Monday, November 19, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI: We Are Restless Until We Rest In God

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for(Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 27).

We have seen many stories of celebrities and other well known people who seem to have it all - talent, beauty, fame, money, the adulation of millions.  Yet so often they have terrible tragic endings, and we find out they were deeply addicted to drugs or alcohol, going from one failed relationship to another with little or no happiness or contentment in their lives.  We think of people like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.  All great talents, "loved" by millions, at the very top of their game and yet, desperately lonely and unhappy people who died as total failures in their personal lives.

Blessed Mother Teresa and Princess Diana
We were given a prime example of this in 1997 when we witnessed the untimely and tragic death of Princess Diana, a terribly frustrated and unhappy individual who knew little peace or happiness in her short life.  Less than one week later Blessed Mother Teresa died, having lived a life of love and service to others and completely at peace.  Mother Angelica described this event perfectly:
One who had everything died with nothing; one who had nothing died with everything.
What was Blessed Mother Teresa's secret?  No secret at all - she loved Our Lord above everything else.  She found what she was looking for:
“To me - Jesus is my God. Jesus is my Spouse. Jesus is my Life. Jesus is my only Love. Jesus is my All in all. Jesus is my everything. Jesus, I love with my whole heart, with my whole being. I have given Him all, even my sins, and He has espoused me to Himself in all tenderness and love. Now and for life I am the Spouse of my crucified Spouse.”
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has continued his talks in regard to the Year of Faith.  On November 7, he gave a talk in St. Peter's Square about man's innate desire for God, that desire which was completely fulfilled in Blessed Mother Teresa's life.  I have copied a translation of our Holy Father's talk from the Vatican website and given my understanding of the Holy Father's talk:

Pope Benedict starts his talk by reminding us that we all have an innate desire for God.  
The journey of reflection that we are making together during this Year of Faith leads us to meditate today on a fascinating aspect of the human and the Christian experience: man carries within himself a mysterious desire for God. In a very significant way, the Catechism of the Catholic Church opens precisely with the following consideration: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (n. 27).
A statement like this, that even today in many cultural contexts seems quite acceptable, even obvious, might, however, be taken as a provocation in the West’s secularized culture. 
Our secular world is trying very hard to push God out, telling us that He is a figment of our imagination and that belief and obedience to Him will only enslave us and make us unhappy.  But that doesn't lessen our need for God in any way.  We often try to fill this desire for God by using the things of this world, especially all the distractions we have in our contemporary world such as movies, TV, video games, etc.  Some people use their work, some people use food.  Some people try to use other people in their lives - a spouse, children, etc.  And of course millions get involved in false pagan religions in which the real God is nowhere to be found  All of these are substitutes.  Pope Benedict XVI explains that try as we might, nothing will satisfy our desire for God but God Himself.

