If you think for a moment of some of the modern-day people in our world who were considered holy during their life-time: people like Gandhi, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul II, and there are many others. Why did people flock to see them? Mother Teresa was just a small, very wrinkly old lady and yet everywhere she went to speak, she drew thousands of people. Why? We have plenty of little elderly ladies here, so why did they go to her? Because she was close to God, someone who was in tune with the ways of the Lord and who lived by them. People who met her said it had a profound effect on them. The same with Padre Pio and many others. They radiated God because they were close to God.
We are attracted by holiness because it gives us a sense of the presence of God. There is a difference between holiness and piety. Piety is when people can be very devout and into all kinds of devotions etc. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s not the same as holiness. Just because someone is pious doesn’t necessarily mean they are holy. Holiness is really about being close to God and becoming more like him.
We are attracted to holiness because God is attractive. Where does beauty, joy, happiness, fulfillment, come from? From God. If God wasn’t attractive we wouldn’t keep coming to mass, we wouldn’t continually seek him out in different places. You may feel that you come to mass because you are obliged to, or because it’s the thing to do, but that’s not really the reason. You come here because God draws you here. God continually draws us to him, but gently. He will never force us and so we can resist if we wish.
A few years ago, I remember hearing that the biggest area of interest in bookshops was occult and spiritual books. That is another indication of people’s search for God. They are searching for spiritual meaning, but unfortunately looking in the wrong place.
God has created us in such a way that there is what you might call a ‘God shaped hole’ within us that only He can fill. Nothing else will fully satisfy us. Material things that we can buy will satisfy for a very short time only. People will satisfy us for longer, but never completely. Only the Lord himself will fulfil us completely, because God has created us in such a way that we have a capacity for the infinite. Only what is infinite will fill us completely. So when we meet people who seem to be close to God, we are drawn to them, because we want to get closer to God. We can’t help it.
Sometimes when people get married, they are disappointed after a while, because they don’t feel completely fulfilled by their partner. No other person is going to completely fulfil us, because we would be asking them to do what only God can do. If we realise this then it can help us a great deal, but if we expect another mere human being to fill this God shaped hole within us, then we’re going to be disappointed. People will let us down, but God will never let us down.
In today’s Gospel we are again presented with John the Baptist; this strange man that so many people wanted to listen to. People were also drawn to him. Jesus said that he was the greatest man ever born of a woman, which is quite a thing to say about someone. He was a prophet, but also much more than a prophet. He was the one that God sent to announce the coming of Jesus.
So what did John say? When he saw Jesus, he said to the people with him, ‘There is the lamb of God… follow him, not me. He’s the one you want, I’m not.’ Those words should sound familiar. When the priest holds up the host at communion he says, ‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ It’s the same thing that John the Baptist said. John said, ‘Follow him.’ Mother Teresa said, ‘Follow him’. Padre Pio said, ‘Follow him.’ Our Pope says, ‘Follow him.’ He is the one we are looking for, but we often don’t realise it. Jesus is the only one who can fulfil us, the only one we need to keep our sights on. The world around us keeps changing, but God doesn’t. The world around us will disappoint us, but God won’t.
Where do you look for happiness, for fulfilment, because there is only one place we will find it and that is in God. And the way to find it is by listening to what He tells us to do. The more we try and be faithful to everything God tells us, everything, the more we will be fulfilled and the more we will find inner peace. We will also be able to be at peace in the middle of the chaos that is around us.
In Jesus’ public ministry, He was continually faced with opposition, with hatred and there were several attempts on his life. People took offense at what He said, because it showed them where they were in error and that they needed to change if they were to be faithful to God’s word. And yet Jesus was at peace in the middle of all these shouting voices, because He was completely united to the Father. Notice too how many times it says that Jesus went off by himself to pray, often sending the Apostles away, so that He could be by himself in communion with the Father. It says that before He chose the twelve Apostles from all the people who were following him, He spent the whole night in prayer.
If we want to be at peace in the middle of our chaotic world, we need to draw closer and closer to the Father. When a child is afraid or distressed, where do they go? They go to their parents, for strength, comfort and reassurance. In the Scriptures, God is often portrayed as a mother and as a father. For me the most helpful image of God is the image of a parent with their child. No matter how much that child messes up, his parents don’t love him any less, they just help him and love him, even if he has to be disciplined. It is always out of love and concern for the child. God continually gives us the same image.
‘Can a mother forget her baby at the breast, and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you’ (Is 49:15).