by Father Robert Lauder
Fifth in a Series
WHEN I read a good book that speaks to me about what I take to be important in life, I want to share the author’s insights with others. When I become enthusiastic about some book, I want to share not only the author’s insights but also my enthusiasm with others. That is what has moved me to write this series of columns based on Father Michael Paul Gallagher’s Faith Maps: Ten Religious Explorers from Newman to Joseph Ratzinger (New York: Paulist Press, 2010, 158 pages, $16.95). I will state my reaction to the book simply and clearly: I think Faith Maps is a terrific book!
In last week’s column I discussed the insights of Maurice Blondel and even after finishing last week’s column I have continued to think about the marvelous insights of this French philosopher. At the beginning of his chapter on Blondel, Father Gallagher has the following quotation from Blondel’s book, Action: Essay on a Critique of Life and a Science of Practice Notre Dame, Indiana:
“Yes or no, has life a meaning and do human beings have a destiny? I act without knowing what action is, without having wished to live, without really knowing who I am…I seem condemned to life, condemned to death, condemned to eternity! Why and by what right, if I have neither known it or willed it?” (p. 24).
The questions that Blondel poses are the type of questions that everyone should ask. I know that our society does not encourage us to ask these type of questions and that is really unfortunate. If we are reflective we can start asking ourselves questions about why we live the way we do and whether there is any ultimate, important meaning to our lives and whether we are missing the meaning of that Mystery, that Mystery Who is God. It is not just the professional philosopher or theologian who should ask these questions. All of us should examine our lives and evaluate what we think is really important. But what in contemporary culture would encourage us to ask such questions?
Reading Father Gallagher’s treatment of Blondel I am reminded of the Catholic existentialist novelist Walker Percy. In his six novels Percy made much of what he called the “malaise.” By the “malaise,” I think Percy meant a way of living that lacked enthusiasm and excitement, a way of living that was not really in touch with what is most important. I think he was trying to describe a situation in which some contemporary people find themselves.
Instead of living deeply immersed in the Mystery of God, the person in the malaise is just drifting through life. In his novels Percy often depicts people transcending the malaise through some experience of love. I believe Blondel would know exactly what Percy was trying to say because in his own reflections Blondel was trying to help people focus on what is important, on the great Mystery that envelops every single human person.
Father Gallagher writes the following:
“Although he does not quote the Gospel that ‘without me you can do nothing,’ a key conversion comes, according to Blondel when we admit that left to our own devices we are incapable of fulfilling our hopes. This is the paradox of the human condition as Blondel presents it. A confession of impotence becomes a spring-board towards a greater freedom. We can then move from acting without a compass to a moment of decision,…We are faced with two roads. One possibility is to stay embedded in self-sufficiency…The second involves an openness to change, entailing ‘a death passing on to life’…In scriptural terms he is close to St. Paul’s core transformation from self-effort to trust (Phil. 3:9) (p. 26)
I want to emphasize again what I tried to emphasize in last week’s column. Blondel is not interested in some abstract, excessively speculative kind of thinking which is not in touch with a person’s actual life. It is not just the mind that is important, the heart is at least equally important. I think that getting involved in some activity or program which involves reaching out to help others is essential. It is beneficial not just for the people who are helped but for the person who is offering the service.
Blondel’s insights have helped me to see not only that I should try to help others be generous and loving in their relationships but that this will make the presence of God more real to them. Blondel’s insights have motivated me to try to be more generous and loving in apostolates that I am involved in as a priest. I believe that as I try to help others experience the presence of God in their lives, I will experience God’s presence in my own life.