Restlessness and Peace
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) | Fr John O’Connor suggests that a relationship with God heals our restless hearts, and so can help transform societies wounded by restless violence too.
The great French thinker, Blaise Pascal, famously wrote that all humanity’s miseries stem from our inability to remain quietly in our rooms. According to Pascal, our restlessness gets us into a lot of trouble. All strife, from family arguments to great wars, ultimately has its roots in this lack of inner peace and repose.
I recently came across an article about inner city violent crime and how novel police methods are dealing with this. The police now use insights drawn from disease prevention and apply them to policing. The idea is that violence spreads between people, reproducing itself and shifting norms, not unlike a medical disease. An indication of this is that one locality might see more violent crime than another, even though they both have the same social problems. Tackling social deprivation and unemployment remain important. But the new police methods add to this a shift away from focusing largely on the threat of penalties and prison, to focusing on education, helping to build bridges in the community, and working with victims so that cycles of violence do not continue.
And it’s been a wonderful success. It has transformed policing in a number of cities, with significant reductions in violent crime in relatively short periods of time. An important lesson that might be drawn from this is that if there is to be a cure for social malady, then a large part of the cure needs to involve looking at our inner restlessness, looking at what is going on inside ourselves and how we relate to each other. It’s about working to transform ways of responding, creating and supporting an ongoing process of personal development and helping people to achieve an inner peace.
This is something that police forces are beginning to appreciate more and more; though it’s an important insight that Christianity has been proclaiming for two millenia. The Church certainly accepts the importance of meeting material needs and alleviating physical maladies: the thousands of Church hospitals and other charitable initiatives across the globe are testimony to this. But the Church also says that we need to address the sorts of malady that Pascal speaks of. The cure that lasts has something to do with what goes on inside ourselves.
And we see this clearly in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. We have the people following after Jesus, eager for healing and for miraculous signs. Who can blame them? But nonetheless Jesus points out that, wonderful though healing and miraculous signs are, there are yet needs that go deeper still:
“Truly, truly I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you.”
In these words Jesus signals that the needs that are deep in us often go unrecognised. The restless people of whom Pascal speaks might barely recognise that their restlessness is so great a problem, just as those caught up in the cycles of violence might not recognise how deeply it blights their lives and those of others, damaging and desensitising the soul, rendering it unable to see its own condition.
Jesus also speaks about eternal life. It’s clear that he is not talking simply about a life that happens not to have an end, but about a glorious everlasting life in the presence of God. And attaining this involves the Lord Jesus Christ who gives himself up to us as our food:
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
Christian and non-Christian alike can agree that the cure for the inner restlessness that causes so many problems must include relationship. This simple insight of crucial importance is now coming to be appreciated even by police forces tackling crime. But what Christ says to us in this Sunday’s Gospel reading is that the deepest cure of all involves not just relationship, but relationship with nothing less than the living God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.
It is only the love that comes from God that can touch the very core of our being. This is why the Lord comes to us in the form of food, of bread and wine. Just as food goes into us and becomes part of us, so the Lord in the Eucharist enters us, goes deep within us, transforms us from within. He heals our restless hearts and he gives us that deepest peace that the world cannot give.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP, taken in St Dominic’s Priory, London.