Centuries before the Angelic Doctor wrote the Summa Theologiae, St. Augustine of Hippo proclaimed in his Confessions: “…cor nostrum inquietum est donec requiescat in Te (our hearts are restless until they rest in You).” St. Augustine, who had spent his youth and early adulthood lost and restless in the goods of this world, came to understand that we are made for God and only in Him can we find our ultimate home, rest, peace, and happiness. St. Thomas Aquinas avoided the temptations of the flesh and donned the Dominican habit early on. St. Thomas — continuing in Augustine’s footsteps—brought the world of Greek philosophy and Christian thought to new depths. He spent his life meditating on the mystery of God. These two very different men — who are both Doctors of the Church and holy saints — came to the same conclusion. It is the conclusion that all saints come to.
After writing on the Eucharist, St. Thomas entered into a great ecstasy. He then heard a voice from the crucifix on the altar say: “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” St. Thomas’ reply was: “Non nisi Te, Domine. Non nisi te. (Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you).” In the end, none of the goods of this life, even profound intellectual genius, wealth, talents, power, and all other manner of things can bring us our ultimate fulfillment. These are goods that reflect the goodness of God, but they are not God. It is God who we long for. It is God who made us for happiness. And it is God who will ask us at the end of our lives the reward we desire. The hope is that we will answer: “Nothing but you, Lord.” St. Thomas’ answer is the answer of a saint. God is our ultimate reward.
Can most of us honestly say that in our daily lives we live as if we long for nothing but God? Can we see clearly the restlessness within us and know that the solution is God? I think the vast majority of us — those who are not yet saints, such as myself — can see that there are areas of our lives where we do not live with God constantly in mind. There are goods in our lives that we have allowed to become inverted and they take the place of God, rather than being a good that draws us closer to Him. In order to find out these false gods, replacements, or distortions in our own hearts — and they are there — we have to ask ourselves some rather painful and honest questions. The primary being: Do I love [name the sin] more than God?
This exercise, by the light of the Holy Spirit, will reveal to us the areas where we are not placing God first in our daily lives. These are the areas that need serious work, prayer, fasting, frequent Confession, and perseverance. All of us have our pet sins. We all have vices that we struggle with and we can easily convince ourselves that they don’t matter, but they do matter because they are a hindrance to growing in greater love of God and deeper communion with the Blessed Trinity. The Christian life is a constant pruning away of dead shoots, leaves, and flowers that are no longer productive and that rob us of energy. These are the areas where we are called, albeit slowly, to improve. In pruning away at these areas within ourselves, we will become better equipped to love God and give our whole selves over to Him and to desire Him fully.
We live in a restless age. Everyone is constantly on the move. One of the false idols of our time is busyness. We mistakenly believe that in being busy we are accomplishing something, anything. In reality, this busyness can keep us from pursuing the true meaning for our lives, which is to love and serve God through holy lives and in so doing find the happiness God created us to experience. The happiness we long for can only be found in Him. The goods of this life, while they are meant to be enjoyed, are temporary and they are not mean to replace God. When we use money, power, food, drink, sex, or technology to attempt to lessen the restlessness we feel in our hearts at times, we mistake the goods of this life for the ultimate Good. There is not a single job, man or woman, sexual encounter, trip, car, paycheck, or television show in this universe that can squelch this restlessness.
St. Augustine tried to calm his own restless heart through the lusts of the flesh, but found himself miserable. It was only in realizing that happiness dwells in God that he was able to find true peace and joy. St. Thomas Aquinas spent his life contemplating the face of God through Sacred Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Greek Philosophers. St. Thomas and St. Augustine walked very different paths, but both came to understand through conversion of heart, prayer, virtuous living, the Sacraments, and study that happiness can only be found in God. We are made for God and by God. Our answer to God each day is meant to be: I want nothing but you, Lord. Like these two great saints, we have our own paths to walk as we come to enter into deeper love of God. In giving ourselves to Him and accepting His immense love, we will find that day-by-day our own hearts become less restless and our desire for God alone grows greater. We will find ourselves a little bit closer to our goal of becoming a saint.
image: Disputation of Holy Sacrament by Raphael / Wikimedia Commons