A mysterious yearning
Man constantly experiences many longings, but his fundamental and greatest yearning is a thirst for endless fullness, even if he doesn’t know how to name this irresistible attraction. «Man carries in himself a mysterious yearning for God. » (Benedict XVI) «My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord, my heart and flesh sing for joy, to the living God. » (Psalm 84:2)
This yearning is a motion towards a burning boon. «A longing written in man’s heart because man has been created by God and for God and God doesn’t stop attracting man to Himself. » (CCC, n° 27) The bride of the Song of Songs says «I will seek him whom my soul loves. » (Songs 3:2) and St. Bernard adds: «The passionate longing of my heart will pursue him with an endless cry even as far a weeping with longing. »
A motion forward. «I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. » (Philippians 3:12) Martyrdom. Therese of the Child Jesus notes that yearning is sometimes akin to martyrdom, like a burning fire, she experienced in oraison, whilst searching for her specific mission in the heart of the Church.
Keeping the yearning alive
Honeymoons don’t last but are followed by a time of Deep love spreading out its roots. The beloved «searches for a ‘je ne sais quoi’ which her heart is begging to obtain (John of the Cross, Musings on the divine). We must understand how much this longing must be kept alive: «Ceaselessly I shall empty myself to win this ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ which my burning heart is longing to obtain. »
To win it through small trifles (apparently so) which are the utmost importance: – Those words of love escaping from the heart, like arrows wishing to pierce the Breast of the Beloved, the Unique One chosen by our heart alone.;
- The Scriptures, perceived as a Love letter, which we read over and over again, always new, choc-sentences which shake you, quickly copy down a small note-book;
- Gratitude as a background to the soul, a blessing upon the world, the Church and our neighbor,
- Eagerness to be good to everyone;
- Giving of self, following the example of «the Son of man (who) came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. » (Mark 10:45); – Growing in a liberating culture of trust, not every day has an inborn unwavering rust like Therese of the Child Jesus. What cripples my longing is not daring to believe what I can please God who seeks out the poor sinner I am, – The constant purification of my sin through reconciliation.
The risk of stifling our yearning
Longing can be stifled like fire when it lacks air. How does this happen? Probably through imperceptible slips. Facing a normal longing to know, which is the normal activity of our intelligence, a good curiosity, to be praised and necessary, stands in opposition its shortcoming: the greater and greater exclusive attraction for crated things, the invasion of ephemeral and useless knowledge, sacrificing the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures which feed us deeply and remain with us. If we allow our eyes to be constantly exposed to everything around us without allowing them to “fast” this doesn’t help our inner life, “unbridled curiosity which urges us to see everything, to try everything, can go as far as tempting God” according to St. Augustin.
What reprehensible thing did the fiancée of the Song of Songs do, who suddenly, didn’t’ want to open the door. Apparently, nothing serious: she is fine without him, she prefers her comforts, but “whoever seeks God and wants to save his time of rest and his comforts, will not find Him” (John of the Cross) it is a kind of acedia, between sleep and cowardice. Lukewarmness: The Curé d’Ars calls this state abominable. The Church of Ephesus, in the Book of Revelation, had lost the dynamism of their first love, no longer wishing to be set aside to take part in all things on high.
Among various kinds of over-investment, let’s draw attention to two of them which can lead to losing a longing for God.
Over-investment in work. With the best of motives, even when involved in missionary work, one can step up into a hyper-activity which could become an addiction. Founders, saints, great missionaries, Teresa of Avila, Francis Regis, Mother Teresa, and so many others prayed during the night, Pope Francis does the same. It is of capital importance to consciously make room for some free time which offers some essential oxygen for our equilibrium, it is important to have restoring “desert days”, time for an irreplaceable lectio divina and oraison. When we realize our impetus is slackening, a good advice is to pick up a major book again which will lift up our soul. Everyone has his own. Therese of the Child Jesus used to ask charismatically for a text from the Imitation. If we don’t act, we shall lose little by little the yearning to seek God, and may even slip into exhaustion, and sometimes even as far as a burnout.
Over-investment of an emotional kind, an exaggerated attachment, a divided heart, a lack of freedom of the soul, a stifling process, a loss of taste for all things on high. The sanctuary of the soul, the bridal room, is no longer protected, neither is the time for a heart to heart with him alone, Christ Ipsi Soli.
Rekindling the longing is in our power
«Truly, you are a God who hides himself.» (Isaiah 45:15) When the longing is dumb, clothed with a dress of poverty and even appears to have gone away, we feel deprived. Nevertheless, the Holy Longing (The Holy Spirit) moans in the very depth of our being. He is waiting for our small good will in order to manifest Himself. Paul urged Timothy to rekindle the flame: «Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying of my hands.» (2 Timothy 1: 6) We have to cooperate with God and patiently rekindle our poor faith. The Holy Spirit will help us to break the spirit of laziness.
St. Augustin says: «God in keeping us waiting, increases our yearning; keeping us longing, He broadens our soul, and in broadening it, He increases its ability to receive. Supposing God wants to fill you with honey. If you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey? It is better to empty the base. You’ll have to clean the base itself, and clean it by dint of work, by dint of polishing, so it is able to receive something else. God has made you a being who yearns, and your longing is God Himself. »
With Mary, whose immense longing attracted the Verb, we all long to see Christ known and loved by everybody, the Holy Church unified and sanctified, sinners converted, we eagerly long for Jesus to come back in His glory at last.
«I have received, I must confess, favors much above my worth but under my wishes. I am carried away by my longings but reason doesn’t guide me. I pray, don’t judge as fool-hardiness what is only the consequence of burning love.» St. Bernard
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
«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 savor 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 swells 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. Augustin always says: ‘so God, by deferring our hope, stretched our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, makes it more capacious. »
TO GO FURTHER…
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This topic of yearning is also frequently mentioned in the writings of: Gertrude of Hefta, Angele of Foligno, Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and so on. Everyone can choose from
Find the previous articles in our “Life of prayer” series.
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