In part I of this series, we talked about God being first in our lives and making Him the driving force in our lives so that we are “running as if to win.” Today, we will discuss love’s purifying fire and St. Ignatius of Loyola’s concept of “Tanto Cuanto.”
This question is the focus of our discussion: You’ve written about focusing on the heart and the Bible says in the Psalms “May He grant you your heart’s desire.” I can think of a lot of things I would like to have. But, what is really my heart’s desire? What is my deepest desire?
Love’s Purifying Fire
This is how love for God purifies us. As we allow ourselves to be drawn more fully into friendship with him, we let go of unhealthy attachments that are holding us back from spiritual maturity. We leave behind selfish habits, behaviors, and attitudes that feel comfortable, or maybe even necessary, but that in fact impede us from loving and living with full freedom. We leave them behind, because our growing intimacy with God leaves no room for them. This is the “discipline” that St. Paul calls Christians to exercise. The Letter to the Hebrews echoes St. Paul’s comparison of spiritual growth to running a race, while emphasizing more this purifying effect of a growing, heartfelt love for God:
Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1—2)
Sometimes this purification requires renouncing material objects, but it can never be only that. Material poverty in itself is no virtue. Poverty of spirit, the purity of our fundamental desire, is what matters. As St. Thomas Aquinas explained it, “It is abundantly clear that the human heart is more intensely attracted to one object, in proportion as it is withdrawn from a multiplicity of desires.”* In other words, I can better focus my attention on one task if I am not distracted by trying to do five other tasks at the same time.
St. Ignatius of Loyola explored this aspect of loving God with all our heart in his famous meditation about tanto cuanto. That Spanish phrase can be translated “inasmuch as.” St. Ignatius points out that everything in creation, from mountains to moods, from galaxies to good food, from rehearsals to relationships, is given to us by God out of love and for love. All these things are essentially good, and they exist to be a stepping stone toward greater intimacy with God, to be opportunities for experiencing God’s love for us and for showing and growing our love for him. In as much as we enjoy and use all things for that purpose, they are good for us. But if we turn any of God’s gifts into idols, seeking our fulfillment in them instead of in loving God through them, they become bad.
To take a rather mundane example, watching football on the weekends is not intrinsically evil. It can be a healthy form of recreation. But when it impedes me from fulfilling my basic responsibilities–like attending to family needs or worshipping God on the Lord’s Day–it has overstepped its bounds and become an obstacle, a little idol.
Jesus himself illustrated this principle with his parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. The treasure and the pearl symbolize the kingdom of God, our friendship with Christ, our living in communion with him. All other realities are given to us to help us achieve and deepen that communion.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. (Matthew 13:44—46)
Loving God with all our heart means living in accordance with the truth of our treasure. Nothing matters more than our relationship with God. We believe that, and so we desire nothing more than an ever-deepening intimacy with him. And we spend our lives learning to live accordingly.
Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
* St. Thomas Aquinas, De Perfectione Vitae Spiritualis, VI.
Art: St. Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Paul Rubens, 1600s, PD, Wikimedia Commons.