A Teaching On Desire From St. Augustine

Most of the saints have written about the central battle of our life: desire. What we desire is crucial because in the end, we get what we want. Either we die wanting what God offers, or we die not wanting it. Either we love what and whom God loves, or we don’t.

We tend to think that everyone wants to go to Heaven, but that isn’t true. Heaven is not one’s personally designed paradise; it is the Kingdom of God with all of its values: forgiveness, chastity, love of all (including our enemies), and generosity, among many others. In addition, God is at the center, not us. Many people don’t desire some or all the values of the Kingdom of God and thus die in a state of indifference or opposition to what God is offering. For example, some do not want to love their enemies or live chastely. God will not force them to love what or whom he loves.

It is both foolish and presumptuous to think that when we die, we will suddenly start liking what we have disliked all our life or loving those whom we have not loved. When we die our decisions and desires are forever fixed. The saddest thing about those in Hell is that their earthly life demonstrated that they would be even more miserable in Heaven.

Life is a battle of desires. We must learn to want what God is offering and to eschew lesser or sinful things. St. Augustine wrote:

The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you may see and be utterly satisfied.

So, my brethren, let us continue to desire, for we shall be filled. Such is our Christian life. By desiring heaven we exercise the powers of our soul. Now this exercise will be effective only to the extent that we free ourselves from desires leading to infatuation with this world. (from the Tractates on the first letter of John by St. Augustine, bishop, Tract. 4: Pl 35, 2008-2009).

Because God offers more than we can possibly desire, not only must we adjust the object of our desire, we must increase the magnitude.

St. Augustine wrote of enlarging our desires. He also provided an insightful answer as to why God often makes us wait:

Suppose you are going to fill some holder or container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack or wineskin or whatever it is. Why? Because you know the quantity you will have to put in it and your eyes tell you there is not enough room. By stretching it, therefore, you increase the capacity of the sack, and this is how God deals with us. Simply by making us wait he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us [Ibid].

One of the psalms says, I have run the way of your commandments, when you did enlarge my heart(Ps 119:32). Hence, God not only changes our heart but enlarges it so it can contain even more blessings. Yes, God is the great cardiologist and the Church is His coronary care unit! He awaits our permission to perform His sometimes-painful work on us. It is not always easy to say yes because are attached to and prefer lesser things. St. Augustine wrote:

Let me return to the example I have already used, of filling an empty container. God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed. Yes, it must be cleansed even if you have to work hard and scour it. It must be made fit for the new thing, whatever it may be[Ibid].

Therefore, pray that you will desire what God offers because it is not necessarily easy to do so. Speak to the Lord from the depths of your soul:

Lord, please heal me. Too often I desire lesser, passing things rather than what You want to give me. Grant me the grace to hunger and thirst for righteousness and for all that You offer. Help me to win in this great battle of desire by loving You above all things and all people. Heal my wounded heart and its twisted desires; then enlarge it so that it can contain the incomparable gifts You want to grant, in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Amen.

5 Replies to “A Teaching On Desire From St. Augustine”

  1. I was just contemplating the Holy Father’s homily Sunday on the grace to love your enemies and these last two compositions, considering the living Sacramental economy through which God takes away the bad as only He can and gives good gifts only He can give, and the simplest thing for me is to desire what God desires, most fully realized in the very gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist. Instead of seeing another as ‘enemy’, see the suffering soul afflicted by the only enemy, the devil. Ask for Perfect Contrition to find peace so you will not later hear ‘I forgave your entire debt because you begged me. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?'(Mt.18)
    This is an example of how mercy triumphs over judgement.
    Do not be afraid.

  2. Me, I wonder why God would create his own children with such strong desire toward things of the world and then give us concupiscence when he could just as easily created us all like the BVM without concupiscence, and why he would allow the devil to wander through the world and succeed in ruining souls, and then see most of his children damned. Why wouldn’t a good father set up a situation where most or all of his children would be likely to make the right choice if the father has the power and knowledge to do so?

    1. He did. Adam and Eve had no concupiscence. He offered us paradise but we said we wanted a better deal. So now we are wounded in our nature and live in Paradise Lost.

  3. Not all of us, the BVM didn’t have concupiscence and wasn’t wounded in her nature. And He allows Satan to tempt us even though most people are falling into hell like snowflakes into a fire.

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