Incarnational Desire: Wise men still follow the light

Our hearts are restless. Can it be denied? It’s the reason we look every which way for satisfaction. It’s the reason we’re always aching for something more. It’s dramatic, it’s painful, and it can be the greatest joy there is. And it’s not a one-way street.

“Not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his Epiphany homily last year. “God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us.”

It’s the love story of Christianity, and it’s played out in our liturgical year: “God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us – to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth.”

The Holy Father continued:

God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to “catch” his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us. Dear friends, this was the task of the Apostles: to receive God’s unrest for man and then to bring God himself to man. And this is your task as successors of the Apostles: let yourselves be touched by God’s unrest, so that God’s longing for man may be fulfilled.

This is the great feast of the Incarnation we have been celebrating with our Christmas trees and Nativity scenes. This is why God the Father sent us His Son and why He died for us the most humiliating death, only to triumph over death itself. This is why wise men made haste and still do. And this is why Christopher West writes so much about the Theology of the Body: Desire, of any nature, is never meant to be divorced from God. We are fulfilled by God and God alone, and realizing that this is the core of our existence brings with it a rightly ordered joy.

“The Latin destinare is an archer’s term that means ‘to aim at,’” West note in his new book Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing. “Desire has a trajectory,” he continues:

Wherever we aim at, that’s where we will ultimately arrive. That’s the tremendous gift and weighty responsibility of freedom. How do we distinguish authentic freedom from its counterfeits? How do we place our freedom at the service of authentic love so as to arrive at our God-given destiny of heavenly bliss? As we will discover, this is what sexual morality, properly understood, is all about: learning how to aim our desire for heaven toward heaven.

Ah, freedom! We’ve heard a wee bit about that word of late, not haven’t we? What is it truly? Who are we, truly?

West writes:

Our true value, our true worth and dignity, comes from the fact that we have been chosen by Love and for Love, and that Love is an utterly gratuitous and free gift. We have been chosen to participate in infinite love, in love without measure, in ecstasy and bliss beyond imagining. This is what we desire. This is what we are designed and destined for. Somehow, we know it. And this Love is ours if we would only open to it and receive “the gift.”

West’s book, published earlier this week by Random House’s Catholic imprint, Image — which also published the English translation of Pope Benedict’s book on the infancy of Jesus of Nazareth, the third in his series on Christ’s life, last fall — has been described to me as a “prequel” to his work on the Theology of the Body, but it is much more foundational than that may sound. He describes our reason for being: When our lives are directed toward God, when our desires are understood in the context of Creation, when we realize we exist for the sake of experiencing real, true, love — and that is the story of salvation history — then life starts making some sense. Healing starts to happen.

Cardinal Raymond Burke has been a leading proponent of returning devotion to the Sacred Heart to our homes. Why would we do such a thing? To remind ourselves that he is our help and our salvation, our protection; he is the Sacraments; he is where we rest our aches, our longings, our fears, our joys. He will raise them up. He will raise us up.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ does, in fact, suggest there might be something passionate going on there. And yet, a run by all too many churches might find Catholics looking like their fulfillment of a Sunday obligation were something foreign to passion. Christopher West walks us back. Not to take us backward, but to help in our renewal, to help us become whole again.

Not to linger on one word, but it’s no small thing that West talks about freedom. It’s at the heart of Christianity, of course: Mary’s yes, our free choice to cast out into the deep like the Apostles, day in and day out.

Pope John Paul II gave us a great gift in his lectures on the Theology of the Body. He taught us of how our Christianity is not a disembodied one, of how license is not the greatest freedom. Christopher West does a service in unpacking this and preaching it with an inviting passion, one that counters the intensity of some of the darkest corners of our culture.

West describes his book as “a prayer, a cry welling up from the deep void of our being,” to “help us aim our desire according to God’s design so we can safely arrive at our eternal destiny: bliss and ecstasy in union with God and one another forever.”

“[W]e need to learn how to open our hearts to God, and we need to learn how to listen to what he is saying to us,” West writes. “One of the things God wants to show us is that behind all our misdirected desires and lusts there is a legitimate desire God put there and wants to satisfy. Uncovering that legitimate desire and entrusting its satisfaction entirely to God is critical to our healing and wholeness.”

“God honors our desires,” West writes. He continues:

If in the end we cling to something less than God as the source of our satisfaction, then something less than God is what we shall have. The question here is not whether we desire “heaven,” but what we desire as “heaven,” as the fulfillment of our longing. We all desire some kind of “heaven,” some kind of lasting fulfillment. Nothing can change that about us. But in the end, if we’re not aiming our ultimate desire at the Ultimate, we miss the mark. And when the mark is heaven, that’s something we really don’t want to miss.

Or, as West quotes G. K. Chesterton: “The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”

What better gift can we offer than to help one another open our hearts to God — on the hourly road to Heaven — in listening to his voice, and in truly discerning his call? The spirit of the age all too often directs us away from God, to a radical independence rather than a radical vulnerability to His will. Fill These Hearts helps. May our words and deeds this day help move hearts to eternal love. With a wise haste!

 


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