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The Desire for God

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI      
Wednesday General Audience, 7 November 2012 - in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The pathway of reflection that we are making together in this Year of Faith leads us to meditate today on a fascinating aspect of human and Christian experience: man bears within himself a mysterious desire for God. In a very significant way, the Catechism of the Catholic Church opens precisely with this consideration: "The desire for God is written in the heart of man, because man is created by God and for God; and God does not cease to attract man towards Himself, and it is only in God that will man find the truth and happiness that he never ceases to seek" (n 27).

Such an affirmation, which still today in many cultural contexts appears totally easy to share, almost obvious, may instead seem a provocation in secularized Western culture. Many of our contemporaries could in fact object that they do not feel any such a desire for God. For large sectors of society, He is no longer the awaited one, the desired one, but rather a reality that leaves them indifferent, in front of whom one does not even need to make the effort to comment. In reality, what we have defined as "desire for God" has not entirely disappeared and presents itself still today, in many ways, in the heart of man. Human desire tends always to determined concrete goods, often far from spiritual, and nevertheless finds itself facing the question about what is truly "the" good, and thus is confronted with something that is other than itself, that man cannot construct, but is called to recognize. What can truly satisfy the desire of man?

In my first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, I sought to analyze how such dynamism is realized in the experience of human love, an experience which, in our age, is more easily perceived as a moment of ecstasy, where one comes out of oneself, as a place in which man feels overcome by a desire that surpasses him. Through love, man and woman experience in a new way, each thanks to the other, the grandeur and beauty of life and of the real. If that which I experience is not a simple illusion, if I truly want the good of the other as the way likewise for my own good, then I must be ready to de-centre myself, to put myself at their service, all the way to renunciation of myself. The response to the question about the meaning of the experience of love thus
passes through the purification and healing of the will, demanded by the good itself that one wants for the other. It has to exercised, trained, also corrected, so that this good can truly be wanted.

The initial ecstasy translates thus into a pilgrimage, “a permanent exodus from the I enclosed in on itself towards its liberation in the gift of oneself, and precisely thus towards the finding of oneself, indeed towards the discovery of God” (Deus Caritas Est, 6). Along this pathway man can progressively deepen his knowledge of the love which he had initially experienced. And the mystery that it represents will always take on more form:
in effect, not even the person loved is capable of satisfying the desire that dwells in the human heart, on the contrary, the more authentic the love for the other is, the more it lets the question be opened about its origin and its destiny, about the possibility that it has of lasting for ever. Thus, the human experience of love has within itself a dynamism which refers beyond itself, it is the experience of a good which leads to coming out of oneself and finding oneself in front of the mystery that envelopes the whole of existence.

Analogous considerations can also be made apropos other human experiences, such as friendship, the experience of beauty, the love for knowledge: each good experienced by man tends towards the mystery that surrounds man himself; each desire that presents itself to the human heart is the echo of a fundamental desire which is never fully satisfied. Undoubtedly, from such a deep desire, which also hides something enigmatic, one cannot arrive directly at faith. Ultimately, man knows well that which does not satisfy him, but cannot imagine or define that which would make him experience this happiness for which
in his heart he bears a nostalgia. One cannot know God starting only from the desire of man. From this viewpoint the mystery remains: man is seeker of the Absolute, a seeker with small and uncertain steps. And yet, the experience of the desire, of a “restless heart” as St Augustine called it, is already very significant. It attests to us that man is, deep down, a religious being (cf The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 28), a “beggar of God”. We can say with the words of Pascal: “Man infinitely surpasses man” (Pensées). The eyes recognize objects when these are illuminated by the light. From whence the desire to know the light itself, which makes the things of the world shine and with them enkindles the sense of beauty.

We must thus think that it is possible even in our age, apparently so refractory to the transcendent dimension, to open a pathway towards the authentic religious meaning of life, which shows how the gift of faith is not absurd, is not irrational. It would be of great use, to this end, to promote a sort of pedagogy of desire, both for the pathway of those who do not yet believe, and for those who have already received the gift of faith. A pedagogy that includes at least two aspects. In the first place, to learn or re-learn the taste of the authentic joys of life. Not all satisfactions produce in us the same effect: some leave a positive trace, are capable of pacifying the soul, render us more active and generous. Others instead, after the initial light, seem to
delude the expectations they had aroused and sometimes leave behind them bitterness, dissatisfaction or a sense of emptiness. Education from an early age to savour true joys, in all areas of existence – family, friendship, solidarity with those who suffer, renunciation of one's own I so as to serve the other, love for knowledge, for art, for the beauties of nature —, all this means exercising interior taste and producing antibodies effective against the banalization and the flattening widespread today. Adults also need to rediscover these joys, of desiring authentic realities, by purifying themselves of the mediocrity in which they can find themselves entangled. It will then become easier to let drop or reject all that which, while apparently attractive, reveals itself instead to be insipid, the source of addiction and not of freedom. And it will make emerge this desire for God about which we are speaking.

