Purifying Worldly Desires

August 11, 2023
Friday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Saint Clare, Virgin—Memorial

“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” Matthew 16:26

Would you like to “gain the whole world?” Many people daydream about becoming exceptionally rich and being able to purchase everything they ever wanted. Others dream of doing heroic acts that thrust them into the public spotlight and lead to public admiration. Still, others dream of having great power in this world and being a person of great importance. Though none of these are bad in and of themselves, the inordinate desire for them will damage your relationship with God. And when one of these desires becomes the dominant and all-consuming desire within, the result is that you forfeit your eternal soul.

When we speak of the “world,” we can understand different things. First, this is a reference to all the material things of this world—for example, the best of food and drink, self-indulgence, fleshly pleasures, material wealth, and all that is temporary and passing in this life. Second, the “world” can refer to pride and desire for attention and praise. This is when we become consumed with concern about what others think and say about us. Third, the “world” can refer to the desire for power so as to insert our own will. At a very high level, this is often the cause of wars among countries. One leader has a desire for domination and control. This desire for power and control can also affect each person within any part of that person’s life, including family, friends, work, social circles, etc.

The common thread among all three of these examples of worldly desires is the deception that obtaining more of them will satisfy you. Though they may satisfy you in a temporal and passing way, these desires will also have the effect of destroying your soul. This is because we have to choose. Either we seek to satiate the spiritual yearning of our souls, or we will seek to satiate ourselves with the passing promises of the world. We cannot have both.

It should be noted that obtaining wealth, being publicly praised, or being put in a position of power is not evil in and of itself. In fact, any one of these offers potential for good. The problem arises when a person seeks one of these worldly desires for selfish reasons and under the delusion that it will provide fulfillment. Truth be told, any one of those situations imposes a true cross on the person who is seeking to serve God alone. The responsibility that comes with wealth, prestige, or power is real. Therefore, when one or more of these are obtained, they must be handled with detachment and humility.

For example, if one becomes quite wealthy, the precept to live spiritually detached from material things still remains. Thus, in this case, material wealth poses a certain burden in the form of temptation. While this temptation certainly can be overcome and wealth can be used for good, the danger is real and must be regularly acknowledged. Or, if you are praised by many for something you did, or if you are given much responsibility and authority over others, humility and detachment must also increase so that God and God alone remains the single object of your desire.

Reflect, today, upon your desires. What do you want in life? Do you want to “gain the whole world?” Do you desire to gain even some of the worldly ambitions? If so, be careful. Reflect honestly upon your interior desires and work to purify them so that you desire God’s will alone. Once that happens, it will not matter to you if you are rich or poor, publicly praised or criticized, entrusted with earthly power or not. All that will matter is that you use all for the glory of God, in accord with His perfect and fulfilling will.

Most glorious God, Your will is perfect and is the one and only source of fulfillment in life. Please purify my soul of all desires pertaining only to this world. May my one and only desire in life be the fulfillment of Your holy will so that all I have will only be used for Your glory. Jesus, I trust in You.