Hunger Or Itch?

I like the Pope a lot. Imprisoned as he is in his body, his spirit roams mightily amidst the mediocrity of so many! His words are always so full of truth and so full of fire.

Preparing for the World Youth Day of 1997, the Pope wrote a letter in which he said, ‘Dear young people, like the first disciples, follow Jesus! Do not be afraid to draw near to Him, to cross the threshold of his dwelling, to speak with Him, face to face, as you talk with a friend.

‘It is true: Jesus is a demanding friend. He points to lofty goals; he asks us to go out of ourselves in order to meet Him, entrusting to Him our whole life: ‘Whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it’. The proposal may seem difficult and, in some cases, frightening.

‘But – I ask you – is it better to be resigned to a life without ideals, to a world made in our image and likeness, or rather, generously to seek truth, goodness, justice, working for a world that reflects the beauty of God, even at the cost of facing the trials it may involve?

‘Break down the barriers of superficiality and fear!’ he cried out courageously.

Yes, living with God is a perilous adventure. Basically it means living in a constant crisis! It means accepting the cross, which as Father Pierre Babin says, ‘means to will the constant modification of ourselves, and if necessary, an upheaval of the values in the world around us, by allowing the clear light of the word of God to affect us.’

Crisis does not create character, it merely reveals it. In times of crisis people reveal what is already inside them – the generous or the selfish person, the hero or the coward. We block our dreams when we allow our fear to grow bigger than our faith!

A disciple came to a very holy man and asked, ‘I want to constantly live in the presence of God. Teacher, how do I do this?’

‘Become a cliff dweller’, he said.

‘Abba, there are some cliffs in a canyon many miles from here. Is that where I should go to live with God?’

‘No’, he answered, ‘the cliff where you are to dwell is as close as your shadow. Go; daily live there on the edge of the Grand Canyon.’

‘You mean the Grand Canyon?’

‘No, this canyon is not limited by geography. You will find the truly grand canyon of danger and delight whenever you live on the edge, whenever you are out of control and not in charge, and must simply trust. Dwell as close as possible to the edge of that fearfully deep canyon and you will live infinitely close to God.’

It is a pity that we have transformed religion into a soft comfortable pillow while it was meant to be highly explosive dynamite. Living without any security except His word… Opening oneself to His constant daily surprises… Going always beyond the obvious and discovering His Beauty… This is what faith is all about.

Living on the edge

We all have an innate desire to see God. But how deep is this desire? Perhaps this is what is lacking in our lives – a deep longing to encounter the Christ. ‘Rabbi’, pleaded the disciple, ‘help me satisfy the great hunger I feel for God.’

‘Do you feel a real hunger’, asked the Rabbi, ‘or just a spiritual itch?’

‘What do you mean?’ reacted rather bewildered the disciple.

‘Hunger’, explained knowingly the rabbi, ‘is a deep longing that is not easy to satisfy. An itch, on the other hand, is irritating and wants to be scratched, but doesn’t last for long. Moreover, there are many who are eager to make money by selling you their special brand of Itching Oil. And if your irritation can be met by their wares, you aren’t dealing with a real hunger.’

What do you have? A hunger or an itch? A real deep hunger for truth, beauty and life? Or just an itch for spiritual gratification, consolation and a quick fix for your problems?

Do these words frighten you or release you? ‘Go and learn what this means,’ I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ ‘But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven….’ ‘Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’

‘His word is not an imposition, unhinging the doors of conscience; it is a persuasive voice, a free gift that, if it is to have a saving effect in each one’s concrete existence, calls for an attitude of readiness and responsibility.’ (Pope John Paul)

‘Every tear brings the Messiah closer!’ This was a refrain in Jewish apocalyptic literature and expressed the belief that a certain quota of tears had first to be shed before any true joy could inhabit us. A quota of suffering must precede any worthwhile happiness.

Yes, worthwhile, fruitful happiness.


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.