A second aspect, that goes hand in hand with the preceding one, is never to content oneself with that which has been achieved. Precisely the truer joys are capable of liberating in us this healthy restlessness which leads us to be more demanding - to want a higher, deeper good — and at the same time to perceive with an ever greater clarity that nothing finite can fill our heart. Disarmed, we will learn thus to tend towards this good which we cannot build or procure with our own strength; and to not be discouraged by the difficulty or the obstacles that come from our sin.

In this regard, we must not however forget that the dynamism of desire is always open to redemption. Even when it goes astray on wrong pathways, when it follows artificial paradises and seems to lose the capacity to yearn for the true good. Even in the abyss of sin is not extinguished in man this spark that allows him to recognize the true good, to savour it, and thus to start a route of ascent, on which God, with the gift of his grace, is always there with his help. We all, moreover, need to travel a pathway of purification and healing of desire. We are pilgrims towards the celestial homeland, towards that full, eternal good, that nothing can take away from us. Thus it is not, about suffocating the desire that is in the heart of man, but about liberating it, so that it can reach its true height. When in the desire the window is opened towards God, this is already a sign of the presence of faith in the soul, faith that is a grace of God. St Augustine affirms: “With the wait, God enlarges our desire, with the desire he enlarges our spirit and by stretching it, renders it more capable” (Commentary on the First Letter of John, 4, 6).

On this pilgrimage, we feel like brothers and sisters of all men,
on the journey companions also to those who do not believe, to those who are in search, to those who let themselves question with sincerity by the dynamism of their own desire for truth and the good. Let us pray, in this Year of Faith, that God may show his face to all those who seek him with a sincere heart. Thank you."


"Je salue avec joie les pèlerins francophones, en particulier les membres de la Communauté de l’Arche ! Je vous invite à découvrir toujours plus les joies et les réalités authentiques de la vie, en vous purifiant de tout ce qui est médiocre. Vous produirez alors des anticorps efficaces contre l’esprit de banalisation aujourd’hui diffus et vous laisserez émerger le désir profond de Dieu ! Bon pèlerinage !

I welcome the Inter-ministerial Delegation for Religious Affairs from Vietnam on official visit to the Vatican. I also greet the group from Saint Paul High School in Japan. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England and Wales, Denmark, Finland, Ghana, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea, Canada and the United States, I cordially impart God’s abundant blessings.

Sehr herzlich heiße ich die Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache willkommen. In diesem Jahr des Glaubens wollen wir unsere Erfahrungen und unsere Freude miteinander teilen, um gemeinsam den Weg zu gehen, der unser inneres Verlangen erfüllt und uns zum wirklichen Glück führt. Der Herr gebe uns allen dazu seine Gnade.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los grupos provenientes de España, México, Argentina, Chile y otros países latinoamericanos. Pidamos al Señor que se acreciente nuestra fe en él y que haga ver su rostro a todos los que lo buscan con sincero corazón. Muchas gracias.

Saúdo cordialmente todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, em particular os fiéis brasileiros da paróquia Nossa Senhora da Penha e o grupo da diocese de Porto Alegre, para todos implorando uma vontade que procure a Deus, uma sabedoria que O encontre e uma vida que Lhe agrade. São os meus votos e também a minha Bênção.

Adesso un saluto per il Convegno a Rio de Janeiro
Saúdo os Reitores, Professores, Autoridades e estudantes das diversas Universidades que amanhã, no Rio de Janeiro, começam o Simpósio sobre «Humanização e Sentido da Vida». Em um mundo em rápida mudança, é preciso ajudar o homem a descobrir, juntamente com o sentido da vida, a própria arte de viver. Faço votos de que os trabalhos destes dias mostrem como a razão, iluminada pela fé, é capaz de alargar o seu horizonte para enfrentar, com alegria, os grandes desafios da vida.

