Scripture Readings, July 3, 2022

“Where desire knows no limit, you have cruelty, envy, hatred, revolt, war. And love — even of mankind — only begins at the point where desire leaves off.”

These words, which I recently came across in Henri Ghéon’s biography of the Curé of Ars, express a reality of the interior life that may lie at the heart of the societal ferment for which so many seek causes and solutions in these times. From war on the global scale, to that raging in our own streets, and indeed in our own families, and upon the family itself as an institution — it seems quite clear that there is an interior need in mankind that is somehow not being met, at a very deep level.

Perhaps the problem, however, lies not so much in this need not being met, since the frustration of desire is a rather unavoidable aspect of the human experience. Instead, the problem more likely lies in the false hope promulgated by the “high priests” of our culture that our deepest desires — that hole in the human heart — can be met by things which this world can provide, or which our own will could bring about simply by willing it with enough audacious power. Start trying to fill that hole with the things of this world, however, or even with the people around you, or the power they might cede to you, and you will very soon become a monster. And no one wants to be a monster.

No. Love — true love — the thing that can actually start filling up the hole in man’s heart — only begins at the point where our endless desire somehow leaves off from its ravenous quest. Dante’s “Purgatorio” would temper this statement to propose not so much that desire be left off entirely as that it be purged, directed, elevated, and ennobled so as to achieve the ends toward which it is designed to carry us. Two things are necessary to climb Dante’s mountain of purgation: God and desire. Without either one, the pilgrim comes to a standstill.

But our desire must be elevated from its earthbound, inward-looking gaze. If all there is are French fries, hooking-up and video games, or even caviar, lovemaking and Milanese opera, our disillusion will inevitably be unbearable. Our hearts instead must be lifted up from the things of this world, because we are made for things eternal. As Ghéon continues, true love “demands grace from on high, a vision — clear or dim — of an end above man’s nature, an end from which man’s nature draws its truest dignity.”

With this perspective, all man’s earthbound experience becomes infused with a deeper meaning, a purpose beyond itself, worthy of sublimating immediate delight for truer, eternal delight, unlocked mysteriously by our letting go of the constant impingement of present desire. This journey begins in coming to know ourselves as beloved sons and daughters of a living God, an identity which grounds us in eternal bedrock, and ironically frees us to be fully present to our present reality.

It is this mystery into which our Lord incorporated his disciples and sent them out on a mission to proclaim. He sent out the 72 without any provisions, like lambs among wolves, greeting no one along the way due to the urgency of their task. They were to proclaim peace to all. And wherever they were rejected, they were to move on with perfect detachment, shaking the dust from their feet and proclaiming as they left that willfulness makes for an intolerable existence in the long run.

The 72 returned rejoicing because they’d experienced great spiritual power in this selfless mission. Our Lord had given them “the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ (Psalm 91:13) and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy,” such that nothing would harm them.

“Nevertheless,” Jesus urged them as they returned, “do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20)

Even in the adventure of a life lived in Christ, our delight must remain in the joy of the reality to come, in which all power, honor, glory, kingship and communion will be fulfilled. In the meanwhile, the path up the mountain is navigated by “boast(ing) only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world,” with all its empty promises, “has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

By crucifying our desire, a new creation is brought about as our hearts are redirected toward their eternal fulfillment in the New Jerusalem. There, the prophet Isaiah promises us, we shall find our comfort. “When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.” (Isaiah 66:13-14)