First in a series
REFLECTING ON THE mystery of God’s love relationship with us, I started to think about how a human love relationship develops. This helped me to understand better the gift dimension of God’s relationship with us. I think a human love relationship involves a kind of a rhythm of giving and receiving. So does a love relationship with God.
Imagine a romantic love relationship that culminates in the life commitment of marriage, or imagine a deep friendship between two people, who are not married, but are the best of friends and the friendship continues to grow deeper. Both relationships might begin in various ways. However they begin, I believe the initial attraction involves some kind of gift of one person to the other. The gift might be a smile, an observation that one person makes, or some opinion that one person expresses. Whatever the gift is, the other person is attracted and in some way accepts the gift and responds to it. Perhaps the response is returning a smile, making a comment or entering into a conversation.
A Special Presence
As the relationship develops, the conversations become more personal and deeper, and the time spent together lengthens. As the two people enter more deeply into each other’s lives, they find that they are willing to reveal more and more about themselves. Each finds in the other a special presence, an increasingly important presence. The mutual attraction continues and develops, seemingly with no limit to how deep the relationship can become.
Recently, someone in describing her boyfriend, said to me: “When I first met him, I couldn’t stand him. Now I can’t live without him.”
I believe that Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed a profound truth in the opening lines of his poem, “God’s Grandeur.” He wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
All Creation Resembles God
In the last 10 years or so, I have changed my attitude toward the world of nature and animals. I have come to believe that all creatures are gifts from God and that we can have relationships with every type of creature, ultimately because every creature resembles God in some way. The mutuality between a person and an object of nature, such as a tree or a dog, does not seem to have the potential for development and depth that a relationship between two persons has. However, I suspect that some people have close and fruitful relationships with creatures who are not persons.
Of course, we cannot force interpersonal relationships to happen. For an interpersonal relationship to materialize, each person must be ready for it to happen, and willing to allow it to happen. In order for it to take place, I think a sense of the dignity and richness of a human being should be part of the attitude of each person.
I have an image of someone who had an amazing sense of the importance and dignity of every person. When I was in college I heard about The Catholic Worker, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Members of the Worker live on the Bowery and perform corporal works of mercy. They do not proselytize, but bear witness to their Catholic faith by the way they live. On most Friday evenings, there is a lecture. In my third year of college, I decided to go hear one of those lectures. The evening I attended, the speaker was a priest from France.
Dignity of the Person
In the question-and-answer period that followed, a man stood up who was obviously emotionally disturbed. When he spoke, he made little sense. As he continued speaking, I became impatient. Then I looked over at Dorothy Day. She was looking at the questioner and listening to him as though he was Thomas Aquinas! Day did not relate to people with great respect for the dignity of the person only on Friday evenings. She related that way all the time. If I could do that, not only would I be the giver of a gift. I would be the recipient of countless gifts.
The notion of persons exchanging the gift of themselves in interpersonal human relationships takes on an awesome meaning when applied to God’s relation to us. God’s self-gift is God. If we ask why the Creator of the universe wants to enter into a love relationship with each of us, the only answer I can offer is that God is Love.
All the experiences of gift and love that we have with other persons are dim, finite reflections of the Infinite Love Who is God.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).