البَابَا يُصْلِي مِنْ أَجَلِ جَمِيعِ النَّاطِقينَ بِاللُّغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ. لِيُبَارِك الرَّبّ جَمِيعَكُمْ.

Serdecznie pozdrawiam polskich pielgrzymów, a szczególnie Rodzinę Radia Maryja z biskupami. Każdy człowiek niesie w sobie tajemniczą tęsknotę za Bogiem. Pragnienie spotkania z Nim jest zaczynem wiary, wewnętrznym impulsem do szukania Go. Módlmy się, aby ten Rok wiary był dla nas wszystkich czasem osobistego spotkania z Bogiem. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

S posebnom radošću pozdravljam vas hodočasnike iz Hrvatske koji ste došli, predvođeni vašim Pastirima, zahvaliti za moj apostolski pohod vašoj domovini prošle godine. Naš je susret u Zagrebu bio u znaku obitelji; vaš dolazak u Rim je u Godini vjere, netom po svršetku biskupske sinode o novoj evangelizaciji. Obitelj, vjera i evangelizacija nerazdvojno idu zajedno. To sam vam i rekao na svetoj misi prigodom Nacionalnog susreta hrvatskih katoličkih obitelji: „Kršćanske su obitelji temelj za odgoj u vjeri, za izgradnju Crkve kao zajednice i za njezinu misionarsku nazočnost u najrazličitijim životnim situacijama“. Dragi prijatelji, pozivam vas da molite u obitelji i za obitelj. Kada sutra budete u ovoj bazilici slavili euharistiju te na grobu apostola Petra ispovjedili svoju vjeru, sjetite se svih onih koji su vam ju predali. Isto tako znajte i vi s hrabrošću svima posvjedočiti radost i ljepotu vjere u Isusa Krista. Od srca blagoslivljam sve vas i vaše najmilije. Hvaljen Isus i Marija."


"Continuo a seguire con particolare apprensione la tragica situazione di violenza in Siria, dove non cessa il rumore delle armi e aumenta ogni giorno il numero delle vittime e l’immane sofferenza della popolazione, in particolare di quanti hanno dovuto lasciare le loro case. Per manifestare la mia solidarietà e quella di tutta la Chiesa alla popolazione in Siria e la vicinanza spirituale alle comunità cristiane del Paese, era mio desiderio inviare una Delegazione di Padri Sinodali a Damasco. Purtroppo, diverse circostanze e sviluppi non hanno reso possibile l’iniziativa nelle modalità auspicate, e perciò ho deciso di affidare una missione speciale all’ Cardinale Robert Sarah, Presidente del Pontificio Consiglio Cor Unum. Da oggi fino al 10 novembre corrente egli si trova in Libano, dove incontrerà Pastori e Fedeli delle Chiese che sono presenti in Siria; visiterà alcuni rifugiati provenienti da tale Paese e presiederà una riunione di coordinamento delle istituzioni caritative cattoliche, alle quali la Santa Sede ha chiesto un particolare impegno in favore della popolazione siriana, sia dentro che fuori del Paese. Mentre elevo la mia preghiera a Dio, rinnovo l’invito alle parti in conflitto e a quanti hanno a cuore il bene della Siria a non risparmiare alcuno sforzo nella ricerca della pace e a perseguire, attraverso il dialogo, le strade che portano ad una giusta convivenza, in vista di un’adeguata soluzione politica del conflitto. Dobbiamo fare tutto il possibile, perché un giorno potrebbe essere troppo tardi."

Traduzione in lingua araba:


