I find the images that Jesus presents to us in the Gospel quite thought provoking. The treasure in the field for which the man sells everything he owns in order to gain it, or the pearl of great value for which the man sells everything he owns to buy it, makes me wonder what would be worth giving up everything for. There is very little for which people would be willing to do that. Perhaps another person; certainly some would be willing to do that, but not everyone. Even there, disappointment can creep in and then some resentment springs up and poisons the relationship. There are few things pure enough in this world for which we would be willing to give up everything. So much seems contaminated that we struggle to maintain our enthusiasm. Everything seems prey to decay or dissolution, everything carries within it a seed of disappointment, nothing is perfect. Like the dragnet in the Gospel, there is a mixture of good and bad in everything and everyone. Perhaps we just have to decide if we can live with the imperfections or not.

That raises the further question I think we often ask: whether there is anything pure enough in this world, anything that is not in some way tainted by evil, or if you prefer if there is anything that will not end up disappointing us in some way at one time or another. I fear the answer is that we will never find anything in this world that is so perfect it never disappoint. Only what carries within it the promise of the Divine, only what in some way speaks to us of what is sacred can offer us anything approaching perfection. Even then that would seem to be a promise for the future.

But what have we done with the idea of the sacred? We have chased it out of life and in chasing it out of our lives we are left with that sense of hopelessness  that comes because we cannot find perfection in this world and now to add to our woes without the sacred, we do not even have the hope of a perfection to come. What is left to us but insipid variety and a constant search for something new to distract us from despairing at our world or ourselves and the emptiness we find there. Eventually we will run out of new things to try and we will be left with boredom or some sort of recreational drug, narcotic, chemical or otherwise, people will be permanently befogged to cope with the disappointment that is life – If we are not there already. We can’t live without some distraction; smart phones to entertain and fill up every momentary emptiness. It’s the emptiness that comes from having chased God away; there is nothing left to fill that space. Where else can we look, what can we do but turn ourselves in on ourselves and, it seems, that is equally insupportable; no one knows who they are any more. The identity of the young is more fluid than a river, identity is now something they get from their smart phones. Even older generations have bought into it and are losing their way.

Surely it is time for us to turn our attention once more to the human heart and what it wants. Is it not time to realise that our hearts are telling us what to look for and that in removing God or sidelining him we are setting ourselves off on some wild goose chase, while all the time the answer is already here. It is time to listen again to the parables of Christ and hear what he is offering.

Canon Conroy is the Catholic chaplain to Glasgow University

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