Sunday, March 11, 2012

Orienting desire

Last week in several of my posts I dealt with desire. More dangerous than desire for the wrong things is a lack of desire for anything. Desire, like love, which is its fulfillment, can easily be mis-directed, misspent, deformed. Taking an inventory of our desires is useful in showing us how imperfect we we are, how attached we are to things and even to other people. For Christians the only point of detaching ourselves is to turn around and attach ourselves to Christ, to adhere to Him, that is, stick to Him.

In his Confessions St. Augustine wrote about "the major forms of iniquity that spring out of the lust of the flesh, and of the eye, and of power." He observes that at times "there is just one; sometimes two together; sometimes all of them at once." Writing about the Ten Commandments, which the Church gives us to consider today, Augustine wrote, "we live, offending against the Three and the Seven, that harp of ten strings, thy Decalogue, O God most high and most sweet." He goes on to ask, "But now how can offenses of vileness harm thee who canst not be defiled; or how can deeds of violence harm thee who canst not be harmed?' Still thou dost punish these sins which men commit against themselves because, even when they sin against thee, they are also committing impiety against their own souls. Iniquity gives itself the lie, either by corrupting or by perverting that nature which thou hast made and ordained. And they do this by an immoderate use of lawful things; or by lustful desire for things forbidden, as 'against nature;' or when they are guilty of sin by raging with heart and voice against thee, rebelling against thee, 'kicking against the pricks'..." Even for St. Augustine desire is not to be banished, just transformed, that is, killed and resurrected.

Here's an experiment, with your search engine setting set to "safe" or at least "moderate" type desire into any search engine, then click on "images." This will give you a decent grasp of human desire.

Rather than be discouraging we should find this encouraging because it gives us a place to start. Think about how dissatisfied you are when, after some effort, you succeed in gaining what you desired, thinking, "Is that all there is to it?" We learn something else through such excursions, namely that the journey, the struggle, the agon, matters. Reaching a destination, after all, requires a journey. In his Lenten pastoral letter of 1962, in which he wrote about the upcoming Second Vatican Council, then-Cardinal Montini wrote about his hope that the council would help the Church "call upon Christ to ... [to] really shape present Christian life as a pilgrimage towards the final goal so that all human experience over time is judged and valued on the basis of this extremely unearthly interaction: what is its purpose for eternity?" This is a good question to interrogate our desires, "What is directed towards eternity?" As difficult as it is, we must live sub specie aeternitatis, or, under the aspect of eternity. When we live "this way" we recognize that eternal life is not life after death, but, in light of our baptism in Christ, our dying and rising with Him, is now: "The kingdom of God is at hand be repenting and believing in the Gospel!"

through our observance of Lent,
help us to understand the meaning
of your Son's death and resurrection,
and teach us to reflect it in our lives.
Through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.


  1. Yes, to link our desire for whatever is to understand that it is a longing for the Infinite.

  2. Scott, thanks for this blog. Desire is something i've never really given much consideration.
    You've given me something to think about, and I think that it's a something that is really important in the whole scheme of things.
    Appreciate your words, my friend!

  3. "For that very desire of your heart is your prayer; and if your desire continues uninterrupted, then so does your prayer. It was not in vain that the Apostle said Pray without ceasing. Can we be always bending the knee, prostrating the body, or lifting up our hands, that he says Pray without ceasing? If that is what prayer means then I say that we cannot do it without ceasing.
    There is another inward kind of prayer without ceasing, which is the desire of the heart. Whatever activity you happen to be engaged in are doing, if you only long for that Sabbath then you do not cease to pray. If you do not want to pause in prayer then never pause in your longing.
    Your continuous desire is your continuous prayer..." St. Augustine


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