When I was young, I wanted to have lots of money. Growing up in a large family, we didn’t have much in the way of excess. I’d collect junk and try to peddle that off onto my siblings. And I wasn’t alone. My older sister competed with her own little shopping store that she advertised with a kind of sing-song chant. The advertising was mesmerizing, her store of goods, not so much. As for money, the reason I wanted it was to help other people. With a hint of altruism, God spared my childhood from an excessive, worldly ambition.
As a teen, I happened upon Napoleon Hill’s famous book "Think and Grow Rich." It rekindled the desire for riches in a novel direction, by clarifying for me that thoughts are things. This is a statement Mr. Hill repeats to good effect throughout his book: “know what it is that you want.” Knowing that, you can increase your desire for it, until the thought becomes the thing backed by a burning desire. I believe it was the psychiatrist William James who reflected this principle earlier in his books on Pragmatism, claiming as well that“the thought is father of the thing.”
As I went on to read other such books, like "The Power of Positive Thinking" and "How to Win Friends and Influence People," I found they were all saying something quite similar: heartfelt desire helps turn ideas into realities. But not just a Pollyanna desire, which might involve self-deception, blinding one to what is real through hopeful desire. The kind of "positive bias" Hill discusses is more like a compulsion that refuses to give up. All of which is good save for the one principle we Catholics know only bears a qualified truth: “you are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul.” We realize it is God who is our higher power that masterfully guides and captains us through life.
All of this is a roundabout way of affirming the virtues found in the saint of the day, Mary Magdalene. Burning with a fiery love for Christ, she longed for the Lord, thinking they had taken him away. It was love that kept her at tomb, allowing her the singular privilege of being the first to greet the risen Lord when the other disciples had left for their homes. That persevering desire won her the golden crown of sanctity. I dub Mary the patron saint of holy desire.
Of her Pope St. Gregory the Great writes in the breviary:
“At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love.”
It is with like insight that St. Paul writes: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Holy desire, guided by true faith, can make the greatest good happen.
Napoleon Hill discovered that “dreams are the seedlings of reality.” Thanks in part to his insights along with my Catholic faith, the wealth I’ve since sought and continue to desire has been sublimated into the riches gained in Jesus Christ. Do not weep, Mary; the Lord who freed you from seven devils is risen from the dead. Like you, we too will find him, not in an empty tomb but in the secret desires of our hearts where he lies hidden, if our desires are but enlightened with the eyes of faith.
"My brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Then the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:8-9).