I used to think that my name, Grace, was a bit of irony from God. But I have come to realize that it is in fact the best name for me. Not because I am graceful (ha!), nor because I am full of it, but because it is what we say before food. Even not-yet-two Zippy knows this. When they tell her: “Say Hi to Aunt Grace!” she tries to make the sign of the cross, thinking that food must be coming. And that’s about right.
As a lover of food, I can’t help but find today’s Gospel rather puzzling. Who, when invited to a royal banquet, would prefer lesser things? Who would say No to the promise of such a feast? Who indeed.
The invitation to faith is the invitation to trust in the goodness of God. It is the invitation to reverse the sin of Eden, to reverse the decision to doubt, to reverse the decision to choose lesser but attractive foods.
True faith is trust in the goodness of God, in His Providence for us in all things. It is also trust in the desires that He Himself gives us.
In C.S. Lewis’s novel Perelandra, a man named Ransom finds himself in a new paradise. He is in a world of floating islands, filled with trees bearing the most wonderful fruits he has ever tasted. Every need is provided for in this new Eden, but there is one catch. Because the islands are floating, constantly changing, it is impossible to “save,” to “keep,” to “hold on to for future use” anything at all. The Tempter comes, proposing an alternative: A Fixed Land. The choice is proposed: trust in continued Providence, or choose the safety of control.
It is easy to know the right choice, turning pages from the comfort of an easy chair, with my cup of coffee and a chocolate chip muffin still warm in my belly.
But when the hunger sets in—and I have nothing saved for myself—do I still trust?
What if the hunger is itself food, itself a gift?
In the song Blessings Laura Story wonders if our sufferings—the “rain, the storms, the hardest nights” are in fact blessings in disguise. But then she goes a step further:
…All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things…
…What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
We all know that sometimes things that seem to be evil can turn out to be good. But what if the longing for good, the thirst for God, is itself a good to be sought? What if hunger is a gift?
C.S. Lewis argues that desire for heaven is one of the proofs for the existence of God. He notes that all desires have a corresponding means of fulfillment on this earth, all but one—our desire for eternity. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” he concludes.
St. Augustine is known for saying “our hearts are restless oh Lord, until they rest in thee.” He wrote extensively on the longing for God—and held that the longing itself increased the soul’s capacity for God.
“The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive the gift, which is very great indeed…The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruits. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16), he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of Him alone who is able to give it.”
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux lived total confidence in God, was confident that He would make her a saint, in spite of her littleness. She believed that her desire for God was itself a pledge, that He would not give her very great desires if He did not mean to fill them: “I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know O my God! That the more You want to give, the more You make us desire.”
Indeed, many saints have written that as they have ascended the heights of holiness, plumbed the depths of prayer, that their desire for God, rather than being satiated, was only increased.
May we be fed today with renewed hunger for God. See you at the feast!
Photo attribution: Banquet in the House of Levi © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro