We who live in the shadow of New York City appreciate both the prestige and the paradox of life in what many call the capital of the world. The center of commerce, culture, art, science, and international politics, New York has an electricity that exists nowhere else, and yet there is a palpable sense of loneliness that so many people feel in the city. Our high school teachers had us discuss the thoughts of Nick, the narrator of the novel The Great Gatsby:
“I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others – poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner – young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”
This disparity between people’s great desires and their shortfall is echoed everywhere. In the old movie, Auntie Mame says: “Life is a banquet, and most poor souls are starving to death.” Mick Jagger puts it this way: “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and Bruce Springsteen tells us: “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” And if country music is more your style you remember the song “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places.” Whether we put it down to human concupiscence or compulsion or just another bad hair day, we know deep down that we often work against ourselves in the search for happiness. St. Teresa of Avila puts it best: “We go infinitely astray from what we truly desire.” The Scriptures teach us that Christ knows, and fulfills, our deepest longings, even when we cannot say what they are. We turn to the readings.
Modern Americans have to make something of an adjustment to appreciate the power of the reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. But let me speak for myself: I have never had to worry about my next meal. By contrast, most people in the ancient world were scarcely more than one harvest, even one rainfall away from starvation. And so, an invitation to eat rich fare of meat and wine and milk seems almost too good to be true. Little wonder, then, that heaven itself is often described as a wedding banquet.
In the Gospel, St. Matthew says that a crowd of about 20,000 people come to Jesus, who in turn teaches them and heals their sick. Even when he directs our hearts to heaven, our Lord is not “above” the needs of the body, and so he feeds the people with five loaves and two fish.
Friends, we Catholics recognize that people are body and soul; we come the Lord in our entirety. Like the crowd today, we may not be rich or powerful or famous, but we instinctively turn to Christ in our search for happiness and well being. As we approach the Eucharist today, let us make our own the words of St. Augustine, who knew the answer to human longing: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”