The Hungers of Our Hearts

While teaching a group of small children, Sister Briege McKenna said, “When you receive your first Holy Communion, Jesus will come and live in your heart.” One little girl piped up and asked, “Oh, do you mean with his furniture and everything?” Well, there is no furniture involved, of course. But Jesus does come and live in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion.

A woman at my parish taught this truth to a non-verbal autistic boy who was preparing for his First Communion. She wanted to make sure that he could make a distinction between the normal food he ate at meals and the spiritual food he would receive in Holy Communion. So she drew a big picture of his body on a sheet of brown paper. Where the stomach would be she drew a big circle and filled it with samples of food he would often eat- Cheerios and things like that. Next she drew a picture of his heart and placed in it some unconsecrated communion wafers. Then, after completing the picture, she would ask the boy where the food he eats at meals goes. He would point to his own stomach, and then the stomach on the big picture. Finally, she would ask him where the spiritual food Jesus gives him goes, and he would touch his heart, and then the one on the picture with the wafers. He was ready for his first Holy Communion.

Jesus himself teaches us, in today’s gospel, that he comes to dwell in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion. The setting this teaching was the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He explained to his disciples that after he had risen and ascended to heaven, he would send the Holy Spirit who would unite them with himself and God the Father in a very intimate way. “On that day,” Jesus said, “you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.” This communion with God begins when we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, and it is nourished and strengthened whenever we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.

Pope John Paul II once said, “Even if all the physical hunger of the world were satisfied…the deepest hunger of man would still exist.” Indeed, we have several deep hungers that need to be fed. Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay proposes that we each have what he calls “five basic hungers of the heart.”

The first of these hungers, he says, is for meaning in life. Sometimes we wonder if life has any purpose. We ask “What’s it all about?” We look to the skies a and note that our tiny planet circles a sun that is only one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which in turn is only one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe, which is growing bigger as we speak. We see this, and wonder if there’s any purpose in it all.

Our second basic hunger, according to Bishop Morneau, is for commitment. We all search for someone or something to commit our lives to; we seek to give our talents and energies to something worthwhile. If we don’t commit ourselves, we’ll wind up bouncing from one relationship to another, moving from one job to the next, ceaselessly drifting and experimenting.

Our third basic hunger is for depth and quality in life. Morneau says that we long for deep encounters- with God, with others, and with ourselves. He gave the example of a Christmas party he once attended. In twenty minutes he was introduced to thirty people, but he concluded that he didn’t really meet anybody. The encounters were superficial, which is the experience of life for too many people today. They- we- hunger for more.

“Wholeness” is the fourth basic hunger of the heart. We’re all broken people, says Morneau. We’ve been hurt by life, by others, and we’ve hurt ourselves too. We struggle with our pain, our addictions, and our sinfulness. We need to be healed, to be made “whole” once again.

The fifth and final “basic hunger of the heart” is intimacy. We’re made for oneness, for communion, says Morneau. Nevertheless, we suffer from isolation, alienation, and loneliness.  In a sense, this is kind of a “hell on earth.” What we want is closeness- with others, with God.

The only thing- the only person– who can feed the deepest hungers of our heart, is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus who can satisfy our need for meaning, commitment, depth, wholeness, and intimacy. This was learned by a woman I know who was fond of wearing a necklace with a heart-shaped pendant. The heart, however, wasn’t solid. It was only the outline of a heart. She said that this pendant was symbolic, as she felt as if she were going through life with an empty heart. At times she had tried to fill it with various things- some good, some bad. But it was only when Jesus broke into her life that the hunger of her heart really began to be fed.

St. Peter said to us in today’s second reading: “Sanctify Jesus in your hearts.” We can do this by letting Jesus come into our hearts and feed its hungers with the gift of himself in Holy Communion. So maybe the challenge for us today is to come prepared, and to come often. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” wrote St. Augustine. But perhaps we can paraphrase him and say: Our hearts are hungry, until they are fed by Jesus.

Readings for today’s Mass:

Photo Credits: Laurel Fan, madmiked, and Geecy via Creative Commons 

9 Replies to “The Hungers of Our Hearts”

  1. Mother Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and every Christian is a temple of the Lord.

    In every Church is an Altar where the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, and in every Christian is a heart where the Holy Eucharist goes.

