Arts and Culture

Becoming Aware of Inexhaustible Love

There is so much in theologian Father Michael Himes’ essay “Finding God in All Things: A Sacramental Worldview and Its Effects” (Biblio) that I have re-read it several times. I plan to save the essay and refer to it often in the future.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I find Father Himes’ insights into the Mystery of God and the mystery of God’s presence in the world thrilling.  The insights provide a beautiful view of both God and of us because of God’s inexhaustible love of us. Father Himes’ ideas are so inspiring that that I want to tell everyone I know about them.

Noting that in the Catholic Church we call sacraments anything that makes grace effectively present, Himes  points out that grace means the self–giving of God Who is Love to all God’s creatures; the presence of God to all that is not God. Besides the seven sacraments, there are an unlimited number of sacraments. Michael writes the following:

“By sacrament I mean any person, place, thing or event, any sight, sound, or smell, that causes us to notice the love which supports all that exists, that undergirds your being and mine and the being of everything about us. The number is virtually infinite, as many as there are things in the universe. There is nothing that cannot be a sacrament — absolutely nothing — even, as St. Augustine observed, sin. Within the context of repentance, sin can be the occasion for us to realize how deeply loved we are.”

I especially like some of the insights that Father Michael offers about asceticism.

In class at St. John’s University I frequently mention that vows are not chains that bind us but rather commitments that free us. I will use one example that helps me to see that a commitment, rather than narrowing our world, expands it; rather than shrinking our experience, deepens it. Imagine a playboy who has many love affairs.

Eventually he decides to marry a woman whom he loves very much. He takes the marriage vows seriously and focuses his love on his wife. There is an obvious way that he has become less free. He is no longer free to pursue his promiscuous style of living, and in that one sense his freedom is curtailed.

However I believe that his commitment to his wife makes available a freedom that he did not have when he was sexually promiscuous. There is no limit to the freedom he can achieve through his commitment to his wife.

I suggest that the three vows, the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience are not to make the person less free but to make the person more free.Father Himes writes the following:

“Asceticism is not self-denial in order to please a mildly sadistic deity. Rather, its goal is to discipline oneself sufficiently so that one can move beyond one’s hopes, dreams, fears, wants, and expectations to see, what is, in fact, there. Asceticism is a training to see reality, not what one expects, hopes or fears to see…The Catholic conviction is that if one sees what is there to be seen, one will discover grace, the love that undergirds all that exists. The ascetic beholds the omnipresence of grace.”

Belief in the omnipresence of grace, the omnipresence of Infinite Love, seems almost too good to be true. In the view that Father Himes is presenting, all of created reality can be telling us about God’s love and encouraging us to believe as deeply as we can in the presence of that love, to celebrate the presence of that love, to allow that love to support us, to allow that love to transform us, to encourage us to imitate that love in our own daily living.

Though I have never thought of theology as an abstract speculative way of thinking that has little relevance even in the lives of believers, reading Father Himes’ essay has emphasized for me the importance of theology. In a society in which a totally secular vision of reality seems omnipresent, theology takes on a new importance. In every philosophy course that I teach at St. John’s University I began the course with a few lectures on the philosophy of secular humanism. The reason I do that is because I think the secularistic vision permeates the culture in which the students and I are trying to study a philosophical vision of reality that is very different from the secularistic view. For example, I want students who take a course with me on the Mystery of God to realize that what we are doing in the classroom may not be implemented by much in the world outside the classroom.

Father Himes’ insights remind us that at the deepest level of reality, the God Who is Infinite Love is embracing us and calling us into a love relationship. That’s the good news that we need to hear as often as possible.