Please register to access this FREE content.
It’s a phenomenon that has been noticed from Augustine to Paschal to contemporary Christian writers: We each have a “God-shaped hole” inside us, an infinite abyss that we try to fill with everything but God.
This Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A, Jesus gives us his recipe for fulfilling that aching need inside us — and doing more than just fill it.
When Jesus left them, the Apostles felt his absence acutely.
Throughout Easter, we have been seeing how hopeless and alone his disciples were without Jesus. Last week, hearing that he was going away, they felt lost and directionless. This Sunday, Jesus tells them that this will not be a permanent condition.
“I will not leave you orphans,” he said. “I will come to you.”
“Orphan” is a powerful word. Literature has long been fascinated with orphans because they stand for how we all feel: Unattached, disconnected, and on our own as we face the cosmos. There is a void in our life, an empty place where something big should be. We try hard to fill it. Too hard.
“All sins are attempts to fill voids,” Simone Weil once wrote. But all great works of art are attempts to fill voids also. Our attempts to blot out our existential loneliness can lead us to sex, drugs and rock-’n’-roll on the one hand or to our life’s masterpiece on the other.
In either case, we are left disappointed by life. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica is the greatest masterwork of scholarship ever, considered his life’s work nothing but straw after getting a glimpse of what life in the presence of God is like.
In truth, though, most of us neither become great sinners nor great masters. We aren’t that interesting.
We aim small and miss small; we try to be “holy enough” in our own way, while trying to nurture our pet sins at the same time — and in our public lives, we aren’t trying to be one of the greats or to do mighty deeds; we are trying to max out whatever comforts we are attached to while keeping our debts manageable.
But that doesn’t mean we are any less disappointed by our life. Satan is the Accuser, and he taunts us for being weak with the same ferocity he taunts others for being strong.
Jesus promises an answer: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.”
The Advocate is the opposite of the Accuser: Rather than taunt us for our failures, he defends even our small successes. He accepts that we are small and weak and loves us anyway, turning the straw of even our small life accomplishments into the gold of God’s will.
But that brings up an important point. The Holy Spirit is not a psychological balm, but is Love itself.
God does not just come to us as a nice feeling or as a pat on the back. He comes as the Spirit of truth and the Lord of all.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus says. “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Everyone wants joy, but there is only one way to get it: To do God’s will. Look at the example of St. Teresa of Kolkata. She lacked the consolations of religion her 50 years, feeling God’s absence in her prayer — but she was known as the Apostle of Joy in her work. She had no happy godly feelings — she only had God’s will. And that was enough, because God’s will is love.
If we seek happiness for ourselves, we never find it. If we love God above all things and love others as ourselves, we find it right away.
You see how this works in the first two readings.
In the first reading, the Apostles are busy assisting people whose God-shaped hole is obvious: “For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city.”
Then Peter discovers a group of believers who have a different sort of God-shaped hole: They have never received the Holy Spirit. He addresses this lack right away.
Then, St. Peter’s own words in the second reading describe what life with the Holy Spirit looks like, a life of hope.
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,” he says. But the ultimate argument for God’s hope, he says, is not in what we say or how we feel but how we conduct our lives. “Keep your conscience clear, so that … those who defame you … may themselves be put to shame.”
The infinite abyss in our heart can only be filled by God. And there is only one way to fill our life with God.
“At all times it is works and actions that we need, not a mere show of words,” St. John Chrysostom said.
Everyone seeks fulfillment. Everyone seeks understanding. Everyone feels the need for infinite, unconditional love. By definition, these things cannot be found on earth or in our own hearts, but only in the one who created us, fills all things, and makes his will clear through the Church.