The Holy Father then states that despite our natural desire for God, many in our world today deny this vehemently.  They dismiss belief and faith in God almost as some sort of neurosis:
Many of our contemporaries might actually object that they have no such desire for God. For large sectors of society he is no longer the one longed for or desired but rather a reality that leaves them indifferent, one on which there is no need even to comment. In reality, what we have defined as “the desire for God” has not entirely disappeared and it still appears today, in many ways, in the heart of man. Human desire always tends to certain concrete goods, often anything but spiritual, and yet it has to face the question of what is truly “the” good, and thus is confronted with something other than itself, something man cannot build but he is called to recognize. What can really satisfy man’s desire?
Many of us think the answer to our desires is "romantic" love.  If we can just find our soul mate, that person who can complete us, we will have everything we need.  Pope Benedict directs us to his  first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God Is Love") in which he discussed the meaning and significance of romantic love:
In my first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I sought to analyze how such dynamism can be found in the experience of human love, an experience that in our age is more easily perceived as a moment of ecstasy, of leaving oneself, like a place in which man feels overcome by a desire that surpasses him. Through love, a man and a woman experience in a new way, thanks to each other, the greatness and beauty of life and of what is real. If what is experienced is not a mere illusion, if I truly want the good of the other as a means for my own good, then I must be willing not to be self-centred, to place myself at the other’s service, even to the point of self-denial. The answer to the question on the meaning of the experience of love then passes through the purification and healing of the will, required in loving the other. We must cultivate, encourage, and also correct ourselves, so that this good can truly be loved.
The Holy Father, quoting from his own encyclical, tells us that truly loving another takes us out of ourselves and can actually start us on the journey "towards authentic self-discovery and indeed discovery of God."  The more authentic the love, "the more it reveals the question of its origin [that origin being God, who is Love Personified] and its destiny [the destiny of love is union with God], of the possibility that it may endure for ever."  Notice that Pope Benedict says that this reveals the question of love's origin and destiny.  Loving another opens us up to go beyond ourselves, but that is only the beginning.
Thus the initial ecstasy becomes a pilgrimage, “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, n. 6). Through this journey one will be able to deepen gradually one’s knowledge of that love, initially experienced. And the mystery that it represents will become more and more defined: in fact, not even the beloved is capable of satisfying the desire that dwells in the human heart. In fact, the more authentic one’s love for the other is, the more it reveals the question of its origin and its destiny, of the possibility that it may endure for ever. Therefore, the human experience of love has in itself a dynamism that refers beyond the self, it is the experience of a good that leads to being drawn out and finding oneself before the mystery that encompasses the whole of existence.
The Holy Father explains that the more we experience true, genuine love in our lives, the more restless we become because "every good experienced by man projects him toward the mystery that surrounds the human being; every desire that springs up in the human heart echoes a fundamental desire that is never fully satisfied."   To truly love projects us towards God, making us realize that there is something bigger than we are  But these desires cannot be fulfilled solely by human effort, and thus the act of loving another make us even more restless in looking for the answers.  As Pope Benedict explains, "Undoubtedly by such a deep desire, hidden, even enigmatic, one cannot arrive directly at faith".  The Pope tells us we know what does not satisfy us, but apart from God, we are unable to put a name on exactly what it is that we do desire and need.  "One cannot know God based on human desire alone."  As St. Augustine said, we are still restless. "Man is, deep down, a religious being, a beggar of God":  Experiencing true love and true beauty creates in us "a desire to know the light itself, what makes the things of the world shine and with them ignites the sense of beauty."
One could make similar observation about other human experiences as well, such as friendship, encountering beauty, loving knowledge: every good experienced by man projects him toward the mystery that surrounds the human being; every desire that springs up in the human heart echoes a fundamental desire that is never fully satisfied. Undoubtedly by such a deep desire, hidden, even enigmatic, one cannot arrive directly at faith. Men and women, after all, know well what does not satisfy them, but they cannot imagine or define what the happiness they long for in their hearts would be like. One cannot know God based on human desire alone. From this point of view he remains a mystery: man is the seeker of the Absolute, seeking with small and hesitant steps. And yet, already the experience of desire, of a “restless heart” as St Augustine called it, is very meaningful. It tells us that man is, deep down, a religious being (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 28), a “beggar of God”. We can say with the words of Pascal: “Man infinitely surpasses man” (Pensées, ed. Chevalier 438; ed. Brunschvicg 434). Eyes recognize things when they are illuminated. From this comes a desire to know the light itself, what makes the things of the world shine and with them ignites the sense of beauty.

The Holy Father next gives us hope that despite the fact that everything in our contemporary world is so completely focused on the material, at blocking out what he calls the "transcendent dimension", we can still find the "true religious meaning of life, that shows how the gift of faith is not senseless, is not irrational."  The Holy Father tells us that in order to find this "transcendent dimension,"  we need to  "to discover or rediscover the taste of the authentic joy of life."  He defines the taste for true joy as "family, friendship, solidarity with those who suffer, self-renunciation for the sake of the other, love of knowledge, art, the beauty of nature."  He says this needs to be instilled in children from a young age. Developing a taste for the true joys of life produces "antibodies that can fight the trivialization and the dulling widespread today."  He does not exclude adults, who "need to rediscover this joy, to desire authenticity, to purify themselves of the mediocrity that might infest them."

