Fr. James Martin, SJ is one of the most popular Jesuit writers around today. Over the past year, I have read many of his articles, as well as two of his books, and I had the chance to see him speak back in December at Boston College (the video above is a link to that exact talk). The following quote is from his most recent book that I just finished a few days. I’m at the point in the year when I’m really beginning to take a serious look at what is the next step for me after JVC, and this passage really hit home as I tackle that process of discernment.
“God desires for us to be the freest, most mature, most loving, most alive person we can be. As the second century theologian St. Irenaeus said, ‘The glory of God is the human person fully alive!’ In other words, God wants us to be our best selves. Our ultimate vocation is to become the person God wants us to be. And the first step in this journey is recognizing that our deepest desires–for satisfying work, for supportive community, and for healthy love–are holy desires, planted within us by God for our own happiness.
So desire is an important part of the spiritual life. Where does desire come from? Well, I believe that our deepest desires, our most heartfelt longings–not simply our surface wants and selfish needs–come from God. In our deepest longings we hear echoes of God’s longing for us. And the more we can follow those deep-down desires, those that God places within us for our happiness, the more joyful we will find ourselves.
Of course distinguishing between our surface wants and deep desire requires some careful discernment. Just because I ‘want’ something doesn’t mean it’s good for me. Christopher Ruddy, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, recently put it this way to me: ‘Another Quarter Pounder sometimes seems like a good idea–but I always regret it later. Only in hindsight do we see how God would not let us settle for our well-intentioned but limited desires, but called us–sometimes weeping and kicking–to something more enduring and satisfying.’
The most lasting joy comes from following those deep desires and heartfelt longings that bring us closer to God. It makes sense if you think about it, because when we are acting in concert with what we feel God desires for us, things will feel in sync. St. Ignatius Loyola often spoke of feelings of ‘consolation’ that come when we follow our deepest, holiest desires. In coming to know ourselves as capable of being moved by God’s holy desires, and in choosing to strive to follow those invitations the best we can, we feel ourselves moving closer to God in trust, in hope, and in confidence. All this leads to joy. In other words, when we do what we are made for, we find joy.”