life"; and, of greatest concern, He seems to have had a problem bending to petty authority.
Would any of us recognize God today if He appeared amongst us? We Catholics believe that mysteriously the Holy Altar is the Gate of Heaven, that the Lord Jesus really and truly appears to us to under the appearance of bread and wine and that we commune with Him in a mystery too great to bear .... if we could really opened our eyes to it. Yet, extensive polling over recent decades, by Georgetown University, to name but one source, has shown that nearly half of all Roman Catholics who receive the Blessed Sacrament do not believe this. But how can this be?! No passage in the New Testament is better attested, none more widely reported and confirmed, than the Lord's own promise, "This Is My Body .... and This Is My Blood." And He seals this New Covenant with a divine command issued to each of us: "Do this!" Now, it is one thing to challenge others who saw Him, as St. Thomas did, or to fail to recognize Him on the road to Emmaus, which earned for all of them His solemn rebuke. It is quite another to deny Him when He explicitly identifies Himself to us individually and then commands us to turn all of our faith and belief to what He has said.
The point of Christianity is that each of us might become, in some real sense, Jesus of Nazareth. He is the pattern cut out by God the Father for each of us to follow and to become. But the road ahead is blocked for so many of us ... by ourselves. It all comes down to one, great question: "Who do you say that I am?"
Will we ordain Him? Will we kneel down before Him and say with all of our hearts, "My Lord and My God"? He blesses the bread and breaks it open parting the doors of Heaven, flooding our lives with Heaven's light. But if you do not look for Him, if you do not seek Him with all of your heart, with all of your spirit, and with all of your mind (again, as He has commanded), then you will miss Him, and you will have missed all the happiness that lay before you with such abundance on the day of your birth.
As you approach the rail today,
stand before Him in awe and reverence,
for He is truly and really present before you.
for He is your Lord and your God.
And with the utmost reverence, receive this true particle of Himself deep within your person.
For your heart will burn within you.
As St. Augustine would say,
look up as you approach Him:
"Behold What you are;
and become What you receive."
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.