Detachment: Growing in Freedom

By Ralph Martin

Fulfillment of All Desire, Ralph Martin, detachment, Catherine of Siena

Everything that exists is a gift from God. Yet oftentimes we look to the things and creatures created by God for a satisfaction and fulfillment that only God Himself can provide. When the soul wraps itself around the things and the people of this world, looking for a satisfaction or fulfillment that only God can give, it produces a distortion in itself, and in others as well. Many spiritual writers call the process of unwinding this possessive, self-centered, clinging, and disordered seeking of things and persons “detachment.” The goal of the process of detachment is not to stop loving the things and people of this world, but, quite to the contrary, to love them even more truly in God, under the reign of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Things and people become even more beautiful and delightful when we see them in this light. There are almost always painful dimensions to this process of “letting go” in order to love more, but it’s the pain of true healing and liberation. Christian detachment is an important part of the process by which we enter into a realm of great freedom and joy.  

Catherine of Siena points out that even in this life the greedy, the envious, the revengeful, and the lustful are tortured by their disordered desires. They suffer through their own sinfulness, meriting nothing by it and refusing to heed the message of this suffering: to repent and return to the Father. Christians, in taking up the Cross of Christ, can taste something of the joy of heaven in this life; so too, those who choose to follow their sinful desires take up “the devil’s cross, and taste the pledge of hell even in this life. Unless they reform they go through life weakened in all sorts of ways, and in the end receive eternal death. They pass in hate through the gate of the devil and receive eternal damnation. . . . How deluded these souls are, and how painfully they make their way to hell—like martyrs of the devil!” 

Detachment from disordered love of the things of this world— from money, from inordinate sensual pleasure, from pride, from our very selves—is not an end in itself. The emptying that detachment brings about prepares us for an infilling of something greater. The something greater is not only a greater delight in God but a greater and truer delight in all He has created. The proper ordering of lesser loves places us in a position to receive and embody a greater love for both God and our neighbor. Turning away from vice allows the growth of virtue. Virtue is not only the fruit of our discipline and effort but the fruit of our relationship with Christ Himself.  

Ultimately, it is the love of Christ poured into us through the Spirit that enables us to experience transformation and be more like Him. As we experience the Bridegroom’s love, more and more “pride melts away” and humility grows.  

Growing in freedom from our disordered attachments brings about a growth in virtue that is nothing else, at root, than a growth in love.


Ralph Martin’s modern classic on the spiritual life, The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints, is a perennial best-seller. Set out on the path to holiness with this indispensable work.