Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels. All rights reserved.
By F. K. Bartels
8 May, 2013
God alone suffices. Exchange not reality for illusion, beauty for a forgery, or self-gratification and fleeting pleasure for perfect and lasting happiness, but gaze into history, find and embrace the sublime wonders of the plan of God, and forever sate the irrepressible thirst of your heart.
What is the desire of your heart? As important as this question is, it is often treated less than respectfully. Given the highly secularized and distracting nature of contemporary society, with its many negative yet powerful influences, it can be difficult to “peel back the layers,” so to speak, affording a clear and unbiased view of what you really desire in life. There are all kinds of things that get in the way and muddle one’s thinking on this matter. Consequently, it is easy to mistake what is truly wanted and needed for what is merely perceived to be wanted and needed. It is the trade of reality for illusion.
Perhaps you do not know what you truly desire. Stated another way, you do not know yourself. In fact, no one but God can see with total clarity into the interior, mysterious depths of the human person. It’s a misty place with hidden doorways, surprises, dead-end turns and blind corners. However, while most people know a lot less about themselves than they can and should, your interior does not remain entirely hidden from yourself or from others. With prayer, self-reflection, diligent study and proper direction, you can learn a great deal about the depths of yourself and your desires, which is itself an exercise of profit for living a rewarding and fulfilling life.
To speak of living a fulfilling life can itself be the cause of confusion. It is both interesting and disturbing how contemporary society is rife with all manner of false messages that play on human desires. “Follow your heart,” we are told. “You can attain your dreams,” they say. “You deserve to be happy,” blares the mantra. Then, smiling images are paraded before us depicting youth and vigor, beauty and vitality, wealth and success and power and prestige. Through the secularistic and relativistic lens of today, human fulfillment is presented as something which is precisely its opposite. The road to sadness is cloaked as a rosy path of joy.
That people fall for worldly fantasy is not surprising. After near constant repetition, themes of emptiness disguised as fulfillment and delight can affect people on a subliminal level, turning worldly illusions into highly sought after goals. Ownership of a Porsche parked in the driveway of a trophy house automatically equates to happiness. Lusting over a deadly kind of beauty, spouses daily trade the abstract and lasting good of marital fidelity for the fleeting, apparent (false) good of a romantic fling. The position of CEO of a multimillion dollar business guarantees fabulous and satisfying prestige, power and recognition. Couples live together outside of marriage in order to relish in the evanescent, apparent good of pleasure devoid of commitment, while they happily forgo the lasting and true good of the gift of self (selflessness). There is no end to the manner in which humanity is attracted to what should be avoided and avoids as a plague what should be sought after at all costs.
What should be sought after at all costs? That brings us back to the original question. What is the desire of your heart? That is the question we will try to answer. In fact, if it is happiness you seek and perfect, lasting happiness you hope to one day find and enjoy forever, you must devote time, energy and serious reflection to that question. If you do not, you’re digging a dry well.
It is necessary not so much to understand yourself as it is to understand human nature. Human nature is the same everywhere: it is universal across all cultures, since people always remain people. If one understands human nature, one knows thyself.
The human person universally desires a number of abstract goods, such as love, peace, truth, security, beauty and happiness. Everyone spends their lives in search of these things, or at least some of them. However, as was pointed out above, some people often seek these good things inappropriately, in a disordered or even sinful way, and thus taint and ruin them. At other times, they are not sought after in an authentic, properly ordered and reasonable way because it seems too much trouble. It is thought that happiness is connected to unlimited freedom, self-gratification, and ease. However, true and lasting happiness is acquired only at the price of sacrifice and commitment. In any case, human nature seeks the good—always. No one commits evil for the sake of evil only.
The question, then, is why do we constantly desire things like love and beauty and happiness? If we can understand from where the irrepressible urge for these things originates, we can understand the direction we must—yes, must—take if we want to attain these goods in their ultimate, perfect, lasting and complete form. Simply, if we want to be perfectly happy, it is necessary to know where—better yet, in Whom—perfect happiness is found.
It is no accident that the first article of the Catechism of the Catholic Church answers that question:
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.
Humankind is called to share in the divine life of God, attain to the sublime heights of human fulfillment as adopted sons and daughters of the Father in Jesus Christ and through the Spirit, and thus enjoy everlasting communion with the Holy Trinity as members of the divine family. God made us to be partakers of his own supernatural life, which means we are created to be divinized. With astonishing and infinite love, God calls humankind to an everlasting unity with Love Itself.
