Your Heart’s Desire

Based on John 6.24-35

Rising inequality is one of the defining characteristics of modern Britain, or so received opinion would have us believe.   The widening gulf between the haves and have nots is often cited as one of the reasons for the surprise EU referendum result.   As is so often the case, the truth is a little different from the reality, for Britain has in fact become a more equal country in recent years.  Perhaps one of the reasons for the mispercepition lies in excessive executive pay which has increased exponentially in recent years and  is now way out of kilter with the rest of society. Be that as it may, inequality in modern Britain is nothing like as great as in Jesus’ time.   In those days the vast majority of the population lived in often dire poverty, with those at the very bottom of the pile eking out a living as day labourers or beggars. There was very little by way of a middle class and very small, hugely rich and largely Roman, ruling class.   The ruling class had utter disdain for the masses – “the filth and dregs of society” as the Roman politician Cicero called them.  As a carpenter Jesus was very much of the masses and it was largely to his own people that he took his message.

One of the striking things about today’s gospel is that Jesus doesn’t let the poor off lightly.  

He has just fed the 5,000.  In other gospels it’s clear that he had great pity on the crowd and couldn’t let them go away hungry.  But when they come searching for them he says these words:
“… are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

It sounds rather harsh telling the poor and the ragged that they need to raise their sights.

And yet what he’s really doing is encouraging them to take full possession of their humanity

and the dignity that attends to that humanity, for if all we do is focus on material things we will never know the things of God.  What Jesus is talking about here is the crucial difference between simply living: eating, drinking, procreating, getting and spending; and living abundantly with a sense of freedom, joy and creativity.

It’s all too easy to see how those who are barely scraping a living can obsess about material things which is why J’s words to the poor seem harsh, but the same obsession seems true of those of us who are rich – hence the mindless consumerism that afflicts us all.  As if the possession of the next new ‘phone, or car, the consumption of the next meal at a posh restaurant or the next exotic foreign holiday, can ever fill the hole in our hearts that is God-shaped. For in calling us into our full humanity Jesus is saying something very simple: to be fully human is to value relationship above all else.  His counterpoint to the ways of this world is what he called “the Kingdom of God’. Properly understood it’s a state of being between people wherever love, truth, justice and mercy hold sway. As he puts it in Luke’s gospel, “the Kingdom of God is among you”. And all human relationship, however loving, is but a foretaste of what we all of us ultimately most need and desire – relationship with God.

As St. Augustine put it “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee”.

Of course, Jesus knew this better than anyone, which is why you find him frequently leaving the crowds and his friends behind to be by himself, alone, on a mountainside to commune with his Father.

Last Tuesday was the feast day of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits.   His story is the fascinating one of a very worldly man who raised his sights to discover his full humanity the hard way.  A famous nobleman, soldier and braggart, one day Ignatius was injured in battle, one of his legs smashed to bits. His recuperation was painful and took a very long time.  To pass the many boring hours he decided to read, but there was only one book in the house where he was recuperating, and that was a life of Christ which was very far from the kind of thing what he usually liked to read which were exciting tales of chivalry.   But read it he did many times and this led him into some very deep reflection and introspection. Out of all this came what are known as the spiritual exercises that lie at the heart of the Jesuit’s life of prayer. The central one, the one that changed his life, is called the Examen which takes the form of a daily review of life.

As he convalesced Ignatius reflected deeply on his past life, as well as on his new life, the reading he was doing about Jesus and the saints and his experience of being cared for.

Slowly he began to see that his previous exploits, though highly enjoyable, just didn’t compare with his new-found interests and experiences. He’d found what really mattered to him in this life life, rather than what seemed to matter.  In other words, he’d found what he most needed in his life, rather than what he thought he wanted. And on he went to found the Jesuits.

There’s nothing world or life-denying in this approach.  On the contrary, Ignatius saw God at work in all aspects of the world.  The key for him was for each person to find what most mattered to him or her, or as he put it to find what was their heart’s desire.  For to find that is to find your unique calling, and the peace that comes from following that calling, whether it be avowedly religious as for him or what some would regard as “worldly”

So in these quiet weeks of summer why not give Ignatius’ approach a try?  Try doing it daily for a few minutes following these simple instructions:

  • Thank the Lord for the day and all that has gone to make on  

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind any experience through which God wants to speak to you.

  • Be quiet and let something surface.

  • Re-live the experience.

  • Ask the Lord what He wants you to see through that experience.

The more you do it, the more you find out about yourself as you come to realise what really matters to you in life.  It can come as quite a surprise. Things you thought mattered hugely to you probably don’t so much, and things you maybe took for granted start to take on a new significance as you journey deep into your own heart and discover its desire.  And the miracle is that when you do that you are coming very close to that which is ultimately your greatest desire – to rest in relationship with God himself.