So why do so many of us just want to slip into Purgatory?
What do you want? We ask ourselves (perhaps not out loud) and others this question all the time and we are often asked it as well. Sometimes about trivial things – What do you want to eat? What do you want to do this evening, this weekend? Often about more serious matters – What do you want to do for a job? Do you want to get married? Whom do you want to marry? Asking and thinking about what we want, what others want, occupies a significant portion of our time.
Yet when we start to speak of spiritual realities, of the greater questions of life, this question often vanishes. “What do you want?” doesn’t seem to many a very spiritual question at all; it may even seem selfish, inappropriate, out of place. Perhaps because we have been infected with the idea – a wicked pernicious idea – that desire is something bad, something unholy, something to be ashamed of, to be removed.
At the center of many of the very fashionable, eclectic “spiritualities” which the modern world seems to consider far more profound than the wisdom of the Church, and borrowing (somewhat randomly and superficially) from Buddhism, there lurks the idea that, since suffering is caused by desire, we should eliminate all desire, and, voilà, we will be happy.
Eliminate desire, so the thinking goes, and you will be free. Some such practices seek to eliminate desire by fasting and penance and by asceticism (and, in this, seem related to the Church’s tradition) and others seek to do away with desire by allowing everything (in a perhaps un-reflected imitation of Oscar Wilde’s dictum: I can resist anything but temptation!). The message, at some level, leaves us with a bad taste for desire, even if we’re gorging on it.
But for us Christians – and this might surprise many – desire is something good; it is, in fact, a great, divine gift. Of course, desire – like any great force – must be properly directed or else it can do great harm. A downed power line is a threat; but when connected properly, think of what it makes possible. And so too desire.
Without desire, without longing, without yearning … we are tepid, weak creatures, pale shadows of what we were made and are called to be – strong and robust and full of life. Desire has been planted in us to grow (in the right direction) so that we might become more and reach higher.
Lovely, you might say, or strange. But what does this have to do with the Solemnity of All Saints?
Desire marks the lives of the Saints; the Saints were brimming over with desire, that desire which makes us truly human, which makes us reach for glory, to become like God. The world, not surprisingly, misunderstands and perverts the desire for glory and to be like God into a desire to acquire (wealth, power, whatever) and to control; Christ, however, sets us free, so that this desire – given us first by our very human nature and then elevated by our Baptism – can bring us to share in the intimate life of God Himself.
The Feast of All Saints is here to awaken our desire. Of course, we venerate the saints – that is, we cheer for our brothers and sisters who have finished the race and arrived at our home – but they don’t need our celebrating; they are, after all, in Heaven. More importantly, they are cheering US on. We need this feast and we need it a lot. We need their encouragement – which their example gives us, which their prayers for us provide – to realize that this is, in fact, our goal and that it can be reached. And a great part of achieving the goal of Heaven is growing in the longing for Heaven, which of course, is inextricably united to an increasing desire for Jesus.