“I was not in love as yet, but I was in love with love; and, from a hidden hunger, I hated myself for not feeling more intensely a sense of hunger. I was looking for something to love, for I was in love with loving, and I hated security and a smooth way, free from snares.”1
Not in love, but in love with loving! Not desiring, but desiring to desire! People are not simple.2
It’s been said that the only thing necessary to become a saint is to want to be one. But there’s the trick: how many people want to be saints? Wanting to be a saint is simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy. And the little steps along the way to sainthood require desire, too. St. Augustine famously prayed: Lord, give me chastity — but not yet.
Do we want chastity, do we want sanctity, do we want God? Honestly: probably not.
We assume that we have no control over what we desire, only over what we do. Is this true? In any given moment, it is true. But of our lives as a whole, it is not.
How else could the church at Ephesus be chastised for “forsaking the love [they] had at first,” or the church at Laodicea for being lukewarm?3 They are not rebuked for what they have done or failed to do — “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance” — but, it seems, for what they have desired and not desired.
Desire is one of the things we most admire in others. Haven’t you ever met someone who seems filled with it — desire for joy, for experience, for life? Is there anything more beautiful? And is there anything sadder than someone who has lost all of his desires?
If desire is really beyond our control, then it makes no sense to admire someone who is a “man of desires”;4 it only makes sense to envy him, the way we envy someone who is born stronger or more beautiful than we are. And if it’s beyond our control, it makes no sense to blame ourselves if we experience a lack of desire.
But we do admire such men, and we do blame ourselves. And we are right to do so.
We are right to blame ourselves because, even though desire itself is beyond our control, the desire for desire is not. We may desire the wrong things, we may lack desire for the right things, but it is always in our power to desire to desire.5
Desire is a chain. The desire we feel consciously is only the very last link. The first link lies in the roots of our will. The first link is under our control; the rest follow from it.
Do you find desires in yourself that are beneath you, that are not worthy of you (you, the child of a King)? You may not have the strength to stop desiring them — but you can desire to stop desiring them, and bring this desire to God. Bring it repeatedly and earnestly; bring it to Confession and the Eucharist. God will dry up your evil desires like a poisoned well.
Or do you lack desire? Maybe you know with your mind that purity is good, but you can’t find anything in yourself that doesn’t want to go out and sin. Maybe you know that sainthood is your destiny, but every part of you wants only to serve yourself. Maybe you lament your lack of adventurousness, but can only find in yourself a desire for comfort.
Then, if you can’t desire these things, desire to desire them, and bring this lack to God. Bring it over and over again, bring it to the Mass, put it on the altar with the bread and chalice. He will fill you with his living water, which not only quenches thirst but awakes it. Whenever he gives us himself, we want more of him. Our desire grows with every drink.
Desire may be beyond our control, but the secret root of desire is always ours. It is our hand at that rudder — not the hand of chance, or passion, or chemistry, or fate. If our hand is not strong enough to turn that rudder, the Lord’s hand will cover ours, if we ask Him daily and persistently. And slowly, slowly, the ship will begin to turn.
Happy, happy Gaudete Sunday. May the Lord make us men and women of great desire. May we be forever restless, until we rest in Him.
1 The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book 3, Chapter 1.
3 See Revelation 2:4 and 2:16, respectively.
4 See Daniel 10:11.
5 Not a typo. And while I am footnoting: To the reader whose email inspired this post, thank you! God bless you!