    The heart is the altar of the body, because the Altar is the heart of the Church, who is the Body of Christ.

    That is why, when we consume Christ, the appearance of bread and wine is digested, but Christ stays in us.

    It is because of mystical marriage, begun in Baptism and consummated in the Holy Eucharist.

  2. Jesus does come and live in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion. . . . a distinction between the normal food he ate at meals and the spiritual food he would receive in Holy Communion

    Yes, but . . .

    But that only ends up confusing things, I’m afraid.

    The Eucharist is more than spiritual food. The minister of Communion does not say, “The Spirit of Christ.” Rather, he says, “The Body of Christ.” The Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ.

    This physical, bodiliness aspect is vitally important. We can receive spiritual food sitting in our room praying. After all, it is spiritual and the spirit is transcendent. And in this spiritual way, Jesus can enter our hearts, our soul can become one with His soul. But it is only in the Eucharist, the BODY of Christ, that we can be one with Him in the entirety of our being. Not only our spirits being one with His Spirit, but our bodies being one with His Body, in the fullness of our being. As such, we can rightly call it “Communion.”

    In the food that is Holy Communion, Jesus does not merely enter our stomachs, He does not merely enter our hearts — He comes into and lives in the entirety of our being, the entirety of our bodies and the entirety of our souls — Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity being one with (in communion with) our body and blood, soul and humanity. He is, in both Spirit and Body, in our stomach and in our heart and in our head and in our mouth and in our hands and in our feet and in our eyes and in our ears and in our sexual organs and so on.

    And it is important that we be one with Him in our bodies, in the entirety of our bodies, and not merely in our (spiritual) hearts. We interact with the things of this world by and through our bodies. Our bodies themselves are a sacrament, an efficasious visible outward sign of the invisible reality of the soul, and such body and soul are themselves indivisible. He comes to dwell in us physically because we are physical beings, as well as transcendent spiritual beings.

    If all that the Eucharist is is spiritual food, then the Protestant can rightly ask, “then why should I partake of it? I can receive spiritual food, and Jesus can enter my heart, merely by praying.”

    1. When my daughter c was a preschooler she looked forward to snacking on cookies and juice in the social hall at my Lutheran church. [She distinguished between Lutheran and Catholic as the Cookie Church and the Candle Church respectively.] One morning, instead of consuming her treats immediately, c brought her doughnut hole and small cup of juice into church with her, and carefully set them next to her on the pew.

      The treats remained unconsumed even through the homily (at which point I was feeling a bit peckish myself) and the Creed and the prayers and the offertory.

      When we stood to walk up for Communion, c finally picked up her doughnut hole and juice. She brought them with her to the Communion rail, and after she received her blessing and as I received the Body and Blood of Christ, she finally ate her doughnut hole and drank her juice. c may not then have understood that we receive the Body and Blood of Christ through the bread and wine, but she certainly understood that at church we are fed.

        1. Bender, it’s always good to see your input, your insights and your clarifications on various blogs out there on the Net.

  3. Interesting points, Nick. I was thinking about those things yesterday as well.

  4. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    The woman who taught the autistic child at your parish surely had the Holy Spirit with her and the child,
    that was a great accomplishment.
    And yes, The Hunger of Our Hearts is powerful. It is that searching, that wondering, those deep encounters which drive us and bring us to Him in our journey.

  5. Re: “Come to Jesus”.

    Apparently, a small child has been denied The Eucharist in Texas.

    Can you please see to it that the boy receives first communion.
    It has been said that a person needs to be able to distinguish between The Eucharist and ordinary food.

    Since this boy is special, I suggest the following:

    Give him his favourite food for The Eucharist.

    If he understands nothing else in this world,
    he will understand the love that lies behind it.

  6. Furthermore, not all mothers can be expected to show that level of creativity.

    When it comes to mentally disabled children, they are supposed to be able to “differenciate between ordinary food and the eucharist”.
    This has sometimes been used to deny kids who are special, the right to first communion, by claiming that they cannot tell the difference.

    Take a second to consider this:

    Unless the child has all his regular meals served in a church, in front of the altar and is hand-fed every singel meal he eats by a priest, I`d say the kid would be able to discern that this meal is something special.

    Wouldn`t you?

    Please make sure the kid in Texas gets his communion.


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