Monday, August 3, 2020

Much like hunger and appetite, desire is not always a bad thing. The task of the spiritual life is to control it and not let it control us.

Desire as gotten quite a lot of negative press especially where the spiritual life is concerned.  Many think that desire doesn’t have positive connotations, and some spiritual writers have considered it as something that doesn’t serve the soul well in its quest for holiness.  I disagree rather strongly with this sentiment, chiefly because like freedom, desire is something that God has given to each human person out of love.  Without freedom to choose good over evil, and love over fear, God might as well have created us to be like the proverbial lemming that doesn’t think for itself and merely follows the one that is in front of it.  Desire is closely associated with the freedom to choose, and it is when one desires wrongly (or chooses wrongly) that one is making a choice for sin.


In his rather enlightening book “Immortal Combat”, Fr Longenecker takes pains to elucidate this very important point.  He puts it so succinctly that the freedom to choose may seem simple and elementary, but it is also terrifying because its implications are eternal.


It is indeed true that embedded in the power to choose is the spark that is called “desire”.  Desire is the engine of choice, without which there would be no impetus at all to choose any one option over the other.  We need to realise that desire itself is not evil.  We are taught in the catechism that even in their preternatural state, Adam and Even had desire, but they desired everything that was beautiful, good and true (relate this to God being the fullness of Beauty, Goodness and Truth themselves). 


But I do have some issue with Fr Longenecker’s positing that because God wanted his new creatures (Adam and Eve) to remain innocent and immortal, that he forbade them the knowledge of good and evil, and before the fall, they only desired and chose that which was beautiful, good and true.  I would only disagree with this view if time was a factor in its consideration.  Maybe some explanation is in order here.


We tend to think that there was a period of time (or length of time) from the moment our first parents were created until they chose to sin, resulting from a wrong choice.  If so, then Fr Longenecker’s definition of this preternatural state necessarily included the non-possibility of choosing wrongly, and ipso facto, the absence of freedom which is so important in the moral order.


If there was a necessity to make an errata in his thesis, I would posit that this state is only plausible and possible when referring to origin sin within a linear time frame, whereas the reality is that the moment the human person was created, it fell, because in linear time, the tempter (aka Lucifer and his minions) were already in existence before God brought humans into existence.  Genesis had to be written the way it was simply because linear time is the only way our human capacities can apprehend and comprehend things.  Remember – much of scripture is written in parabolic, metaphorical and archetypal language, and this was richly used by the author of Genesis to convey a truth of the human person and how he deals with the mystery of sin and evil.


This rather esoteric reflection’s focus isn’t so much about when our first parents sinned and listened to their desires in a wrong way.  That wouldn’t really make a difference to our own challenges that we now face when making choices that are morally right and beneficial for our spiritual lives.  Rather, it is to make it clear that one way to stay on the path toward holiness and wholeness is to be keenly aware that how we respond to our desires in life impacts greatly the moral state of our souls.  It is when we let our desires steer our direction in life that we can easily begin to also abandon our moorings on godliness and living the life of grace. 


As well, we often encounter the reality that it is our wrong or bad desires that we have heeded to in life that has given way to many of our bad or sinful habits.  One of the very effective ways of overcoming these bad habits is to stop our actions midway through these habits and ask a very simple question – what am I doing right now?  For instance, if someone is addicted to smoking and is struggling to quit, it would entail him or her to, once the cigarette is lit and is hanging out of the mouth, to stop and ask – what am I doing right now?  The more direct and graphic the answer is, to more one will find it objectionable to continue with the action.  So, in this case, the answer could be one of the following – I am not ingesting toxic fumes into my body and coating the air sacs of my lungs with black tar that does my body no good whatsoever.  Or I am slowly poisoning my body and making it unhealthy and sick and in the process making it dangerous for others to be around me as I make them passive smokers while I exhale pollutants into the air.  It would be also very helpful to admit that it is because I have given in to a desire that for my body isn’t good, that I have also a reason why I should be desiring something that is instead beneficial and healthy for my body which is a gift from God. 


One can apply this methodology to any of one’s habits that one is struggling to break free from in life.  It works as far as one is willing to be both honest and humble at the same time.


Closely connected to the ability to choose the right desires is the ability to discern between the choices that we face in just about everything we do in life.  We just need to be aware that the more conscious our choices are for God and his will, the more we will show God and others how real our love for God and one another is, and live out the most fundamental commandments of God – to love him and to love one another.

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