17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

I really admire the people in the two readings today.  I love their radical trust in God. In both the First Reading and the Gospel, the people went to see God. So great and recognized was their spiritual hunger that they went to see God and didn’t even worry about food.  I don’t know about you, but to me it is very impressive how right these people were. They desired things in the right order:  God first, then food.  I wish I desired God like that. Why is it that I don’t desire God more than all these distractions?

 

I once heard a man speak who talked about life as if it were a Coke Zero life - the same great taste, no calories. In our culture we like to avoid calories as if they were evil. We even have low calorie beer.  Seriously, who drinks beer to stay in good shape?  Yet, we have it. Many countries in the world are trying to get enough calories, and here we are trying to get rid of all the ones we have. But going back to the Coke Zero life now, it actually relates to the calories. Coke Zero life is this - it looks like the substance, it feels like the substance, it tastes like the substance, but it is not the substance. For a lot of us that describes life pretty accurately. It looks like we have it made here and people want to come for the freedom and the material goods because it is better than being poor. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many great things about our country, yet we are still racing after the Coke Zero. 

 

How do we combat chasing after an elusive substance? We see that in the Gospel Jesus takes his disciple away to a deserted place. This is something very important.  He feeds them in a most unlikely way, as He will feed us today in a most unlikely way. 

 

Many times we may feel that the Church is a desert. There is no technology here other than the basics.  There is no power point, no rock band, no iPod, no Wi-Fi, no encouragement to bring your tablet, no Starbucks, nothing to buy, and especially no gum.  You have come to a place where there are only these strange things called real people, not virtual people, not famous people that you see and read about, just people. People with babies and children.  People who are sick and broken.  People of all shapes and sizes, of different walks of life and experiences. It is really a desert in the world’s eyes.  There is very little here that is worldly to distract you. Yet this is precisely the place, here in this desert, where you can actually be filled, not merely distracted. This is not Coke Zero, this is calories for the soul. Unlike the body which only needs so many calories, the soul can always use more calories because it is meant to grow infinitely. I remember one time when my soul really had a lot of calories. I had stayed with my uncle, Fr Mark, a Benedictine monk, and my soul felt such peace and joy in the midst of nothing secular. It was so amazing that those three days gave me the time I needed to choose God, which brought me here today. 

 

The three main food groups of spiritual growth are Faith, Hope and Love. We must start like we eat; you have to open your mouth to put food in, and we must open our soul in the desert of the world’s distractions to allow it to be fed. The over emphasis of our bodies, its comfort and pleasure, is caused mostly by the under nourishment of the soul. So let us nourish our souls at this banquet in the wilderness. These gifts - Faith, Hope and Love - I have mentioned before and I mention them again for my benefit as much as for yours. They are gifts we need to be asking for. They help us to be truly fed at the Eucharist. Faith helps us to believe what we are being offered. God is like an iceberg.  What we see in His creation is amazing, awe inspiring yet what we do not see is infinitely more amazing and awe inspiring. Faith opens that window. We all desire the supernatural, which is why our movies often have supernatural aspects in them. Faith opens that window.  Hope keeps us focused on our goal of Heaven. We think we are here for a long time but we are really only here for a brief moment, and even though it is only a short time, it is amazing what we can do in that moment. If we focus on this earth and getting pleasure we will only be enslaved and our life will be a sad life that we have to hide lest we be ashamed. Those who focus on earth will lose Heaven, those however who focus on Heaven will gain both Heaven and earth. Hope frees us. Love the greatest thing in the world and Heaven. This gives the soul the ability to be a life transforming being. It can change food into a lifesaving remedy. It changes hell into Heaven.  It makes deserts into fruitful and lush places. It causes the world to be a better place. 

 

Faith, Hope and Love all come from Heaven and help us to get there. Ask, ask and ask for these gifts. If we do, then in this desert we will be filled and receive the life we are looking for. In the time of the desert fathers, the deserts were reportedly more populous than the cities because people were finding more in the desert, namely God. Why are we still trying to buy joy, when you cannot buy it? When have you ever bought something that has made you happy for a long period of time? That is not happy, but distracted. Why are we still doing that? Come to this desert and not the Coke Zero life and don’t leave until you are full. 

 

When I was a seminarian, Sister Mary Rita, who was my grade three teacher, told me when she struggled that she would sit in the Chapel and say to Jesus, “I am not leaving until you restore my peace.” She said, “I have had to sit there awhile at times but God always does restore my peace.” We can trust this desert my brothers and sisters. Anyone who has waited in it has not been left wanting, though many have left before they were satisfied. In the book “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” the pilgrim meets an officer who was at one time a hopeless alcoholic. A priest had given him a bible and said, “When you are thirsty for alcohol, read your bible and don’t stop until the thirst goes away.” The man did that and it stopped his drinking problem. Come and remain in the desert and find rest for your souls. On Wednesdays we have Adoration from ten in the morning until nine in the evening.  Come for your souls’ delight. I wish we had Adoration all day, every day.  Our souls are definitely thirsty enough but they are not being filled, only distracted. What would our world be like if each day instead of watching TV or playing video games or spending time on Facebook, we spent half of that time in the desert of God and fed our thirsty souls, the ones that are being nursed on the milk of Coke Zero? Our lives would become ordered and full, lacking only one thing - Heaven. Let us reflect on why we do not go to this desert of satisfaction more often. 

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