Lent: four tips for purifying your desire for God

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In a reflection in a fairly free tone, Dom Samuel, abbot of Nový Dvůr in the Czech Republic, offers some ideas for renewing our outlook, based on the themes of the Gospel of Ash Wednesday.

The Christian who enters Lent knows too well that certain desires he experiences obstruct his encounter with God. Yes… But can’t we use these desires to excite our desire for God? 

1 WHEN YOU PRAY, DO NOT BE LIKE HYPOCRITES

Prayer… How can we doubt its role in Lent? For a Christian, it is like a reflex, an evidence of faith. If turning to God should be almost natural, anyone who has prayed regularly for a few years knows what it costs. Prayer, desire, or duty? I would say: desire at the beginning, then duty, then purified desire. Desire or absence of desire, pleasure or absence of pleasure, joy or absence of joy. These fluctuations also inhabit the life of prayer. 

2WHEN YOU FAST, DON’T LOOK DOWNCAST

Desires and desires, pleasures and pleasures, not all are of the same nature or equally recommendable! What is the meaning of these desires that break our hearts, which we cannot stifle, and which follow us like a shadow? Desires to shine, desire to dominate, to be right, to please or to appear, and so many others… Approached in a Christian way, all these desires, even the heaviest, become capable of sharpening the desire for God. Considered in their human dimensions, these passions are discovered in mutual relationships. Desire is capable of leading to pleasure, and pleasure is like a resonance of joy. It happens—we all experience it—that desire leads to a pleasure sought for its own sake and found without joy. Too short desires which make us attentive to other calls, to the great call of the Good News. 

3WHAT YOU DO TO BECOME RIGHTEOUS, AVOID DOING IT TO GET NOTICED

The Christian faith can be given from childhood. We breathe it with family love. We learn the rites at the same time as the rules of social life. It can get lost in the sand during adolescence or reveal itself in adulthood. Whatever the personal history of each person, the hunger for God must necessarily become, one day, a primordial hunger, an aspiration built on the experienced precariousness of other goods within our reach: the hunger for this famous food which abide in eternal life which only the Son of Man can give ( Jn 6:27 ). We cannot clearly explain what we are hungry for, but the hunger is there, obvious; also evident is the impossibility of being satisfied by what is within our reach.

This hunger therefore, sharpened by the disappointment of what does not satisfy, awakens the consciousness of the desire for God which inhabits us, of a desire which constitutes us in our humanity since we were created. This hunger, moreover, reveals that this desire will be realized by a gift from God, and by this gift only, since he alone knows how to turn the heart of man towards him. Hence prayer: asking God for what only he can give, what without which life would have no meaning, his friendship, his grace. The word “friendship”, in the relationship with God, designates, from a reality that is familiar to us, an exchange where God is the giver: “Friendship [of God], that is to say, the grace,” writes Father Sesboüé. And since there is an exchange, the one who asks, the one who prays rises by giving himself to the giver. If we wish to become righteous, let us ask for it and receive it.

4WHEN YOU GIVE ALMS, DON’T SOUND THE TRUMPET

The fact that there is a donor does not mean that the receipt of the donation is automatic. Our freedom comes into play here, better than anywhere else. Free, we are by nature, and if we ceased to be, we would cease to be man. AGerminalfreedom, a vocation to freedom was deposited in us, by God, when he created us. We know well that we are often incapable of truly exercising it. Acting freely, God cannot do it for us, because the characteristic of a free being is to be the responsible cause of his actions. When our freedom is enslaved, we wander from unfulfilled desires to disappointing pleasures. As soon as it grows, the more spontaneous it is, the more our freedom becomes delight and happiness. Freedom, how to define it? Just as friendship with God evokes grace, the freedom of God’s children is synonymous with love. Saint Augustine distinguishes freedom from free will, the ability to choose this or that. Freedom, a capacity to love… Let us therefore give God the alms of our hearts. Without Him we are nothing but dust, with Him we become sons and daughters of light.

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