You are made for God, who is himself supreme and perfect happiness, beauty, truth, security and love and all other truly good things. God alone is sufficient; he alone can sate your unending thirst for happiness because you are made for God and nothing less. Your nature—human nature—can find its total fulfillment in God only. That is why created objects, regardless of their greatness, value, significance or abundance, cannot long satisfy you, but rather quickly turn sour. Material riches lose their luster before even a hint of rust is visible; success turns to worry, stress and emptiness while glasses are still raised in salute; inappropriately acquired beauty wanes while outward changes are yet unnoticeable; and worldly illusions, while they initially appear so attractive and delightful, all too often reveal their bitterness after one has already drunk deeply of their poison.
So, how do you find God? That goal requires a new way of living through a prayerful and dynamic encounter with the Person of Jesus Christ, since “no one comes to the Father” but through him (Jn 14:6). You must truly and completely love Christ, the redeemer of humankind, which means keeping his commandments (Jn 14:15), loving God above all else, and loving your neighbor as another self (Mk 12:29-31).
He who says ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 Jn 2:4-6)
Further, the pedagogy of God utilizes the events of human history, through which God has lovingly and strikingly intervened, in order to bring us light and supply direction. The history of the people Israel clearly shows how God delivered from slavery a people and gathered them together to himself, desiring to make them his holy and chosen people, so that he would be their God and they would be his people (the book of Exodus provides this narrative), all in preparation for the arrival of the consummation of the Father’s revelation to humankind: The incarnate Son of God born of the Virgin Mary: Jesus the Christ who is himself one with the Father (Jn 10:30).
Continuing to gather his people, God calls together “all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life” (CCC 1).
In accordance with this divine plan, Jesus Christ founded an authoritative, specific and definite Church—the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church—as the sacrament of salvation in order to perpetuate his ministry of redemption and salvation to humankind throughout all time (see Mt. 16:17-19 and Vatican IIs Lumen Gentium). Because of the crucial importance of the truth about God and God’s plan for humanity, the story of God and the story of humankind, Jesus Christ sent the Spirit of Truth upon the Church in order to guide the Church into the fullness of truth (Jn 16:13; 14:26), forever establishing her as “the pillar and the bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). History reveals that the story of God and the story of humankind is inseparably connected to Christ and his Church.
The Church, then, speaks with the voice of Christ (Lk 10:16), and enjoys unceasing and sure guidance by the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16). Since it is the mission of the Spirit to reveal Christ, it is through the Church, whose soul is the Spirit himself, that we truly learn about Christ with certainty and to the fullest depth, clarity and beauty as is possible in this present state of life. The Bride of Christ faithfully reveals her Beloved, for she is constantly engaged in discerning the loving movements of the divine and human heart of Jesus, communicating those movements along with his saving and merciful plan to all people. While Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), it is the Church who definitively tells us what those words mean.
Again, what is the desire of your heart? Do not be tricked by the world or by yourself; do not let the winds of individualism heedless of authority, secularism, relativism and religious indifference, so prevalent in this age, sway your course; do not trade reality for illusion, beauty for a forgery, or self-gratification and fleeting pleasure for perfect and lasting happiness, but instead look into history and embrace the sublime wonders of the plan of God. Come to the feet of the merciful Risen Lord, kiss them with abundant tears of repentant love, and immerse yourself in the womb of the Church. Within her nurturing arms, you will receive with joy and delight the words of truth and the sacraments of life. In this divine and human embrace, you will begin the life-changing and life-renewing journey of your heart’s desire.
Fall in love with God! Therein lies everything you have ever, and shall ever, desire. There a happiness awaits you that is entirely beyond description: it is a re-creation, a new reality in which you are made new and experience a flood of divine light through the indwelling Spirit. Contrary to what you may think, passage through the veil of death and entry into heaven is not required to taste this joy. It is available here and now, in the kingdom of God, which is as close as the next choice for love of God that you freely make. Yes, spiritual maturity will take time. Yes, it will not be easy, for roses grow and bloom most beautifully only under the labor of careful gardening. But one day, should you cultivate your garden with complete love of God, you will find that you are living not in the darkness of earthly illusion, but in the reality of heavenly paradise.
This essay was first published on Catholic Online.
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.