Sunday, February 8, 2009

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job, who is perhaps history’s most famously unhappy person,
says in our first reading,
"the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn."
The image conjures for us those nights
in which we toss and turn
and wonder if the dawn will ever arrive.

Not just the restlessness of sleepless nights,
though Job undoubtedly had many of those,
but a restlessness that is at the very core of our being.
The restlessness of creatures whose "life is like the wind,"
who long for union with their creator,
who long to see clearly that which they now perceive only dimly,
who long to find a love that will never disappoint,
a cause that will not fail.
This is the restlessness
of which St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions:
"O God, you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

For the first thirty years of his life,
Augustine knew this restlessness
in the young person’s desire to have life mean something,
the desire not to settle from just some job
or just some relationship
or just some life,
the desire to live intensely
and to find that thing into which you can pour your love,
invest your life, and which will not fail you
by becoming boring or routine or trite.
This restlessness yearning for meaning led Augustine
through a succession of religions and philosophies,
friendships, jobs, and lovers.
If I may be permitted to associate him with another author
with whom he is not usually associated,
the young Augustine reminds me of Jack Kerouac,
who wrote in his book On the Road:
"the only people for me are the mad ones,
the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved,
desirous of everything at the same time,
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing,
but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles
exploding like spiders across the stars
and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop
and everybody goes ‘Awww!’"

Even those of us who are no longer young
can perhaps recall that feeling,
that thirst to have life mean something more,
that burning to be something more.
Maybe, beneath the rhythm of life’s routine,
we feel it still,
a kind of syncopation that calls to us:
"your life can mean more;
your life can be more."

Augustine eventually found
that his infinite thirst for life could only be quenched
by the God who is the infinite source of life.
And yet, even in finding God,
in falling deeply in love
with the one who had loved him into existence,
Augustine did not lose his restlessness;
his life as a Christian remained a life of always seeking more,
always seeking to know God better
and to love God more deeply,
to know as we are known
and to love as we are loved.
Our life on earth, he came to realize,
remains, even for the Christian,
a restless pilgrimage though time,
and it is only at the end of this pilgrimage
that our restless hearts will find their rest in God.

It does not end when we realize
that we will only find our rest in God.
But it does change;
it does take on a new direction and purpose,
and in finding its direction it becomes somehow different.
The restlessness of aimless wandering,
the vague feeling that there is. . .
that there must be. . .
something more,
gives way to the restlessness of the pilgrim
who knows that he or she has a destination,
even if it lies unseen over the horizon,
and who hastens toward it.
We have a goal, we have a purpose,
and we are restless until we reach it.

Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, we cannot rest where we are,
whatever successes we might have had in that place,
but are called always onward into new labors in new places.
When asked by his disciples to return to Capernaum
and continue his successful ministry there
Jesus instead tells them that he must go
and preach in new towns and new villages.
It is for this purpose that Christ has come
and it is for this same purpose that God
has called us to be his disciples.
Because God’s love for the world infinitely surpasses
what we can even begin to imagine,
the task of bringing that love to the world
is always a task of restlessly hastening onward,
a restless task of becoming all things to all,
so that all might be won for Christ.

But not the restlessness of those who lie restless on their beds,
hoping against hope for a dawn that will show them
that their lives can mean more, can be more.
Rather, the restlessness of pilgrims
who long to always be moving forward
into the mystery of God’s love
because their lives
have already begun to mean more, to be more.
And within that restless pilgrimage there is a peace
that allows us to journey without fear
because the goal of our journeying
does not lie hidden and unknown
but has come to meet us in Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the one who is our destination
has come to join us as a fellow pilgrim
and our restless hearts
are already enfolded within the heart of Christ.