“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” So said Saint Augustine, who was a man of many gifts, but more sins. He was at the same time a spiritual seeker and a spiritual slacker. He wanted God, but he was unwilling to make the changes necessary to bring his life to a sense of fulfillment.
He had a restless heart, and he described a condition we all share.
And it’s not just each of us individually. It’s all of us collectively. We’re all in this together.
Much of the Bible’s Old Testament is a story of wandering and stalling, exile and frustration. The Israelites had a sense of destiny. God had made them amazing promises; but by their own lack of faith they always fell far short of the glory that should have been theirs. They always fell short of fulfillment.
Their history was a story of unfinished business. Prophecies and events pointed forward to a promising future, but in a mysterious way, that left the people uncertain whether fulfillment would arrive in a matter of days, years or centuries.
Some Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled already in Old Testament events. The prophets foretold a return to Jerusalem, out of exile, and a restoration of the Temple. And it happened! People who heard the prophecy lived to see its fulfillment.
But other prophecies were just left hanging — unfulfilled and baffling. When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote about those prophecies, he compared them to stray dogs. They wander in an indeterminate and unsatisfying way in search of their true owner.
He mentions as his primary example the haunting description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. The prophet describes a man beaten up and outcast — by any worldly measure a loser. Yet that very man would atone for the sins of Israel. That very man would finally make things right and bring fulfillment to history and to everybody’s life.
Only with Jesus does that stray prophecy find its owner. Only with Jesus do we come to see how one man’s suffering — when endured in love — can resolve other people’s failures and frustrations.
What is true of that oracle of Isaiah is true of the entire Old Testament. It points forward to Jesus. Its triumphs are just hints of the greater glory to come. Its seeming tragedies come to resolution or vindication only with the Passion of the Christ.
Jesus read the Old Testament this way. He saw the old figures fulfilled in his own life. He said: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The ancient serpent made of bronze, then, was a “type” that foreshadowed the healing power of Jesus.
In a similar way, Saint Peter tells us, the ancient flood, in the time of Noah, was a type that prefigured Christian Baptism (1 Peter 3:20). Saint Paul, in turn, tells us the manna that fell from heaven, at the time of the Exodus, was a type foreshadowing the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
The New Testament teaches us to see fulfillment in Jesus — and to seek fulfillment in Jesus! The Church calendar tells us the same story every year, and teaches us the same lesson.
We rehearse this process every time we go to Mass. We hear the Old Testament Scriptures proclaimed, and we sing a Psalm; and then we arrive at their fulfillment in the Gospel reading — and finally in Holy Communion.
It’s at that moment that all history reaches its true and final destiny. God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless for that Communion with him — which we know first in the sacrament and we hope to enjoy forever in heaven.