أُتَابِعُ دَائِمًا بِمَزِيدٍ مِنِ الْقَلَقِ وَضْعَ الْعُنْفِ الْمَأَسَوِيِّ فِي سُورِيَا، حَيْثُ لَا يَصْمِتُ ضَجِيجُ الْأَسْلِحَةِ، وَيَزْدَادُ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ عَدَدُ الضَّحَايَا وَتَزْدَادُ مُعَانَاةُ الشَّعَبِ الْمَهُولَةُ، لَا سِيَّمَا الَّذِينَ أُجْبِرُوا عَلَى تَرْكِ بُيُوتِهِمْ. وَلِكَيْ أُظْهِرَ تَضَامُنِي وَتَضَامُنَ كُلِّ الْكَنِيسَةِ مَعَ جَمِيعِ الشَّعَبِ السُّورِيِّ، وَأَيْضًا قُرْبِي الرُّوحِيَّ مِنِ الْجَمَاعَاتِ الْمَسِيحِيَّةِ فِي الدَّوْلَةِ، أَبْدَيْتُ رَغْبَتِي فِي إِرْسَالِ بِعْثَةٍ مِنْ آبَاءِ السِّينُودِسِ إِلَى دَمَشْقَ . وَلَكِنْ، وَبِكُلِّ آسَفٍ، أَوْضَاعٌ وَتَطَوُّرَاتٌ مُخْتَلِفَةٌ حَالَتْ دُوْنَ تَحْقِيقِ الْمُبَادَرَةِ عَلَى النَّحْوِ الْمَطْلُوبِ، وَلِهَذَا قَرَّرْتُ أَنْ أُفَوِّضَ، فِي مُهِمَّةٍ خَاصَّةٍ، الْكَارْدِينَالَ رُوبِرْتُو سَارَا، رَئِيسَ الْمَجْلِسِ الْبَابَوِيِّ "قَلْبٌ وَاحِدٌ" ("كُورْ أُونُومْ"). إِنَّ سِيَادَتَهُ، بِدَايَّةً مِنِ الْيَوْمِ وَحَتَّى الْعَاشِرِ مِنْ نُوفَمْبِرِ/تِشْرِينِ الثَّانِيِّ الْجَارِي، سَيَكُونُ فِي لُبْنَانَ، حَيْثُ سَيُقَابِلُ رُعَاةَ وَمُؤْمِنِيْنَ الْكَنَائِسِ الْمُتَوَاجِدَةِ فِي سُورِيَا؛ وَسَيَزُورُ بَعْضَ اللَّاجِئِينَ الْقَادِمِينَ مِنْ تِلْكَ الدَّوْلَةِ، وَسَيَتَرَأَّسُ اجْتِمَاعًا لِلْتَنْسِيقِ بَيْنَ الْمُؤَسَّسَاتِ الْخَيْرِيَّةِ الْكَاثُولِيكِيَّةِ، وَالَّتِي طَلَبَ مِنْهَا الْكُرْسِيُّ الرَّسُولِيُّ الْتِزَامًا خَاصًّا بِالشَّعَبِ السُّورِيِّ، أَيْانْ كَانَ بِدَاخِلِ أَوْ خَارِجِ الدَّوْلَةِ. وَبَيْنَمَا أَرْفَعُ صَلَاتِي إِلَى اللهِ، أُجَدِّدُ دَعَوَّتِي لِلْأَطْرَافِ الْمُتَصَارِعَةِ، وَلِجَمِيعِ الَّذِينَ يَبْتَغُونَ خَيْرَ سُورِيَا، بِأَلَّا يَبْخَلُوا بِالْجُهْدِ فِي الْبَحْثِ عَنِ السَّلَامِ، وَبِأَنْ يَسْلُكُوا، بِوَاسِطَةِ الْحِوَارِ، الدُّرُوبَ الَّتِي تَقُودُ إِلَى التَّعَايُشِ الْعَادِلِ، بِهَدَفِ الْوُصُولِ لِحَلٍّ سِيَاسِيٍّ مَقْبُولٍ لِلصِّرَاعِ. يَجِبُ أَنْ نُقَوِّمَ بِكُلِّ مَا هُوَ مُمْكِنٌ، لَأَنْ يَوْمًا وَاحِدًا قَدْ يَكُون متأخراً جَدَّا.

* * *

"E adesso, saluto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, provenienti da Parrocchie, da Scuole e da varie Associazioni di numerose diocesi d’Italia. Saluto in particolare i fedeli di Biancavilla e di Ferentino e i rappresentanti dell’Associazione Nazionale di Polizia Penitenziaria. In questo mese di novembre vi invito a far memoria nella preghiera dei cari defunti, che attendono il conforto della nostra solidarietà spirituale.

E desidero, infine, rivolgermi, come di consueto, ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli. Dopodomani celebreremo la festa liturgica della Dedicazione della Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, cattedrale di Roma. Questa ricorrenza invita voi, cari giovani, a diventare pietre vive e preziose, impiegate per la costruzione della Casa del Signore. Essa incoraggia voi, cari ammalati, ad offrire a Dio il vostro quotidiano sacrificio per il bene di tutta la comunità cristiana; e spinge voi, cari sposi novelli, a rendere le vostre famiglie piccole chiese domestiche. Grazie."


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