by Father Robert Lauder
Fifth in a series
AS I SIT at my computer, I am wondering if I have ever had an experience similar to reading Johannes Metz’s Poverty of Spirit. Marvelous insights are leaping out at me, if not from every page then from most pages.
Though my experience of reading Metz’s book is different from past experiences with other books, I certainly have read books that have profoundly influenced me. Two come to my mind immediately. One is Jacques Maritain’s “True Humanism,” and the other is Jean Mouroux’s “The Meaning of Man.” I read both books in my third year in college, my first in the major seminary.
Maritain’s book had such a profound effect on me that a year later, when I had to write an original essay about culture, without ever looking again at the book or even having it in mind while I was writing, I found after finishing the paper that all the points that I emphasized were from that book! I was surprised that I had borrowed from Maritain without being aware that I was using his insights. Mouroux’s book, when I read it, seemed to be the best book I had ever read up to that point in my life.
Of course, there were other titles that could be recalled easily. What is strikingly different about my experience of Metz’s book is that so much wisdom is present in such a small book. In 53 pages, Metz has provided more insights than are present in some books four times the size. I am hoping that this series of columns did justice to Metz’s volume. The following reflection on the mystery of the human person is from a section of the book that I found especially provocative:
“In the midst of his existence there unfolds the bond (re-ligio) which ties him to the infinitely transcendent mystery of God, the insatiable interest in the Absolute that captivates him and underlines his poverty…
“The unending nature of our poverty as human beings is man’s only innate treasure. He is unlimited indigence since his very self-possession, the integrity and lucidity of his coming-to-Being, spring not from himself but from the intangible mystery of God. The ultimate meaning of man is hidden in God. Man is the ecstatic appearance of Being, and becoming man is an ever growing appropriation of this ecstasis of Being. This demands an attentive receptivity and obedient assent to the total claim and inescapable quandry which the mystery of God poses to his human existence.”
Metz is pointing out that the human person’s poverty and richness are due to God’s presence. Before the presence of the transcendent God, we can become very aware of just how impoverished our being is. Our poverty is, as it were, underlined in light of God’s greatness. We can seem to be nothing and of no value before the Infinite. Yet it is precisely God’s loving presence that calls attention to our importance, our significance, our dignity and our destiny. God’s love creates us and redeems us. We are who we are only because of God’s creative loving presence. We are tied to God.
That we are tied to God reveals our identity and our vocation. We are called by God into a future of growth and development. Metz says that we have an “insatiable interest in the Absolute.” Our minds and wills are oriented toward God. No truth less than God will ever fulfill our desire to know and no good except the Infinite Good, which is God, will ever fulfill our desire to love.
When we focus our consciousness on God and direct our wills toward God we are not approaching, either intellectually or volitionally, some external object. God and we are inextricably joined.
I like Metz’s point that becoming who we are supposed to be involves “an ever growing appropriation.” God is not finished with us after we are created. Built into the nature of human person is a dynamism, a direction, if you like, a call to become more than we are. What seems like an impossible task becomes possible because of Christ’s identification with us.
Because of the Risen Christ’s dwelling within us, because we share in God’s own life, we become capable of doing what we could never do on our own. We have been bought at a great price, the death and resurrection of the Son of God, and that price has transformed our poverty into a graced richness. We have become a new creation.