Abbot addresses issues with human desire

As the keynote speaker for the 2013 MacVittie Lecture, Rev. Father Gerard D’Souza discussed the nature of human desire and how it relates to spirituality at his Tuesday Oct. 22 address titled “Desire and ‘The Word.’” D’Souza is the recently appointed abbot of the Abbey of the Genesee. D’Souza spoke to the meaning of desire in terms of human nature.

“All of us are involved with this thing called desire,” D’Souza said. “Some of us are more in touch with it, others driven by it, acting it out without much reaction ... It seeks total completion, complete fulfillment … a completion without end.”

According to D’Souza, everyone is born with a desire of some sort, which stems from a particular lacking within our lives or souls, and everyone seeks a way of escaping it. Most of our lives are spent reacting to this situation, and these reactions usually manifest themselves in the form of pleasure. D’Souza described pleasure as a form of “instant eternity” in that it is perfect and complete but only for a short period of time.

D’Souza also said that fashion and materialism are infantile, egocentric methods of coping with desire, while stressing that such indulgences further remove people from “real” existence. He also addressed the role of infatuation in humanity’s quest to fulfill desires.

“We project out the force of our desire onto another,” D’Souza said. “We see the [object or person of our desire] in whichever way we want them to look. Infatuation is a drug that victimizes, but in this case, the victim cannot break free.”

D’Souza went on to say that an infatuated individual is often so afraid of the emptiness stemming from their desire that they will rarely acknowledge their infatuation at all. Therefore, many cases of love are in fact based on one’s idealized version of their significant other, in order to avoid the pain of their unfulfilled desires.

D’Souza maintained, however, that “eros,” or the natural love of the soul, is necessary for one’s salvation: Natural love extends beyond pleasure-seeking impulses and allows for fulfillment and true happiness. This also permits the soul to follow a path of natural mysticism and bridge the path between this world and revelation. It is pivotal to maintain a certain amount of distance between these states, however.

“We cannot notice God’s presence because it is too luminous for us to see,” D’Souza said. “And that’s a good thing, actually, because otherwise we would … reduce God to an object of consumption.

“We have to get beyond our individuality and appropriate our personhood,” D’Souza said. “We achieve personhood by breaking down the barriers … opening up the armors that surround us like a shell and expanding into the space between us and other people.”

In order to truly overcome desire, D’Souza said, we must learn how to connect with other people and focus less on the materialistic aspects of our world.

The MacVittie Lecture series invites prominent theologians to campus annually to address issues and discuss ideas relating to the ultimate existence of humanity.