Satisfying our God-shaped hunger

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Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), Year C: June 2, 2013
Gen 14:18-20; Ps 110; 1 Cor 11:23-36; Luke 9:11-17

When I was a boy, and I reached the age of 10½, I was able to join the Boy Scouts. And, like all Scouts, I learned what we called the Scout Law: a statement with 12 points, 12 personal characteristics that are to characterize a Boy Scout. But in that first troop, we also learned a 13th point. And so we would recite: “A Scout is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent… and hungry!”

And, of course, it was true! Boy Scouts are hungry! And so are other youth—and so the leaders of youth groups and of college campus ministries know that they need to take this into account when they are planning ministry and outreach events, often providing food. And Jesus too needed to think about this during his earthly ministry; and today’s Gospel reading shows us a situation where maybe he should have planned a little better. Or maybe he planned it perfectly!

The scientific name for the human species is “homo sapiens,” meaning “wise man”; but perhaps it could instead be “homo famelicus,” “hungry man,” since hunger certainly characterizes the human race. Of course, science would never name us this, since all animals and all plants also have to eat some sort of food. But human hungers go further. We hunger for food, yes, but for so much more than food: for love, for success, for meaning, for fulfillment. And, as the existentialist philosophers would observe, so often our hungers remain unsatisfied. Alone among visible creation, we remain hungry, desiring something more, and often not finding it.

Our faith tells us why. For, alone among visible creation, we were created in the Image and Likeness of God. We were created with the capacity to know and to love God: with that capacity, with that purpose. What a purpose: to know the infinite creator of the universe! But if we have that purpose, then we also have that need; and so it is said that we have a God-shaped hole inside us, a hole the size of infinity, that only he can fill.

One of my priest professors in seminary, when he is doing marriage preparation, will ask the couple in the first session why they want to get married. And often one of the couple, perhaps the bride, will say something like, “Because he fulfills me!” At that point, my professor will immediately jump on that answer and say, “Why are you doing such a terrible thing to this man? He seems like a nice fellow. You can’t do that to him!” And she of course will be very surprised and will respond, “What did I say? What did I do wrong?” And the priest will explain: “This man cannot fulfill you. No man can. Only God can fulfill you. If you expect that of this man, you will crush him. You don’t enter marriage looking for fulfillment from your spouse. Only God can do that.”

But how many people around us are seeking to fill that God-shaped hole with other things besides God? It might be with marriage or relationships, or with their job. Or it might be with any one of the many kinds of addictive behaviors: with alcohol or drugs; with pornography or various sexual actions; with gambling or being a workaholic; or with actions that are even more self-destructive. All trying to numb pain; and often that pain includes trying to take the edge off that hunger for the infinite.

On this Corpus Christi Sunday, the different sets of readings over the three-year cycle direct our attention in different ways. In Year A, we are directed to consider the Body of Christ; in Year B, the Blood of Christ. And in this Year C, we are directed to the signs of bread and wine, and to the experience of being miraculously fed and having that hunger satisfied.

Because we see that our Lord Jesus Christ offers us himself. He wants us to know him, he wants us to love him and to receive his love; he wants to fill that God-shaped hole inside us! And he does it not only by revealing himself to us, and communicating with us, and blessing us, and allowing us to feel his presence; but he gives himself to us in a form, under an appearance, that we can actually eat and drink; under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine, he gives us much, much more.

And what does he ask in return? 12 easy payments? A 2-year contract? No, he asks that we be able to receive him, our hands open and empty, with room for him there: empty of sin; empty of other things that weigh us down and entangle us.

He may even ask us to hand over what resources and strengths we think we have. As with the disciples the day of our Gospel reading—who were hungry like the rest of the crowd, but at least they had the five loaves and two fish—not really enough for them, but at least it was something, to satisfy their hunger a little. Would they hand over even that to Jesus? They did. He took them; blessed them; broke them; and gave them out; and the disciples received so much more back, enough to eat and be satisfied, and even to end up, each one, with a full basket of leftover bread and fish.

That is what he did on that day. And on this day, he asks of us ordinary bread and wine; and through the hands of the priest he will take it, and bless it, and break it, and give it back to us: his Body, his Blood, his soul, his divinity, his own self; given up for us; poured out for us; given to us to satisfy, like no one else can, that God-shaped hunger.

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