HOMILY FOR SEVENTEETH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (B)

Fr Billy Swan


Dear friends. When I was growing up in the 1980’s, the biggest rock star on the planet was Bruce Springsteen. I remember his concert at Slane Castle in 1985 where he played before 95,000 people. It wasn’t just his music that people liked. Most of the time the lyrics of his songs touched on some deeper aspect of life that we could all identify with. For example, one of his classic songs was ‘Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart’ – a song which touches on the yearning heart of every human being for love and meaning. U2 also touched on this theme of the hungry heart with their song ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’. It is a song about someone searching desperately for something they still haven’t found.

The Gospel this Sunday offers us the first of six passages from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel that deals with the Eucharist as the bread of life. But before teaching about food, Jesus first sees the hunger of the crowd and starts with that. The hunger Jesus sees in the people is certainly a hunger for food but also for a deeper hunger for God that he wants to satisfy. It is a hunger of the soul and hunger of the heart that he has also come to satisfy. In the Gospels we for the next five Sundays, Jesus goes on to explain how he has come personally to feed his people with the gift of himself and the gift of the Eucharist: ‘I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry’.

But for this week, he wants us to acknowledge our hunger - that we too have hungry hearts and that maybe we too still haven’t found what we are looking for. St Augustine famously wrote about this hunger being placed in the human heart by God as a way of drawing us back to Him: ‘You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless unless they rest in you’. He followed this with a beautiful insight into prayer: ‘Whether we realise it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him’. St Teresa of Avila taught that ‘the soul is never content with anything less than God’. The Belfast writer C.S. Lewis once said that ‘all that we call human history…is the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy’. Finally, Seamus Heaney beautifully described our spiritual hunger as being in us ‘like well water, deep down’.

From Jesus to Augustine to Teresa of Avila to Bono to Bruce Springsteen to Seamus Heaney – they all help us understand our deep hunger for God that will not be satisfied with anything less than God. Faith is believing that only God can satisfy that hunger we all feel. That is why John is keen to tell us in the Gospel today that after the miracle of the loaves and fish, ‘they all ate as much as they wanted’.

Friends, the desire for God is written in the human heart, because it is created by God and for God. God never ceases to draw us to himself. Only in God will we find the truth and happiness we never stop yearning for. There is an affinity between God and every human being that can only be satisfied by a living relationship with God himself.

At the Eucharist, whether we know it or not, that living relationship is on offer time and time again. At the Eucharist our hunger is fed. Look for the food that satisfies in the right place. In ‘Everybody’s got a Hungry Heart’ Springsteen sings of a guy whose hunger led him astray: ‘Like a river that don't know where it's flowing, I took a wrong turn and I just kept going’. Let us not drift aimlessly and just keep going. Come to where living bread is to be found and where our real hunger is satisfied.