The two-thousand year history of the Catholic Church contains a wealth of spiritual treasures in the holy writings of the saints who urge us to deepen our prayerful relationship with God. Ten years ago, author Ralph Martin condensed this wisdom into a best-selling treatise on the spiritual life: The Fulfilment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God based on the Wisdom of the Saints. The much-beloved book is discussed with the author in this interview by Fr. John Flynn.
The Fulfillment of All Desire is celebrating its tenth anniversary. During that time, it’s popularity has remained remarkably consistent.
I think people feel the need for a deeper relationship with God given the chaos of the times and they are looking for “the real deal,” not some pseudo-pop-spirituality that strokes their egos. There’s nothing better than the depth of wisdom we have in the Catholic Church from the saints who have been recognized as masters of the spiritual journey. And yet many people who have tried to read John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila or Bernard of Clairvaux have been puzzled by their language and terminology and haven’t been able to make clear connections to their own life journeys. Someone once told me: “You’ve broken down the tremendous wisdom of these saints without watering it down.”
Have readers shared interesting anecdotes with you about their experiences with the book?
More than twenty-four seminaries, universities, and novitiates use it as a textbook for formation. Lots of people use in study groups in their parish or give The Fulfilment of All Desire as gifts to friends. But my favorite feedback came from someone who told me he only had an eighth grade education and the book was very easy for him to understand and it completely changed his life.
What are some of the key principles taught by the saints you refer to in your book?
It’s hard to give a short answer here. They all operate more or less within the traditional framework of the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages of the spiritual life. Sometimes the vocabulary of the tradition can become off-putting or remain obscure, but these stages can simply be said to refer to the beginning, middle, and end of the spiritual journey. In the beginning stage we turn away from sin and seek healing for disorders in our soul, begin to establish regular prayer and sacramental practices, and learn how to deal with temptation and the near occasions of sin.
The middle stage—after a certain regularity and order has been established—is not perfection, but a certain stability. It is a time to grow in virtue, learn humility, and accept the graces that God gives to become detached from the things of this world. And of course the whole journey of growing in holiness is at its heart a healing of our soul so we can love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbour as ourselves.
The last stage comes after times of deeper purification and trial and deeper infusions of grace. It leads to a habitual and deep fortitude and stability and a great fruitfulness in our lives and vocations.
Can The Fulfilment of All Desire help to promote silence and communion with God at a time when it is common to lament the numerous distractions of modern life?
Bernard of Clairvaux says some wonderful things about the need to have a certain silence of soul that enables us to be aware of God’s presence even in the midst of work—and even in the midst of crowds! Solitude is not the same thing as loneliness. Solitude is a quietness of soul that allows us to be attentive to the Presence of a Friend. And for that to happen a certain moderation in exposing our minds and emotions to media is absolutely essential. The world is trying to attract us to everything but God and we need to have a certain detachment from the concerns of the world in order to be attentive to the concerns of God. Prayer is essentially paying attention to God.
For more information on The Fulfillment of All Desire, visit EmmausRoad.org.
About the Author: Ralph Martin is the president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. He is also the Director of Graduate Theology Programs in Evangelization and an associate professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Ralph Martin as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. He was also appointed as a peritus for the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization.