Faith & Thought

A ‘Bully Pulpit,’ a Channel to Influence How People Think

by Father Robert Lauder 

In last week’s column I tried to explain what I mean by my belief that every person is magnetized by God. The belief has become more important to me in recent years. 

I know that what I wrote in the column last week was difficult reading and may have seemed very abstract and speculative to some readers. I wish that my writing had been more clear. In an effort to state more clearly what I was trying to explain in last week’s column I have decided to try again this week. 

The basic point I want to emphasize is that our very being is oriented toward God. This is true of every human person. We have no choice about whether we are or are not oriented toward God. 

This is how God has made us. In our intellect and will, we are oriented toward God. Our minds are oriented toward being as intelligible, all being, and that includes divine being. Our wills are oriented toward being as good and that includes the unlimited goodness of God. 

This means that when we know any particular being as true, we implicitly know unlimited being, that is God, and whenever we love any being as good that means we implicitly love unlimited good, which is God. 

In his relatively small book “Person and Being” (Marquette University Press, 1993, 121 pp.) Father W. Norris Clarke, SJ, writes the following: 

“The human intellect, as capacity for being … is naturally ordered, as to its adequate object, to the whole of being as intelligible. Hence it can ultimately be satisfied only by knowing directly the infinite source and fullness of all being, namely, God. … 

“So too the human will, the faculty tending toward being as good, is naturally ordered to the whole order of the good without restriction. Hence it too cannot ultimately be satisfied by anything less than loving union with God as the ultimate fullness of all goodness. 

“Thus we are magnetized, so to speak, by our very nature toward the Infinite Good, which draws us in our very depths, at first spontaneously below the level of consciousness and freedom, but then slowly emerging into consciousness as we grow older — if we allow it — by the accumulation of experience and reflection upon it” (pp. 36, 37). 

I have always thought of teaching as a noble and worthwhile profession and thought of teaching philosophy as an especially important profession. 

Reflecting on Clarke’s insights as evidence that at our deepest level as persons we are magnetized by God gives me a new awareness of how important it is that when I am teaching philosophy at St. John’s University I help the students to think deeply about the ultimate meaning of their lives. 

It seems to me that I have a special opportunity to help students go from an implicit knowledge of God to an explicit knowledge of God and from an implicit love of God to an explicit love of God. 

Clarke writes the following: 

“This innate unrestricted drive of the human spirit … toward the Infinite Good is the great hidden dynamo that energizes our whole lives, driving us on to ever new levels of growth and development, and refusing to let us be ultimately contented with any merely finite, especially material, goods, whether we understand consciously what is going on within us or not, whether we can explicitly identify our final goal or not. 

“As Augustine put it so well in his classic saying, ‘Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in You’” (p. 37). 

Recently a friend of mine referred to this weekly column as a “bully pulpit,” a golden channel to influence how people think. I was honored by the description. 

What is there in our society that might encourage people to think seriously about the ultimate meaning of their existence? 

I imagine all of us could point to messages that are popular in our society that would at best distract us from what is important, and at worst actually deceive us about what really matters in our life. 

I certainly do not want to give the impression that this weekly column is more important than it is, but I am motivated and encouraged by my friend’s comment that the column is a “bully pulpit.” 

Thinking about Clarke’s insights convinces me that I should not hesitate to mention books, plays, poems, paintings, sculpture, or any other work of art that might stop us in our tracks and help us to deepen our understanding. 

That deeper understanding of ourselves can be a special light on the mystery of God. The Holy Spirit breathes where he will, and I have come to believe that great works of art can be special gifts on our journey toward our heavenly fulfillment.