Drawing of Christ calling Zacheus

How Much Do You Desire God?

by Catherine Doherty

Preparation for Lent begins with desire. Can you weigh desire? Can you measure it with a yardstick? Can you unwrap it and know its chemical content? No, my friends, you can’t. Desire is like a flame; it starts small and it grows.

We exist to desire the Desired One: God. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts were made for yourself, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.” In this is the preparation for Lent: a desire deep down in the heart for God.

Lent is a strange season. When you ask “Where do You live, Lord?” Lent says, “Come and see.”

If you have enough desire to ask the question, you will follow him. And you will find a tree to climb, like Zaccheus in the Gospel, because following will not be enough—you will have to see him.

Zaccheus in that tree drew the attention of Christ and heard him say, Come down; I will sup with you tonight (See Lk 19:1-10).

What happened to Zaccheus later? He cried out, I will give half my goods to the poor and to everyone whom I have defrauded, I will pay twice. That is repentance.

The Incarnation has taken place. Christ was born in Bethlehem, and he was a carpenter in Nazareth, where things were quiet before he began his public life.

Then the megaphone of centuries brings us his words. Some are powerful, at moments terrible: If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and his own life, too… (Lk 14:26). And at the next moment they are compassionate and gentle: Has no one condemned you? Neither will I condemn you. (Jn 8:10-11).

Christ grows into his fullness in the three years of his preaching, right before our eyes.

In Lent we approach a threshold where this preaching will make way for pain and surrender. We approach a reality that he has enunciated to us and that we usually take lightly: Greater love has no man than he lays down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13).

We are going to enter the moment in which our brother Jesus Christ laid down his life for you and me, and every human being who has ever lived in this world—for he is brother to everyone.

Now we are quiet. Each of us can enter into his own heart and look for that desire for God. Day by day, we should seek that desire, for it is one of our greatest treasures. It is that pearl of great price for which we must be willing to sell all we possess.

It might be a little flame barely visible, or it might already be a bonfire in us. Be that as it may, we are going to see how God loved us. This is what Lent is all about.

Like Zaccheus, we are going to climb a big tree of faith so as to watch that no word of those last weeks of Christ’s life passes in one ear and out the other.

His every act, his every word, must be enclosed in our desire, for if we are to fulfill our desire to see him when the door of death opens (and even before, for the Kingdom of God begins now), we have to imitate him whom we are going to look at.

This will require that we empty ourselves of many things, since the kind of fiery desire we must have takes a lot of space. It is not just a little kindling that we are going to ignite but huge dry wood.

We must desire to empty every corner of ourselves of everything but this person called Jesus Christ, God and man, who died and resurrected so that we might see the face of the Triune God, the goal of all who have been born.

How does one get this great desire? The answer is always the same: prayer, fasting, and mortification. But prayer can be very simple: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief (Mk 9:24).

In that prayer God will send faith, and faith is the match that kindles desire.

What can bring me to desire God? Two things: finding someone who desires him and praying to get that desire.

This business of desire is very important. Do you really desire to pray? Do you desire to live the Gospel? That is the big question. If I desire, I usually fulfill my desire. We desire all kinds of things, but unfortunately we don’t desire that which we need so much: prayer and loving presence.

Prayer is a simple thing. It is a love affair between God and you, and you don’t have to explain it.

If you love God, no explanation is necessary. You have a boyfriend, you talk to him. You don’t write out all that the boyfriend said and all that you said; it’s not necessary. The same thing happens with prayer.

Prayer is a love affair and it is prayer that gives us strength to live the Gospel. But the question is: do we want to?

The majority say that it is an impossibility and yet if we lived the Gospel, the world would change.

Isn’t that something—your power, you and me, ordinary people, small people—we can do it. We have the power to change the world. But we refuse to because we refuse to live as Christ said we should live.

Prayer is conversation with God. It does not require a thousand books. It requires a simple and tremendous love of God. I am beloved by God. He created me. This is the first idea. And he wants to be loved by me. We have to get that into our heads. Then we proceed to tell him that we love him.

Let’s try and do it because, honest to goodness, I am not exaggerating when I say that on Lent depends so many things. If we Christians give ourselves to this Lent, in prayer and love, we might change the world of today which is so tragic.

Let’s try and do it. Shall we?

Excerpted and adapted from Season of Mercy, (1996), pp. 13-17. The 2011 edition is available from MH Publications