To pray is to exercise our desire. St. Augustine tells us that “the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. If you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire. The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer.” In a mystical dialogue, God says to St. Catherine of Siena, “Do you know how I show myself within the soul who loves me in truth? I show my strength in many ways according to her desire.”
Why is desire so crucial? We realize from experience that our desires are taking us somewhere. Desire opens us up to an exciting plan bigger than ourselves, and it entices us to go after it. C.S. Lewis speaks of desire as “the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want. The thing itself has always summoned you out of yourself.”
God also says to St. Catherine, “I who am infinite God want you to serve me with what is infinite, and you have nothing infinite except your soul’s love and desire.”
Be aware that desire itself is God’s gift to us, and desire is given so that we can understand the purpose for which we are living. St. Thomas Aquinas assures us that “there is no desire which is not directed towards a good. A natural desire cannot possibly be vain and senseless.”
Our desires are given to us precisely to lead us to the One who gave them to us. Desire is given so that we can participate personally in the happiness of the One who created us. And “we can only really possess what we desire” (G. Bernanos).
The Catholic poet Paul Claudel offers this encouragement: “Christ tells us, I have come to bring you the desire and the direction, that secret understanding, throughout your travels, of your destination. To the burden that weighs you down, I have added longing.” Let’s give in to our longing and let desire do the heavy lifting in our prayer as we ask with St. Cyprian: “May God see our desire, for he will give the rewards of his love more abundantly to those who have longed for him more fervently.”
Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.
See some of the earlier pieces: