In his general audience Pope Benedict XVI, continued a series of catecheses on the subject of Catholic faith, focused on what, he said, “is a fascinating aspect of human and Christian experience: the fact that man carries within him a mysterious desire for God”.
Such an affirmation, the Pope went on, “may seem provocative in the context of secularised Western culture. Many of our contemporaries could, in fact, object that they feel not the slightest desire for God. For large sectors of society He is no longer awaited or desired; rather He leaves people indifferent, something about which they do not even have to make an effort to express themselves.
“Yet the fact is that what we have defined as ‘desire for God’ has not completely disappeared and still today it emerges in man’s heart in many different ways. Human desire always tends towards certain concrete things which are often anything but spiritual, yet it nonetheless has to consider the question of what good truly is, and this means facing something other than itself, something man cannot construct but is called to recognize. What is it that can truly satisfy man’s desire?
“In my first Encyclical ‘Deus caritas est’ I sought to examine how this phenomenon is realized in the experience of human love, which in our time is most easily recognized as a moment of ecstasy and abandonment, a place in which man has the experience of being overcome by a desire greater than himself. Through love a man and a woman, the one thanks to the other, enjoy a new experience of the greatness and beauty of life and reality. If what I experience is not a mere illusion, if I truly wish the other’s good, also as a way to my own good, then I must be ready not to focus on my own self, to place myself at the service of the other, even to the point of self-renouncement. Thus the answer to the question about the meaning of the experience of love involves the purification and healing of desire, which is a requirement of the love we bear the other.
“We must exercise, train and correct ourselves so that we can truly love others”, Pope Benedict added. Yet “not even the beloved is capable of satisfying the desire that dwells in the human heart. Quite the contrary, the more authentic our love for another person is, the more it raises the question about the origin and destiny of that love, the possibility that it may last forever”.
“Similar considerations could also be made about other human experiences such as friendship, the experience of beauty or love of knowledge. Everything good that man experiences tends towards the mystery which surrounds man himself. Each desire that arises in the human heart is an echo of a fundamental desire which is never fully sated”.
The Holy Father went on: “Man is well aware of what does not satisfy him, but is unable to imagine or define that which would make him experience that happiness for which his heart longs. We cannot know God on the basis only of human desire. Here there is an abiding mystery: man is searching for the absolute, but his search advances with slow and hesitant steps”.
“Even in our own time, which seems so averse to the transcendent dimension” it is possible “to open the way towards an authentic religious sense of life which shows how the gift of faith is neither absurd nor irrational”, said Benedict XVI. In this context he proposed “a pedagogy of desire, … including at least two aspects: Firstly, the acquisition or reacquisition of a taste for the authentic joys of life. Not all satisfactions produce the same effect upon us; some leave positive traces and are capable of pacifying our hearts making us more active and generous. Others, on the other hand, following the initial light they bring, seem to delude the expectations that aroused them and sometimes leave bitterness, dissatisfaction or a sense of emptiness in their wake”.
A second aspect of the pedagogy of desire consists of “never being satisfied with the goals we have reached”, said the Holy Father. “It is the most authentic joys which are able to liberate within us that sense of healthy disquiet which leads us to be more demanding, to desire a more exalted or more profound good, and at the same time to becoming increasingly aware that nothing finite can fill our hearts. Thus will we learn to tend, unarmed, towards that good which we cannot construct or procure by our own efforts, without allowing ourselves to be discouraged by the fatigue or obstacles that come from our sin”.
Finally the Holy Father noted that “desire always remains open to redemption, even when it takes the wrong paths, when it seeks artificial paradises and seems to lose its capacity to desire the true good. Even in the abyss of sin man never loses that spark which enables him to recognize and savor what is truly good, and to start along the path of ascension on which God, with the gift of His grace, will not fail to give His aid”.
“This does not mean, then, smothering the desire that is in man’s heart, but liberating it so that it can reach its true height. When desire opens a window to God this is a sign of the presence of faith in a person’s heart, faith which is a grace of God”, Benedict XVI concluded.