Saint Rafael Arnaiz Baron: Desiring God

Following on from my recent post on Saint Augustine, in which the subject of our innate desire for God and concomitant reluctance to allow this desire to flourish was discussed, I would like to look today to a passage from the writings of Saint Rafael Arnaiz Baron for a corroboration of this tendency we have to place obstacles in the way of our own instinctive need for communion with our Maker. Saint Rafael, who did not live long, but lived a life of deep sensitivity to the grace of God and of humankind’s response to it, writes here very powerfully of our habitual disinclination to meet the call given to us to follow Christ and fulfil his commandments steadfastly and devotedly.

We are, as the Catechism says, all ‘called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity’, and all the members of the Church are to ‘wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbour’ (2013). Yet we frequently fail in even the basic fulfilments of our obligations and the cultivation of virtue. The principal reason for this is because we do not desire sanctity, and therefore instead fill our lives with distractions so that we will not encounter the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (c.f.; 1 Corinthians 3:16):

We lack virtue not because it’s difficult, but be-cause we don’t wish for it. We lack patience because we don’t want it. We lack moderation and chastity for the same reason. If we were to wish it we would become saints; it’s much more difficult to be an engineer than to be a saint. If only we had faith…

…Interior life, life of spirit, life of prayer. My God that is what must be hard! It isn’t so. Remove the im-pediment from your heart and there you will find God. Everything is now done. Many times we go looking for what isn’t there, and on the other hand pass by a treasure and don’t see it. This happens to us with God, whom we seek… through a jungle of things which, the more complicated they are, the better they appear to us. And yet we carry God within the heart, and don’t look for Him there. Retire within yourself, look at your nothingness, at the nothingness of the whole world, place yourself at the foot of the Cross, and if you are guileless you will see God…

…If God is not there in our souls sometimes, it’s because we don’t wish it. We have so many affairs on hand, distractions, predilections, vain desires, presumptions, so much of the world within us, that God withdraws Himself; but it is sufficient to love Him, for God fills the soul in such a way that one must be blind not to see it. Does a soul wish to live according to God? Let it cast out everything that is not Him, and then it is achieved. It is relatively easy. If we were to wish for it, and if we were to ask God with simplicity, we should make great advances in the spiritual life. If we were to wish it we would become saints, but we are so stupid that we don’t want it, we would rather waste our time over foolish vanities.

Excerpt from Saint Rafael’s writings courtesy of Daily Gospel.

            The Church provides us with many means to grow in love for God, and to grow in holiness – the sacraments, the writings of the saints, sacramentals, prayers, devotionals and pilgrimages, various lay apostolates that we can involve ourselves in. We may or may not opt to use some or all of these things at our discretion, but what is certain is that the degree to which we do make use of these many means of growing closer to God and neighbour is dependent on one central thing – our desire. This is the simple truth at the heart of our Faith, that, as Saint Rafael says, ‘if we were to wish it, and if we were to ask God with simplicity, we should make great advances in the spiritual life’ – or, as Our Lord put it, ‘ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it will be opened to you’ (Matthew 7:7).

The distractions of the world are many in number, and great in variety – many of them are good in and of themselves, and it is not given to everyone to renounce all the things of this life (though of course some are called to a life where this will be the case). However, it is the task of all of us, if we wish to grow in relationship with God, to prioritise our desires; to put God first in our affections, and to, in that sense, ‘cast out everything that is not Him’. When our attitude is such that the things of the world are only important to us relative to this desire for God, then they will be returned to us, and enjoyed by us all the more.

If however, we put God second to the things of this world, they will not satisfy, and we will only desire more of them – this can only result in our natural desire for God being thwarted and misdirected, and also our desire for things becoming master over us. No one can serve two masters (c.f.; Matthew 6:24) and so we must look deep into ourselves and recognise not only who, out of God and the world, has the greater claim on us, but who, in our innermost depths, do we truly desire the most. When we answer this question truthfully, then there is only one more thing left to do – to make the fulfilment of this desire a reality. As Saint Rafael says, ‘retire within yourself…place yourself at the foot of the Cross, and if you are guileless you will see God.

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