That which you most desire

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez

In our Catholic tradition, we esteem the saints of heaven and ask them to help us with their prayers. But along with the assistance brought us by their intercession, these brothers and sisters of ours awaken in us a dream, a dream that is sometimes dormant — the dream of becoming saints like they are.

The saints are part of the great crowd of men and women that the Book of Revelation describes as innumerable, from every race and nation, clothed in white robes and adoring the Lamb in the heavenly liturgy. Only God knows the name of every one of them. But many of them are perhaps people we knew or our own loved ones.

All of them motivate us to turn our gaze heavenward and they bring us to discover in the depths of our hearts the most sincere and authentic longing we experience: the longing to be saints.

Why can this desire for sanctity never be extinguished in our hearts? Because that’s how God made us: to be saints. This longing is sealed within ever spiritual “cell” of our souls. Because, as St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

Sanctity is that which belongs only to God. God alone is Holy. Sanctity is the beauty, the goodness, and the splendor of God who is love. Only by contact with him can one become holy. Thus, sanctity can be understood as a relationship of love. This is also what we understand by “life of grace,” that is, a life lived in the love of God. Our hearts were made to love, and for nothing else. Hate does violence to our hearts. Thus, if you were to ask your heart what it most sincerely desires, it would unquestionably respond that it only wants to love, but that its thirst for love can not be quenched until it is full of Love itself, which is God.

St. Augustine has a rather daring phrase: “Love and do what you will.” But he adds immediately, “but love.” He is convinced that if we truly love God, we will not want to do anything that could offend him. That’s why the Christian life should not be lived on the defensive, concentrating on avoiding sin. Instead it should be lived in a very active way, seeking to love God more every day. To live each day, as St. Teresa of Avila said, “seeking to please my Captain in everything.”

The saints are those men and women who love God with their whole soul. And I am sure that you know one of these people personally. And I am also convinced that you want to be one of these people.

If you ever go to Los Angeles, visit the cathedral. Along the inside walls are beautiful tapestries presenting the Communion of Saints. One hundred thirty-five saints from all over the world are depicted there, including the canonized saints of North America. As well, there are 12 figures who are not identified, including children of various ages. They represent the anonymous saints who live among us — these ones that you meet every day. Who says this yet unidentified saint can’t be you? In fact, this is what you most desire in the depths of your heart!

COMING UP: Relationship, not sacrifice is at the heart of Lent

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When we began Lent on Ash Wednesday, the Lord said to us, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2:12-13).

During Lent we strive to unite ourselves with Jesus’ experience of conquering temptation in the desert and pursuing the Father’s will, so that we can fully experience the joy and victory of Easter. The Scriptures and Fathers of the Church consistently recommend three forms of penance that help us on this journey: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

But before we can fruitfully carry out these forms of purification, we must rend our hearts. In the Jewish tradition, ripping one’s garments – known as keriah – is done when mourning a relative who has passed away. Today, some Jews specifically rip their clothes over their hearts if the deceased is one of their parents. The Scriptures mention this expression of grief several times, including Jacob mourning his youngest son Joseph when he thought he was dead, or King David rending his garments at hearing that Saul had died.

Even more important than this outward expression of grief is returning to God with our whole heart, tearing it away from any unhealthy desires and attachments. In his 2018 message for Lent, Pope Francis offers some insights into the ways people develop unhealthy attachments today by reflecting on the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus warns, “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12).

The Holy Father echoes Jesus’ warning that there will be many false prophets who lead people astray. One kind of false prophet, which he calls snake charmers, are those “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others … with momentary pleasures” like dreams of wealth or the belief that they are self-sufficient and don’t need others. Pope Francis also alerts us to “charlatans” – people who offer “easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.” Their traps include drugs, disposable relationships and the temptation of a “thoroughly ‘virtual’ existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless!”

But despite these snares laid by the Devil and his false prophets, God the Father declares through the Prophet Joel that he is “gracious and merciful … slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13). God’s mercy and love for us can transform our hearts, if we are willing to open them to him and deepen our relationship, especially through the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

When it comes to prayer, pursuing a deeper relationship with God means going beyond our first inclination, which is to make ourselves the focus of our prayer and to even boast of our accomplishments. Instead, we should ask God to help us know him better, to experience a greater intimacy with each person of the Trinity. The great Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila, calls this kind of prayer “mental prayer.” “In my opinion,” she said, “mental prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”

If we pray in this way, then our fasting and almsgiving will naturally flow from us as acts of love for Christ in others, rather than being a set of tasks or Lenten requirements to fulfill. Our hearts will be rent, and not merely our garments.

Fasting is another way for us to draw closer to God. Saint Augustine observed this when he wrote, “Fasting purifies the soul. It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart contrite and humble, (and) scatters the clouds of desire … .” By denying our appetites and giving up distractions, we can more clearly hear God’s voice and place ourselves at his service.

The final practice of Lent that conforms our hearts more to Jesus’ Sacred Heart is almsgiving. Pope Francis notes in his Lenten message that almsgiving “sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.”

This other-centered approach will help us to draw closer to the heart of Christ, particularly if we follow the advice of Saint Mother Teresa. “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving,” she was known to say.

As we seek to rend our hearts this Lent in preparation for Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter, let us remember that God desires to draw each of us closer to him. He is waiting for us to seek him out so that he can pour out his mercy, love and kindness upon us.