September 9, 2015

What satisfies – by Father Raymond Gawronski, S.J., Professor of Theology, Saint Patrick's Seminary


“Our hearts are made for Thee O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

St. Augustine’s famous words say it all: for we are made to know – and experience – God, and we will be restless until we come to that rest. Son of St. Ignatius, Balthasar would add: that “rest” is the acceptance of the mission God has for us, and that is a most active “rest.” But it is the “peace that the world cannot give,” and so not a philosophical repose, but rather an active “rightness” which comes from being in the will of God, however that may look.

Put differently, “what satisfies the soul?” What satisfies the deepest part of me? It is clear from all the “restless wanderings” of the people of the world that they are not finding that which satisfies. Half the people are terribly overweight – food does not satisfy. Many, maybe most, are engaged in some sort of driven sexual search – if only on the Internet. But the satisfaction there is momentary, leading to a period of exhaustion, and then a renewed hunt, more restless – more desperate – than before.

There are simpler satisfactions. The contemplation of nature, the immersion of our starved senses in the world God created, satisfies for awhile, and that in a healthy way. But nature is less than we, and so can only give a bit of respite, a bit of memory of Paradise. There are more sophisticated satisfactions. The world of the mind opens up. The satisfactions of intellectual sustenance, the pleasures of art – all these lift and feed the soul. For awhile. But in the end, they are only invitations, beautiful portals – to a reality beyond any of them.

And this reality can only be found in silence and darkness, for it is so totally different from all that is less than God, who is infinitely beyond us, that we must enter into the negation of all that we know, all our ways of knowing, in order to “know” in the “divine darkness.”

And so, calming all the senses, stilling our beings, we sit in the quiet – and await the working of the Holy Spirit of God. The very being there, the receiving of the invitation, the saying “yes” is itself a step into that “otherness” that begins to satisfy our souls, as nothing in this world can. We can – we must – bathe in these deep, dark waters, immerse ourselves, let ourselves drown in fact, that we may be lifted out of them.

We emerge to the greater satisfaction: that of love. No longer needy, no longer demanding. Rooted in that death which alone gives life,  in that silence from which alone satisfying sound emerges, we have found satisfaction, by renouncing all lesser satisfactions.  And we no longer demand that humans give us that which they cannot give: eternal life, perfect understanding, total acceptance and forgiveness.

This satisfaction has a name, for “it” is a person: His Name is Jesus, the “human face of God.” The Word that emerges from the Silence and invites us to that silence from which the only satisfying speech – the only real music – will emerge. From the heart of the Trinity.  May we be blessed to enter into this life-giving silence that alone stills our restless hearts, that alone satisfies. 

Father Raymond Gawronski, S.J. is a spiritual theologian and the author of Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter between East and West, Second Spring Books: 3rd Edition (2015). He helped launch the Spirituality Year at the founding of Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver where he served as professor, director of spiritual formation and retreat master, and most recently he started a similar program for Saint Patrick's Seminary where he also teaches and serves as a spiritual director.