Christmas: the fulfillment of desire

"Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation. Love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object. Love destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves; love follows its own promptings, and does not think of right and wrong. Love inflames desire which impels it toward things that are forbidden.”

Where would you guess this passage came from? Perhaps some steamy romance novel? Ovid’s “The Art of Love?” What do you think? 
Would you believe it is from the Liturgy of the Hours? That is, in fact, its source.

In the second week of Advent, the Church gave us this text, from a sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus, to pray with in the Office of Readings. The whole sermon is about the longing of the saints for God, a longing which made everything they received that was not God seem cheap, unsubstantial, less-than-nothing . The example of the saints and St. Peter’s words pose some questions: 

What do I desire? How do I feel about my desires?

Christmas is the season in the Church of the fulfillment of desire. 

It makes sense, following Advent’s poignant longing. Consider how these selections from Advent songs address Christ, “O Come, Desire of Nations, come!”, “O Christ, whom nations sigh for”, “Come, Lord, and tarry not!”, “Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art, dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart”.

The Church is eloquent in calling out to her Bridegroom year after year.

Are we? What are my desires, anyway? How do I feel about them?

In praying about the birth of Jesus, I became aware of my own, sometimes uncomfortable, relationship with my desires.

In my prayer, I was acting as Mary’s midwife, helping her to deliver Jesus. I was overjoyed when he came out into the world, amazed that I got to be the first to hold the God-man, still an unnamed baby. And I felt strongly that I did not want to interfere in any way with this little family. I did not want to take any of their precious time together, did not want to be an intrusion.

So I dutifully laid the babe on Mary’s chest, wrapped against the cold air. Then I received him back, ready to clean him up properly. As I did this, I was sad, distressed even, at the thought of giving this baby back to his mother. I wanted to keep holding him. I wanted to care for him myself. But I felt that this feeling was wrong. After all, he’s not mine!

I felt inflamed with desire for a forbidden thing, to paraphrase St. Peter. So, after I cleaned, dried, and wrapped the baby snugly, I turned around to give him back to his mother.

I was surprised in that moment to find myself all alone. There was not even evidence of anyone else having been there. Alone with the baby, I cried for joy: here was the thing I wanted most but was afraid to ask for, given to me despite myself.

Apparently, the object of my desire was forbidden only by myself.

That is the way grace is.

It gives us more than we dare to ask for, more, often, than we even know we want.

So often I find myself distrusting the desires of my heart, assuming that my will is always opposed to God’s. There is a strain in me that believes that holiness is tied in with never getting what I want.

But this is totally twisted.

In the words of a dear priest friend of mine, “God is not a cosmic killjoy.” In fact, he is the fulfillment of all our desires – and gave us the faculty for desire so that our hearts as well as our minds would lead us to him.

This truth was reinforced for me when I went to a baptism held at a Baptist church in town. Talking with a member of the congregation beforehand, I was bowled over by her words, “I never had any children of my own, but God gave me many. He knows the desires of our hearts!”

My heart leapt with her confident trust and delight in God, and I responded with the familiar words we pray in the liturgy of the hours, “The barren wife bears seven sons,/While the mother of many languishes.”

Obviously there are some desires we need to renounce in order to be holy (and healthy!). These are the ones that are disordered, or not in accordance with our authentic good. But the truth of the matter is that we probably worry about those enough already.

Sanctity, holiness is not about reducing our “bad” desires so much as it is about enlarging the truest, deepest longings of our hearts.

So this Christmas, let us pray that God may deepen our desire, expand our hearts with longing, and set us free to enjoy the infant Christ, however he chooses to appear in our lives.

-Sr. Agnes Therese Davis, T.O.R

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so very much for the very inspiring Christmas message. It is very true: "So often I find myself distrusting the desires of my heart, assuming that my will is always opposed to God’s." But God is not a cosmic kill-joy... so beautiful...


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