Reduction of Desire

I read the following blog post from where I stole the title:

I found the concept to be interesting and true.  Why is it that we reduce our desires?  Why is it that we settle for less instead of aiming for so very much more?  Desire, it seems to me, is a cornerstone of human life.  It is one of those essential things that make us human.  To be human is to desire.

Yet, for some reason, we sublimate the good desires and give way to the bad ones.  We do not discern nor give credence to differentiating desires.  We tend to listen to the desires that lead us away from holiness and to have deaf ears when it comes to the desires that make us truly human.  So, why do we do this?

The first and most obvious answer is the reality of sin.  Sin clings to us and is rather loud, violent, and it is difficult to ignore it.  When it screams loud, despite our best efforts, we tend to give in to it, even knowing that we ought not to do such a thing.  Yet, when it comes to spiritual things, those things which give us true joy, peace, happiness, we tend to not want to act on them.  It seems bassakwards, we know it happens, and yet we do not seem to know what to do about it.

I believe one of the primary issues when it comes to the reduction of desire is the mentality we carry before desire.  We cannot blame the faith for this, for it doesn’t come from the Church, though it may come from many of her members – Jansenism, for example, rings loud and true for me here.  But there is something much deeper that we as North Americans experience: the tyranny of the Protestant Work Ethic courtesy of Max Weber.

The Protestant Work Ethic promotes the idea that work is not leisure and that work is simply the result of sin in the world: we have to put up with it.  Therefore – so the theory goes – suck it up buttercup: life sucks, except when you have those brief respits known as vacations and retirment.

If we really examine it, that is the life of our North American culture (and some European).  We are working for the weekend, working towards holidays, working to 5pm, etc.  We are not working for the moment, we are not working because we find joy, fulfillment, and peace.  We are working because we think it is simply a means for us to have fun, but it is not fun in itself.

What does this have to do with desire?  Everything.  If work is seen as a burden, then we do not see it as a place that in itself fulfills desire.  Instead, it is an activity that is the means to our fulfilling our desires.  We are willing to put up with it because it means we will be able to have something tangible to enjoy at some further point.

But the Catholic view of life is far richer.  It, first and foremost, completely denies the concept of the Protestant Work Ethic.  It states that life, in its totality of vocation, employment, free time, family time, etc., is all leisure.  Leisure is the ability to contemplate, the ability to receive the world as it is and to take joy in it for it being what it is.  Life, in short, is meant to be enjoyed, in all its aspects.  Work is not a burden, it is a gift to be enjoyed, and so on and so forth.

When we make that subtle but important change, we begin to realize something.  Desire in life has a purpose: it is meant to guide us in life so that we may find the joy that comes from a fulfilling life centered in God.  We begin to seek out the deepest desires of our, the truest desires.  When life becomes leisure, becomes contemplative, we begin to look past the immediate desires we so often give into without a moment’s thought.  With contemplation, with leisure as the basis of our life, we begin to gain an eternal perspective.  We begin to see immediate things in the light of eternity.  No longer do we eat that steak because it fills our stomachs and pleases our tastebuds.  Instead, we eat that steak and we enjoy it, ultimately, as a gift from God and that, somehow, this is a means for my growing in holiness.  Not only that, but the many good desires that we are faced with each day can begin to be put to the side for the ultimate end of our desires: for God.  Our actions become rooted in our eternity and we are willing to sacrifice and forego the temporary pleasures of this world – good and valid as they are – because we know that they are not the utlimate end.

One of the problems with the world today is that we have turned this order upside down.  We see eternity as a means to an end (think of the New Age movement!) and we see the things of the world as that which has ultimate value.  While this may be our mindset, deep down we realize we are created for the inverted world, for a world in which our infinite desire can only be fulfilled by an infinite end.

So, let’s begin to change the world today by bringing a leisurely outlook on life: a contemplative outlook in which what the world is brings us joy in itself.

in Christ



1 Comment

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One response to “Reduction of Desire

  1. Hey good post. I think a lot about desire, both the joy it brings and the troubles it leads us into…yes, suppressing desire is counterproductive ultimately to the richness of the spiritual life. Directing it, discerning it, finding God’s will for the desire we have, ultimately in pure relationships, pure friendships, pure and holy fun, in fact and the desire to do good in all we do, desire starts to really rock, doesn’t it?

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