The Hole in our Hearts

I just finished a retreat for 37 women at the Jesuit retreat house in St. Louis, known as White House. When the number of registrants was low, we decided to write to all our Apostleship of Prayer members within a 50 mile radius of St. Louis letting them know about this retreat. Several people who received the letter signed up the last minute, thus boosting our numbers. But numbers ultimately are not what matters. All those who came--and I include myself in this as well--were blessed by three quiet days of prayer in a beautiful setting.

On the retreats I give I usually talk about St. Augustine's famous line from his autobiography, "The Confessions:" "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." We all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts, a longing for infinite love and beauty. Only God can fill that emptiness, but we tend to want to take the hunger pains away by filling the hole with substitutes--possessions and wealth, pleasure, power and prestige. We may feel satisfied for a while, but ultimately the restlessness and longing return.

When I travel to give retreats I often try to catch up on reading and this time I took a few back issues of the "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper. Something in the July 11 issue caught my eye immediately: an article entitled "Healing the hole in the Gulf--and in our hearts." The author is Fr. J. Brian Bransfield and he eloquently reflects upon the tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf. While people struggle to cap the gushing oil we all need to reflect on what led to this tragedy and then, after considering the causes, reflect on what conversion needs to go on to prevent such tragedies in the future. The hole in the Gulf of Mexico is connected to the hole in our hearts that only God can fill.

Here's a little taste of the article: "If we fix the hole in the earth without healing the one in our heart we will simply keep opening old wounds. There is only one way to heal the hole in our heart. ...We are not meant to acquire ... we are meant to give; we are not meant to acquire pleasure ... we are meant to give beauty ... we are not meant to acquire pleasure quickly ... we are meant to give beauty slowly." Then Fr. Bransfield asks how do we learn this? His answer: "We must drill into the Sermon on the Mount in order to unearth heaven. This persistence is learned only by standing near another Heart, a Heart that was pierced, that flowed forth in a new and eternal spring that closed the gulf of sin ... the Heart that is the source of a fountain that never runs dry."

Fr. Bransfield is the assistant general secretary of the U.S. Bishops' Conference and his article in its entirety can be found online here.