The Way of Desire
The Way of Desire
The human heart is caught by various desires. Some more superficial. Others are deeper. Some are temporary, and others last longer. Some desires align with what will give us true happiness, and others are misleading. Saint Augustine writes: “Many are the desires of the human heart, but the will of the Lord remains eternally” (De Trinitate 15.38). He also writes: “The mouth speaks through the medium of words; the heart speaks through the medium of its desires. It is your heart’s desire that is your prayer” (On Psalm 37,14). The eternal desire of God is us! God has hid a desire for him in our hearts (Sermon 56,4), so if we were to know ourselves fully, we would recognize a longing for the uninterrupted happiness of life with God, but this recognition does not always happen (De Trinity 4.6).
Therefore blessed is the person who manages to discern in her heart the primordial desire of God. This desire for God can be expressed in a desire to serve God, or to be with God. Or how about both! One can think of the sisters of Lazarus in John's Gospel, Mary and Martha. One was preparing the meal and the other one was listening to Jesus. I think we have a little of each one of those sisters within us. They are sisters because to serve God is to be present in the world for Him and his wishes, which is a sister act of waiting for him in stillness of heart. God is pleased with those who await mercy from Him (Psalm 117) and God is pleased with those who follow His commandments.
The responsorial Psalm used in liturgy on the feast of St Augustine and also at other days during the year says: “One thing I ask of the Lord: to dwell in the House of the Lord and to contemplate the delights of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4). What would it be to contemplate the delights of the Lord, if not delights that never end and whose intensity always increases? The House points in the thought of Augustine to Heaven where we will be delighted and filled with joy. Nothing in heaven could take that joy away from us, since on this earth joys are always vulnerable to ending upon the arrival of bad news that could reach us at any moment. In heaven God will allow us to see beyond the limitations of our current state, and the cause of our joy will be infinitely great, namely God himself.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus says that to reach the vision of God, a pure heart is needed. What purifies the heart? According to Saint Augustine in his work On The Trinity, faith and love purify the heart. He writes: “Vision is the prize of faith, and it is faith that purifies hearts and makes this reward attainable, as it is written: Purifying his hearts by faith (Acts 15: 9) (De Trinitate 1.17). Being purified by faith means always living in the truth: To assent to the truth of God means the opposite of idolatry, namely to put our complete trust only in God. To live guided by God as our truth means subjecting our life to God’s guidance and direction. It requires our willingness to let ourselves be transformed by Him.
Faith is like the light that removes from us the darkness of our intellect, and also of cloudy emotions, and allows us to see the truth: “It is written: God is light; but do not think that it is this light that the eyes contemplate, but a light that the heart intuits when you hear it said: God is true. (1 Jn 1:5); (De Trinitate 8.3). The heart intuits the truth of God’s love who gave himself for us in His Son (Rom 8:31-39). Faith is the light that allows us to see that the perfect love of God is true. There is no greater love than laying down one’s life for one’s friends, and this is precisely what Jesus did for us (Jn 15:13).
In addition to faith, it is no surprise that love is also necessary for the purification of our hearts.
On the one hand greed and every kind of selfishness may tempt at any time, and on the other hand the experience of suffering that is difficult to explain could also shake our faith. Ongoing purification toward total trust in God, and the humble awareness of our weakness and fallibility of our love, leads us to pray to receive a greater force, namely the very force of the Holy Spirit: “Let us love Him, then, and let us unite to Him through the love that is spread in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:5; De Trinitate 7.5)
Augustine preached on this theme: “The entire life of the good Christian is a holy desire. You do not see what you desire yet, namely the face of God, but by desiring to see God you train yourself so that, when what you long to see arrives, you will be filled with it. It is as if you want to fill a container, knowing the volume of what is going to be given; you extend the cavity of the bag, or any other container. You know the amount you have to introduce and if you see that the cavity is limited, by stretching it you increase its capacity. In the same way, by delaying giving in to you, God expands your desire, and in this way with the expansion of desire he expands your spirit and you become more capable to love with greater desire.” (4th Homily on the Gospel of John, 6)
The content of love is expressed in good works: “to achieve purity, we are required to act righteously. (De Trinitate 1.31) Acting righteously is nothing more than loving your neighbor as yourself. In this way our neighbor, and in fact all of creation, help us to prepare our hearts to be able to contemplate God: “it is necessary to purify the heart by making good use of all the realities that the eyes see and the ears perceive. (De Trinity 3.26). May all the realities we perceive point us to God, their creator, so that we can desire them in the right way.
May the eternal desire of God for us be manifested more in our lives, so we can identify with the desire to love God above all thanks to the purification of faith and love, and likewise to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Carlos Medina, OSA