By Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4)
If you look back on your life, what did you most desire when you were a child, or a teenager, or a young adult? Whether it was a favorite toy, a place on the track team, or the school of your dreams, most of us can laugh when we think of what we wanted so much back then. Now, years later, do we even remember what we wanted so badly? Probably not. As we grow and mature, our desires change too. That’s how the spiritual life works. When the Psalmist says God will give us the desires of our heart, he’s not talking about ice cream and trophies. He’s speaking about the deepest desires of our heart, that secret place where we can find the meaning of life and the love of God.
The ultimate purpose of our life is union with God. As Saint Augustine put it so beautifully, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” When so many things in our life attract us and distract us, it’s easy to get sidetracked. So God helps us to focus more on him. Sometimes the painful events of our lives can make us reassess our desires, to bring them more in line with God’s ultimate purpose. Someone was telling me recently of a person who is ill with cancer and probably has only a few months left. One thing she said impressed me, “God has stripped him of everything; all he has now is his sickness.” From our point of view this is a terrible tragedy, and it is indeed difficult to bear this kind of suffering. But she also remarked, “He’s doing his purgatory on earth.” If we can look beyond the earthly suffering, which will soon pass, we can start to see the glory of heaven. As Saint Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).
If we die without having been fully purified, God has a backup plan. In our Catholic tradition we call it purgatory. This is not so much a place but a state where we can be fully purified of all the dross of earth. This is the work of divine mercy, for God sets right in us whatever we have damaged in ourselves through our sins. Saint Catherine of Genoa wrote a treatise on purgatory and spoke of it as a process in which God’s love and mercy burns away the rust caused by sin. Divine mercy also allows us to help them too by our prayers, especially through the offering of the Mass for the holy souls. The month of November is dedicated to remembering and praying for all the deceased. We can aid them because we are part of the communion of saints. In turn they will help us to purify our own desires, so we might desire only God.