Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed Me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.
People of God, some of you will, I am sure, have known times when your were aware of being strangely unsatisfied, perhaps even feeling profoundly empty, despite having many comforts and interests of various kinds; and at such times, when you were lacking inside, all that was outside seemed to somehow make no difference.
For many sufferers such occasions, experiences, of self-questioning, can be dealt with in only one way: they try to forget them, distract themselves by amusements and activities of all sorts, anything that will enable them to put those disturbing thoughts aside for a time until, hopefully left behind, they are forgotten altogether. However, for people who believe that their life’s destiny is in God's hands, and its daily course a gift from His loving Providence, those moments of realized personal emptiness need to be understood, because God could be trying to teach them something by such feelings of personal dissatisfaction; which, if not understood and embraced, might leave them unable to follow God as closely as He would wish; nor could their happiness in Him ever become deeply rooted, for it would always be vulnerable to unexpected and unwelcome recurrences of that strange and deeply disturbing awareness of personal emptiness and possible futility.
If, however, you do begin to think along the lines suggested by the prophet Isaiah:
Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy? …
then, you may recall other occasions that have stirred up similarly deep questions in your mind. For example, have you ever come across someone who, though having nothing much going for them on the outside -- little money and few home comforts, not particularly popular or talented, and perhaps with more than their share of family trials – yet, on the inside they seemed to be deeply happy: content in themselves and at peace with life in general, its future prospects, and their neighbours around. How are we to understand that: little or nothing on the outside, but rich inside?
Of course, if such people were ill-educated and quite content with knowing nothing; if they were idlers, happiest when doing nothing; or perhaps if they were thoughtless people, content with never looking beyond the present moment; then one might well say, “They may appear to be happy, but I would never want that sort of happiness”, and having said that, never think of them again. Such people could – with good reason -- be regarded as being superficially happy.
However, the ones I have in mind, those whom you may have been lucky enough, or better, whom you may have been blessed enough, to come across, are in no way superficial, for, though having little to boast of or rejoice in on the outside, yet, they are profoundly happy inside. Now, that is something remarkable, for the unthinking attitude of the superficially happy embraces living for what they can get out of life’s personal experiences and all that happens around them, and in that sense they are centred on themselves and cannot endure aridity or live through and profit from sufferings, least of all can they contemplate death other than – at best -- as a kind of sleep where thoughts are gone and experiences are none.
The profoundly happy ones of whom I speak, however, are most truly and completely happy since their minds appreciate truth, their hearts love what is beautiful, and -- above all -- their souls are confident in the goodness of God and humbly aspire to future blessedness with Him; and being thus centred on what is over, above, and beyond themselves and their earthy limitations, they are already close to being spiritually dead to themselves and their own interests, and therefore remain steadfast through present trials and difficulties, and hopeful and trusting beyond the certainty and proximity of their own physical death.
If you have ever been blessed to meet and to recognize such a truly happy person, or, if not, if ever you have been blessed personally by God so as to have occasionally felt, to have become unmistakeably aware of, a sense of emptiness welling up from the depths of your being, then the message of Isaiah should echo within you, prompting you to look closer at yourself saying: 'Am I spending my money on what is not bread, my youth and my strength, year in year out, for what does not satisfy?
Having asked yourself that question you will be eager to hear the next words of the prophet:
Heed Me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.
At that point, however, you might be inclined to answer both your own self-questioning and the prophet’s exhortation by some such words as: ‘Very well, you prophet of 2600 years ago, I am listening, speak to me now about my soul’s need, about the emptiness I sometimes experience, tell me of the fullness of joy that I seek’.
Isaiah continues (NRSV):
Incline your ear, and come to Me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.
Notice how insistently the prophet repeats ‘incline your ear’, ‘listen’! Again, however, you might find that more puzzling and frustrating than helpful: ‘How can I hear you, the everlasting Lord, on Whose behalf Isaiah has made promises which both intrigue and delight me. How can I listen and come to You Who are in heaven above, invisible, untouchable, unknowable?’
Isaiah has done his best; but now we need the Apostle Paul -- brought up and trained to fully appreciate Isaiah’s teaching and testimony before becoming, as the Lord Himself said to Ananias, a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites -- to give the only full answer to our questions in today’s second reading:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There St. Paul teaches that the richest fare of which Isaiah spoke, the fullness of joy that we seek, is only to be found in the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord from which nothing in the heavens or on the earth can ever separate us.
Let us now, therefore, turn to Jesus Himself in our Gospel reading where we heard of Him feeding hungry people, people like us, in need and wanting sustenance:
When it was evening, the disciples approached Him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” (Jesus) said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to Him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then He said, “Bring them here to Me,” and He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over —twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.
From that episode we can gather that the fullness of joy to which Isaiah referred with those words 'eat well, eat what is good', can only come to us by literally eating the food given by Jesus, His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Moreover, the prophet tells us that not just any sort of eating will do, for he made it clear how we should eat in such a way as to benefit our soul:
Heed Me (says the Lord), and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare;
Now those few words of the prophet are most important for us today but they need to be understood according to the teaching of St. Paul and Mother Church, for far too many Catholics seem to think that receiving Holy Communion, 'eating well', is the one and only key to our religion and to eternal life. That is quite wrong. We need also to heed the teaching of Paul and Mother Church concerning Jesus in the Eucharist, for Holy Mass is far more than Holy Communion. The Mass is, first and foremost, worship of God, the sacrificial offering of Himself by Jesus the Son (and hopefully by us His disciples too) to the Father. Holy Mass is glory to God in the Highest before it is gift -- Holy Communion -- to men and women of good will. When Jesus comes to us in Communion, that is not an end in itself: Jesus comes to us, for a few moments, in Communion in order to communicate His Spirit to us, the Spirit of Holiness, Who is to remain with us, abide in us, enlightening and guiding us to worship the Father as He would have us do, with our whole lives in, and together with, Jesus:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always. (John 14:16)
We, therefore, have to receive Holy Communion in such a way as to open up our whole life and being to the Spirit of Jesus, for then, and then only, will we experience what the prophet and the apostle foretold and promised: our soul enjoying good things and thereby truly and fully living: experiencing and sharing – by the Spirit -- in Jesus’ abiding love of, and total commitment to, God the Father.
(Jesus said) Whoever believes in Me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in Him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:38-39)
People of God, learn to live by the Spirit bequeathed to us in Mother Church by Jesus: He alone can form us, in Jesus, for the Father, since He is the Spirit of both the Father and the Son, and He alone loves the Father and the Son in the fullness of Truth and Love. When He the Spirit, becomes for us, in our lives, what Jesus promised (John 4:14):
A spring of water welling up into eternal life;
only then, having learnt to yield ourselves unreservedly to the Spirit's guidance, will we know the fullness of joy and peace for which God made us and for which Jesus redeemed us.