Pope Benedict XVI tell us that it is only these authentic joys that will "bring out the desire for God." This is very important to note for us who live in such immoral times in which everything around us seems designed to take us as far away from God as possible.  We must be very careful of the entertainment we allow ourselves and our family to watch, the books we read, the places we frequent, even the people with whom we socialize.  We have a mighty adversary who is doing everything he can to snatch away the spark of God that is in each person.
We must therefore maintain that it is possible also in this age, seemingly so blocked to the transcendent dimension, to begin a journey toward the true religious meaning of life, that shows how the gift of faith is not senseless, is not irrational. It would be very useful, to that end, to foster a kind of pedagogy of desire, both for the journey of one who does not yet believe and for the one who has already received the gift of faith. It should be a pedagogy that covers at least two aspects. In the first place, to discover or rediscover the taste of the authentic joy of life. Not all satisfactions have the same effect on us: some leave a positive after-taste, able to calm the soul and make us more active and generous. Others, however, after the initial delight, seem to disappoint the expectations that they had awakened and sometimes leave behind them a sense of bitterness, dissatisfaction or emptiness. Instilling in someone from a young age the taste for true joy, in every area of life – family, friendship, solidarity with those who suffer, self-renunciation for the sake of the other, love of knowledge, art, the beauty of nature — all this means exercising the inner taste and producing antibodies that can fight the trivialization and the dulling widespread today. Adults too need to rediscover this joy, to desire authenticity, to purify themselves of the mediocrity that might infest them. It will then become easier to drop or reject everything that although attractive proves to be, in fact, insipid, a source of indifference and not of freedom. And this will bring out that desire for God of which we are speaking.

Pope Benedict also warns us never to be content with our status in life, with what we have achieved.  We must be constantly moving forward, or we will begin to go backward in the wrong direction.  That is our only choice.  He calls this discontent a "healthy restlessness that leads us to be more demanding — to want a higher good, a deeper good — and at the same time to perceive ever more clearly that no finite thing can fill our heart."
A second aspect that goes hand in hand with the preceding one is never to be content with what you have achieved. It is precisely the truest joy that unleashes in us the healthy restlessness that leads us to be more demanding — to want a higher good, a deeper good — and at the same time to perceive ever more clearly that no finite thing can fill our heart. In this way we will learn to strive, unarmed, for the good that we cannot build or attain by our own power; and we will learn to not be discouraged by the difficulty or the obstacles that come from our sin.
Pope Benedict tell us that even when our desire become disordered and "follows artificial paradises and seems to lose the capacity of yearning for the true good", we can still be redeemed by God.  "Even in the abyss of sin, that ember [the yearning for the true good] is never fully extinguished in man. . . .God, by the gift of his grace, never denies man his help."  The Holy Father tell us "When in desire one opens the window to God, this is already a sign of the presence of faith in the soul, faith that is a grace of God."  This is what Divine Mercy is all about, this is what faith is all about - God reaching out to man:
In this regard, we must not forget that the dynamism of desire is always open to redemption. Even when it strays from the path, when it follows artificial paradises and seems to lose the capacity of yearning for the true good. Even in the abyss of sin, that ember is never fully extinguished in man. It allows him to recognize the true good, to savour it, and thus to start out again on a path of ascent; God, by the gift of his grace, never denies man his help. We all, moreover, need to set out on the path of purification and healing of desire. We are pilgrims, heading for the heavenly homeland, toward that full and eternal good that nothing will be able to take away from us. This is not, then, about suffocating the longing that dwells in the heart of man, but about freeing it, so that it can reach its true height. When in desire one opens the window to God, this is already a sign of the presence of faith in the soul, faith that is a grace of God. St Augustine always says: “so God, by deferring our hope, stretched our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, makes it more capacious” (Commentary on the First Letter of John, 4,6: PL 35, 2009).

Because of God's great mercy and love for us and His desire to reach down to us even in the midst of great sin, we can feel like brothers and sisters to all men, even of those who do not believe.  As the Catechism tells us "God never ceases to draw man to Himself."  This is the reason why we must be praying for all who are truly seeking God:
On this pilgrimage, let us feel like brothers and sisters of all men, travelling companions even of those who do not believe, of those who are seeking, of those who are sincerely wondering about the dynamism of their own aspiration for the true and the good. Let us pray, in this Year of Faith, that God may show his face to all those who seek him with a sincere heart. Thank you.

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