The way of Ignatius of Loyola
Desire is a very powerful verb. It is derived from the Latin root sidera, meaning stars, and which immediately reminds us of the immensity of the sky, of infinity. There is something that surpasses us and attracts us.
Desiring is one of the most human activities imaginable. We are beings of desire, constantly in tension towards something, capable of planning with creative and passionate tendencies. Desire reveals a great deal to us: we desire because something is missing, because we feel irretrievably incomplete. Desire opens us up to the other. It makes us more human.
Desire has different depths and, on a superficial level, is very similar to need.
This can be fulfilled by consuming the desired object. Need behaves like a dictator who demands the immediate satisfaction of what is required, without the possibility of waiting. If frustrated, need is willing to regress to a need of a lower order in order to fulfill itself. It imposes itself as the unique and indispensable necessity, eclipsing everything. Eclipsing everyone. The need cancels out the other. Then, once satisfied, it disappears, leaving no trace.
Desire, on the other hand, is characterized by continuity, it is not circumscribed or limited to the immediate; it is a path, a direction; it is open to sacrifice and renunciation. The closer one gets to the goal, the more desire expands and when reached it opens up to a further goal.
The need is not in itself bad, but has the character of the tyrant and is able to establish with us only that kind of relationship, if we are led by it. We are full of needs, but these do not tell us everything about ourselves.
Learning to distinguish between superficial desires, needs disguised as authentic desires and real desires – and finding the truth about ourselves in them – is a difficult art. But it can be learned.
Today we live totally bent over, inward looking, killing our humanity every day, denying ourselves to be open to desire. We bought into a fable of fear and lies, which makes us petty and ruthless. We are convinced that we are surrounded by enemies that put at risk the satisfaction of our needs, and we let fear drive our actions, thus generating aggression, verbal and physical violence. It really is a haemorrhage of humanity. This happens in politics, on social media, in everyday relationships. And also in the Church.
Learning to desire, to reactivate our openness to the other, could help the West, wounded and at the mercy of nationalisms, xenophobia and closures, to find itself.
Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, knew the importance of desire very well and had learned to distinguish between superficial desires, which imprison and do not give life, and authentic desires, which tell the truth about who we are. He knew that we easily confuse them, because we mistake the intensity of what we want with its actual depth. Strong and authentic desires have no connection with instinctual drives, with immediate reactions, but inhabit the core of our profound identity on a level where the questions “who am I?” and “what do I want?” are intimately intertwined. Desire is a way in which God speaks to us. It could be said that desire is the language of God and, to learn to understand it, it is necessary to appease the noise that surrounds us, extinguish the illusory lights that blind us, so as to be able to contemplate his face that speaks to us in the starry night of our heart.
It is important, then, to become familiar with the art of spiritual discernment, as Pope Francis often reminds us, to learn to desire intensely but not blindly, to regain our openness to the other. To become human again.
If you would like to read the autobiography of St. Ignatius, here it is.
Some books on the subject:
- Brian Gorgan SJ, Making Good Decisions: A Beginner’s Guide
- Timothy M. Gallagher OMV, Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making