In every philosophy course that I teach at St. John’s University, I start the course by pointing out to the students the distinction between a problem and a mystery as understood by the existentialist personalist philosopher, Gabriel Marcel. According to Marcel there were a number of important differences between a problem and a mystery.
For most of my life when I heard about people who were called mystics I thought immediately of great saints such as Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. My limited knowledge of mystics led me to think that only those who were monks or cloistered nuns were mystics.
As millions and millions of prayers are offered to God, in His infinite love God answers every single one. I think God wants everyone to be in a deep relation with God. None of those millions and millions of prayers are wasted. I guess the bottom line is God is Love and always wants what is best for us. That does not solve the mystery of prayer but it should help us to trust and hope.
Throughout his book, “Learning to Pray” (New York: HarperOne, 2021, pp. 386, $27.99), Father James Martin stresses the important role that sacred scripture can play as we approach God in prayer. This should not come as a surprise to Catholics since we believe that scripture is the inspired word of God.
Frequently while reading Father James Martin’s Learning to Pray, I had the experience of coming upon an insight that I immediately thought would be beneficial to me when I pray. Often the insight seemed relatively obvious to me.
I first met Father James Martin, S.J., about 15 years ago. His reputation had preceded him. I had read some of his writings and I had heard about some talks that he gave. Not long after I met Father Martin I asked him to write a comment for the cover of a book I had written. He did, and after that, a friendship developed.
The truth that we must die to self must frighten me. Though through faith I can handle my emotional reaction, it strikes me that I should examine my reaction, reflect on it to see if I can understand it better, and perhaps use it to grow.
I teach several philosophy courses at St. John’s University in which I spend a number of classes on the topic of truth. At the start of my first presentation, I stress that what we will read and discuss about truth is one of the most important sections of the course. I believe that what I teach about the meaning of truth is true and I challenge the students to prove me wrong.
Reflecting back on my experience of my years of teaching philosophy, especially teaching about the mystery of the human person, I am very aware of how much my views of what it means to be a human person have changed. Lately because of what I am reading and teaching I am very aware of how much my view of freedom has changed.
The late Father Andrew Greeley frequently expressed in print his view that beauty can draw us toward God. It can act like a sacrament revealing God to us and drawing us closer to the Infinite Beauty who God is. I never disagreed with Andy’s insight but I don’t think I ever gave it as much thought as I should have.