Arts and Culture

A Cosmic Eucharist

Fourth in a series

John Haught’s vision of evolution calls us to deepen our view of evolution and to see it as a drama that has been happening for billions of years. I find this view of evolution both awesome and exciting. Indeed I find it breathtaking. There are several important thinkers, both philosophers and theologians, who have played a role in Haught’s reflections on the mystery of the human person, the mystery of God and the mystery of God’s evolving created universe.

Existentialist theologian Paul Tillich comes to mind as does process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. However, as much as any other thinker, Pierre Teilhard, S.J. has played a crucial role in helping Haught reach his faith-filled view of evolution. In his “Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God and the Drama of Life” (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster, John Knox Press, 2010, pp. 163), Haught, commenting on Teilhard’s view of reality, writes the following:

French Jesuit priest, and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas, “played a crucial
role in helping John Haught reach his faith-filled view of evolution.”
(Photo: Archives des jésuites de France/ Wikimedia Commons)

“In his ‘Mass on the World,’ Teilhard proposes an alternative way to understand the worthwhileness of our lives after Darwin. We are not here just to spin our moral wheels while we wait to be rescued by God’s decisive deliverance. What we should be awaiting and fostering is a cosmic transfiguration, not just a transfer of human souls to another world.

The distinctively human virtues of faith, hope and love are rooted not only in the human heart but, deeper yet, in a universe that has always been feeling its way forward toward fulfillment in God. Our practice of virtue should not be thought of as a break with the cosmos but as essential to its ongoing creation.

“Since many sensitive people these days are seeking a steady foundation for a globally and ecologically responsible ethic, Teilhard’s wide cosmic perspective deserves careful attention all the more. Up until now, unfortunately, awareness of the dramatic character of the universe and life has been absent from most attempts to forge a planetary moral consensus.

Most professional ethical reflection is still excessively anthropocentric, blind to the fact that the earth and our humanity are folded into an immense universe, in which a mysterious ‘working out’ has been underway for billions of years before our own most recent arrival.”(p. 147)   

I probably first read Teilhard’s wonderful book The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960, pp. 144) more than forty years ago. At that time I thought it was a very important book. Today it seems to me more important than ever. Reading John Haught’s books has convinced me that Teilhard was way ahead of his time. His insights into Christian Revelation and into evolution are both informative and inspiring. 

In The Divine Milieu  Teilhard offers an example to illustrate his basic Christian vision. Forty years ago I thought the example was excellent and I have reflected on it often since the time I read Teilhard’s book. In the book Teilhard imagines a woman sewing a garment. He wrote that this simple action was significant because of Christ’s redemptive presence.

Each time she moves her needle through the garment she is restoring order in however small a way. Teilhard claimed that each time the woman pushes the needle through the garment she is encountering Christ. There is no such reality as an unimportant person and there need be no such reality as an unimportant activity.

Thinking about why the vision of the universe presented by Haught and Teilhard appeals so much to me I thought back to my student days in college and in the seminary. I had a strong desire to put everything I learned from books, professors, spiritual directors and classmates into some type of unified vision. It was not just a desire to have a unified intellectual outlook, though that was part of it, but to have an outlook that I could translate into my everyday life.

This desire I must have spoken about frequently because I recall a classmate  saying to me in a discussion group something like the following: “Bob, you’re always talking about integrating different currents and ideas into a unified whole. You must think that is very important.” I believe this memory has come back to me because Haught and Teilhard present the most unified and integrated outlook I have ever encountered.

Their knowledge and their faith are broad enough and deep enough to include the entire cosmos. Nothing is excluded, nothing is left out.  If sewing a garment is one way to encounter Christ, then there are unlimited ways to encounter Christ.

Teilhard has chosen a very fitting dedication for his book. He precedes the dedication with a line from scripture: “Sic Deus dilexit mundum,” which is the Latin for “God so loved the world.” He follows that with his dedication: “For those who love the world.”

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.