James Martin, S.J.: Understanding desire

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about the kinds of experiences that can happen in prayer, which is often a source of confusion for even devout Christians. Many people wonder: What happens when I close my eyes? Or, what is supposed to happen? Well, one of the most common experiences is the revelation of desires. And I don’t mean mere surface desires and wants like “I want a new laptop” or “I want a new car” or “I want a new apartment.” No, I mean deeper desires, the longings that draw you closer to God, and help you become the person God means for you to be.

For example, you might be praying about a Gospel passage and suddenly feel an urge to follow Jesus more closely. That is, while praying you may experience a powerful attraction to the person of Jesus. You want to know more about him, read more about him, and spend more time praying about him. Where do these desires come from? From God. Now, not every desire that arises in prayer is from God. You have to discern, too, to see what makes sense and what fits in terms of what you know about God. But something like a desire to follow Christ is clearly coming from God. St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits would agree. After all, he sometimes asked people to pray an unusual prayer: a prayer to understand their deepest desires.

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Mike Theman
7 months 1 week ago

"You have to discern, too, to see what makes sense and what fits in terms of what you know about God." Would it not also be helpful to see what the Church teaches about a given desire? Maybe talk to a priest? Sometimes, e.g., the desire to steal is very compelling in a capitalist society, and it's easy to rationalize such behavior on the basis of what seems fair or not.

We see in the sex abuse scandal what happens when even Priests rely on just themselves to make decisions about desire without adhering to Church teaching.

Phillip Stone
7 months ago

They will sometimes come across presbyters who are not only unhelpful, but downright dangerous.

A woman at the end of her childbearing age has agonising fatigue diagnosed by her doctor as suffering severe anaemia due to multiple uterine fibroids and who recommends hysterectomy.
Forbidden to do so on the grounds that it is self-mutilation and will make marital intercourse barren.

A woman suffering battering and abuse including broken bones, lost teeth forbidden freedom by a violent, paranoid jealous alcoholic husband is told to stay with him as the marriage vows say, til death do us part.

Just two of the many examples I am personally acquainted with professionally. Asking a couple of older widows seen to be devout and prayerful at weekday Eucharist is a much better option to aid discernment.

Gadus Morhua
7 months ago

Thank you, Father Martin, for that helpful spiritual reflection. God is a beautiful, fulfilling, and unfathomable mystery!

As an aside, I wonder why America editors allow continued publication of comments and ad hominem attacks by self-righteous, homophobic, hateful, and alienated internet trolls? A suggestion: forward all such comments directly to the Church Militant site; misery loves company.

Phillip Stone
7 months ago

while publishing your comments because you are only self-righteous, hateful and alienated yourself?

Phillip Stone
7 months ago

If you have been introducing and recommending the Spiritual Exercises in your series of talks then I can but offer my congratulations and support.

If not, then the end of you talk is misleading and as such seems disingenuous.

I have three presentations which make the ancient exercises contemporary

Thomas Green, SJ : "A Vacation with the Lord" or
https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8765/the-spiritual-exercises-and-the-12-steps or
David M Stanley, SJ : "A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises"
(This latter published first in 1967 is excellent, however the immense burgeoning of scriptural scholarship was yet to happen and I would recommend using the New Jerusalem Bible and/or the version recommended by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops online at

priya arora
6 months 3 weeks ago

With the way here we can know about the house of fun coins online and it can be really helpful.

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