As I have mentioned in previous columns, I am enjoying Sebastian Moore’s extraordinary book “The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger” (The Seabury Press, 1977, pp. 116).
While Moore has some wonderful insights, the book is demanding. It is a book to read and re-read, and then reflect. When I eventually grasp some point that Moore is making, I find that my effort was well spent because the writing is both deep and original. I think that I am getting much more from the book than I did when I first read it 20 or more years ago.
There is one passage that has moved me to think about the profound mystery that each of us is. We can always go deeper and see more clearly as we reflect on our lives. When reflecting on a mystery, I become aware of something new and simultaneously become aware of how little I understand completely. It is an experience I would describe as a chiaroscuro, a mixture of light and darkness.
A friend of mine, a psychotherapist, was in therapy for 20 years. One reason he stayed in therapy for so long was that he found it helped him to help others. I said to him. “After 20 years, what do you have left to talk about?”
He responded “There’s always something.”
Mystery of Humanity
The following is the passage in Moore’s book that set me thinking about the deep mystery that each of us is:
“Man has a secret operative in all he desires, wills, and creates. It is, that, finally, he does not believe in himself. Balancing all his achievements, there is the death-wish. The latter reaches, in times of crisis and decay, … a dangerous degree of overtness. But even in the time of flowering it was there. Not only does man know that he will die. He lets this fact speak to him of the vanity of all that he strives for.
“But this will-not-to-be is no mere weakness. It resists the power which calls man into being and which, in his consciousness, calls him to being, to identity, to personhood, to himself. The will-not-to-be desires to undo the order of being that represents this power, to make it not the case that man is called to an ever-greater intensity of selfhood.” (p. 13)
Of course, to resist the “power which calls him” is to resist God. I suspect this is what all of us do. St. Paul wrote that the good he wanted to do, he did not do, and the evil he did not want to do, he did. Moore’s quote can remind us that there are no unimportant persons. There is no one who is not being called by God to full personhood. There is no one who is not involved in an ongoing dialogue with God, a dialogue that either leads to a deeper relationship or unfortunately, to a distancing, a weakening of relationship. God is all for us, inviting us to a deeper level of living and loving.
Though our culture does not encourage deep reflection about ourselves or our lives, there are many ways that we can be counter-cultural and enter into deep reflection. I think education can help us do this. I suspect that listening to beautiful music can help us to be more reflective. Reading good magazines can help us to be more reflective about how we are directing our lives.
The film festivals that I conduct are attempts to encourage people to see films that are great art and can lead to deep reflection. This is also the reason that I have been involved for 30 years in an adult education program centered on Catholic novels. Reading a great novel can broaden our horizons and set us thinking about what is most important in our lives.
Submitting to spiritual direction with an intelligent spiritual director can help us. So too can psychotherapy.
I have come to believe that prayer can lead us into the depth of both God and ourselves. Perhaps this is the most important and effective way to grow as persons. What I think is that an honest and open presence to God is the most effective way to enter into the depth of our personhood.
Moore’s insight, expressed in the passage that I quoted, reminds us that God is not against us, but is trying to lead us to the fullness of personhood. This is one truth about God that we are trying to express when we say that God is Love.
Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).