Desire and Capacity

How self-knowledge helps us grow closer to God

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Newly ordained deacons tend to approach prayer with fervor, only to soon suffer the emotional demands of a growing interior life within active ministry. Inevitably, tensions arise in seeking union with God, so we resolve to pray harder and work smarter. But something remains amiss. What is it?

George Aschenbrenner, SJ, in “Stretched for Greater Glory” (Loyola Press, $17.95) gives us a clue. He states that the capacity for intimacy is rooted in a desire for communion with God and others. In other words, my capacity for intimacy with God and his people is grounded in a desire to know and be known. This begs several questions.

What is the depth of my desire to know and be known? This is a question of the depth of my love. Will I accept God’s knowledge or will I hang on to distorted images of God and me? To know as God knows means I surrender my understanding to him. This is a grace for which I must beg. It is not something I can achieve through hard work or good intentions alone.

Do I desire this grace, or do I recoil from it? To know and be known is a contemplative approach to ministry, so what is my fundamental spiritual orientation? If my desire is strong, then I can begin to plumb the depths of God’s love for me but at the pace that God sets for me. I must not get ahead of the grace regardless of the depth of my desire.

What is my capacity for such intimacy? One of the signs of human and spiritual readiness to embrace a contemplative orientation to ministry is a clear sense of one’s life history. To deeply embrace God presumes a human maturity grounded in graced self-knowledge. How ready am I to know and be known by Jesus and his people? How prepared am I to be with God and the people to whom I am sent?

Intimacy is risky, for it demands readiness for vulnerability before God and others. It presumes self-knowledge, self-acceptance and courage. It involves healing through the graced encounter with another in love. The capacity for such intimacy can be given to me through a miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit, yet almost always it will be possible only if I know well my wounds and learn effective ways of healing from them. Here is where some hard work on our part is important. Will I put forth the time and energy to know my trauma history and then to share that history with God and a trusted person? This particular point is difficult to overstate. It is too often underestimated. Courage and humility are necessary. Spiritual direction and — and psychological assistance for some — are necessary.

What if my desire is great but my capacity is small? This is the situation in which I may find myself. A deep desire exists, yet my capacity is limited due to experiences with sin and unhealed wounds. Here I must never get ahead of grace, never push beyond where God wishes to take and lead me at the moment. Remember, courageous humility is required, not prideful presumption! I must submit to his pace and plan for growth in my capacity for intimacy as I am slowly healed from my sin and wounds.

What if my desire is weak and my capacity is limited? Then good spiritual direction is crucial for spiritual and ministerial growth. There is no need for apprehension or discouragement! Apprehension and discouragement bring only loss of self-respect and impaired ministry, both of which are footholds for the Evil One to enter. Simply beg for the grace of deeper desire, which is the foundation for capacity.

What if my desire is weak and my capacity is great? Then, beg for the grace of true conversion. God is calling! Act contrary to worldly attachments. Seek the sacraments. Choose to pray. Spend more time with God. Fall in love with him!

Yes, desire and capacity … I encourage you to seek out a good spiritual director and psychological companion (if needed). May you grow in self-knowledge and acceptance in your desire for greater interiority and your capacity for intimacy with God and others. Accept God’s plan, his pace, and his lead for your interior life. Never give in to discouragement. God is with you!

DEACON ROBERT T. YERHOT, MSW, is the assistant director emeritus of the diaconate for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota. He sits on the editorial board for the Josephinum Diaconal Review and has previously published articles on diaconal spirituality.

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