By CHRISTOPHER WEST
I call it the “ache.” We all have it. We all feel it – a yearning, an interior burning that cries out from the depths of our being for infinite satisfaction. In a recent address to a cultural gathering in Rimini, Italy, Pope Benedict wrote about how we are often deceived by “false infinities” – things that promise to satisfy our yearning for the infinite but never can because, well, they’re finite.
When we take our yearning for the infinite to something finite, we inevitably become other Mick Jaggers: people who “can’t get no satisfaction” though we “try / and we try / and we try / and we try ….” Welcome to the culture of addiction, where people are caught in the futile attempt to suck infinity out of finite things, constantly needing more and more and more and more ….
Those who get burned by the life of the addict may then be tempted to become a stoic – someone who represses “the ache” and tries not to feel it. Many people mistake this approach for holiness, as if Christianity’s prescribed remedy to disordered desire is to squelch desire altogether. NO! The addict must not become a stoic! The addict must become a mystic: someone who is learning how to direct his desire for infinity toward infinity.
I write about these themes at great length in my forthcoming book, Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing, and in two short pages, Pope Benedict’s Rimini address offers an amazingly cogent summary of the whole book – as close to a papal endorsement that an author could hope for.
As I say in Fill These Hearts, “Despite all the widespread impressions to the contrary, we must impress this truth upon our souls and allow it to settle in our bones: Christianity is the religion of desire, and its saints are the ones who have had the courage to feel the abyss of longing in their souls and in their bodies and to open that longing in ‘the groanings of prayer’ to the One who alone can heal their ‘wound of love.’”
The psalmist speaks of this wound when he cries: “O God, my God, for you I long at break of day; my soul thirsts for you, my body pines for you, like a dry land without water” (63:2). Commenting on this passage, Pope Benedict writes, “Not only my soul, but even every fiber of my flesh is made to find its peace, its fulfillment in God.” Even when we deny or reject the idea of God, says Pope Benedict, “the aching desire for [infinity] remains in man, like a signature imprinted with fire in his soul and body by the Creator himself.” Oooo, I love that expression – like a signature imprinted with fire in our souls … and in our bodies.
Again the Pope insists: “The heart’s thirst and the body’s longing of which the psalmist speaks cannot be eliminated; thus, man unknowingly stretches out in search of the Infinite, but in misguided directions: in drugs, in sexuality lived in a disordered manner, in all-encompassing technologies, in success at any cost, and even in deceptive forms of religiosity. Even the good things that God has created as paths that lead to him,” the Pope continues, “often run the risk of being absolutized and thus become idols that replace the Creator.”
Notice the Pope’s important qualifier when he mentioned sexuality: he spoke of sexuality lived in a disordered manner. The point is this: when sexuality is lived in an ordered manner, it becomes a path that leads to the divine, to the Infinite. That’s the goal of my book, and that’s the goal of Pope Benedict’s recent address – to help people redirect their desires according to God’s design so they can reach their destiny – the fulfillment of all desire in the eternal ecstasy of union with the Infinite.
To be continued…