Arts and Culture

Exploring Radical Incompleteness

by Father Robert Lauder

Fourth in a series

One of the benefits in reading Father Michael Paul Gallagher’s Faith Maps: Ten Religious Explorers from Newman to Joseph Ratzinger (New York: Paulist Press, 2010, 158 pages, $16.95) has been learning more about important thinkers in the history of philosophy and theology that I had only a slight knowledge of prior to reading this book. For example, until reading Faith Maps, I had a sense that Maurice Blondel was an important thinker and that his vision probably was influential in the thinking that went into the documents of Vatican II but I had never studied his thought.
In studying Father Gallagher’s treatment of Blondel, I have come to realize how relevant the Frenchman’s vision is for today, perhaps especially for some young Catholics, and by young I mean between the ages of 20 and 40. I notice on Sunday mornings in the parish church where I celebrate the Eucharist the absence of people in this age group. Many young Catholics don’t seem to see the importance of religion, don’t appreciate how crucial religious questions are and that how a person answers those questions can influence an individual’s life.
My understanding of Blondel’s philosophy is that this thinker, who seems to have been way ahead of his time, wants to call attention to our finitude. He wants us to see that our lives are radically incomplete, always more or less unfulfilled. There is a radical need in each of us that we can avoid facing for some time but when we do face it, important questions arise: What is this need within us and what does it tell us about ourselves? Can we fulfill ourselves or must we look to another?
Commenting on Blondel’s thought, Father Gallagher writes the following:
“Faith is a relational response to a Word of Love, and this response is always more than an intellectual affair. It is marked by movement into the unknown…It is an adventure of the whole person with the changing contexts of life. And if it is authentic faith, it will embody itself in practices that resist and challenge the dominant culture. As Jesus said, his disciples will be recognizable by their love.
…What God wants of us coincides, in a surprising way, with what we most deeply desire. We share in God’s freedom and even in God’s loving. Such graced companionship can sometimes be experienced in the life of a believer, and when this consolation comes, we know without explanations that this is the true music of existence. Here we can feel, as one of the Gospel parables says, the joy of discovering the treasure hidden in the field of life.” (pp. 28-29)
I like Blondel’s reflections on faith and human experience but the question that bothers me is how can we help young people see their deepest needs and understand what those needs say about them in relation to God and to religion. There are many distractions in people’s lives and it is easy to focus on needs other than the need for God. It is also easy to think that what is a need for God can be satisfied by some reality less than God. Of course this can never happen. St. Augustine articulated a profound truth when he said that our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.
In philosophy classes at St. John’s University I try to help students ask questions about themselves and the meaning of God. For those young people who do not attend the Eucharist I obviously cannot reach them through my homilies. I wonder if the best approach might be a one-to-one conversation in which I might encourage them to discuss what they think of the Eucharist and what they make of the need within them that always points to their radical incompleteness.
Some life-changing experiences might move us to ask the ultimate questions we previously avoided. All of us can profit from taking Blondel’s insights seriously. Our culture does not encourage us to ask ultimate questions about our most important needs. In fact, it often seems to do the opposite. Contemporary culture can distract us and even seduce us into preoccupation with the superficial rather than with what is deepest within us. Blondel can help us to be countercultural.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.

2 thoughts on “Exploring Radical Incompleteness

  1. Lauder writes:

    “I have come to realize how relevant the Frenchman’s vision is for today, perhaps especially for some young Catholics, and by young I mean between the ages of 20 and 40. I notice on Sunday mornings in the parish church where I celebrate the Eucharist the absence of people in this age group.”

    These 20-40 year olds are not in church because they were never taught the Catholic faith in the post Vatican II period when there was no area of Catholic faith and morals that wasn’t questioned/attacked/rejected due precisely to people like Blondel whose pernicious ideas permeated Catholic catecetics!

    Blondel, Rahner, von Bathasar, du Lubac, et al. were targeted in Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical “Humani Generis” ominously subtitled “Cetain Errors Which Threaten to Destroy the Catholic Faith”.

    In “Humani Generis” Pius XII warned to abandon the scholastic theology would leave Catholic faith and morals as a “reed blowing in the wind”.

    Foresightful considering the weakening of Catholic faith and morals in the wake of the Vatican II “renewal”.

    Instead of the classical definition of “the matching of mind and reality,” Blondel’s definition is “the real matching of mind and life.”…Truth evolves…with nothing ever determined or fixed.

    Incredibly, in the polical wind change that occurred at the death of Pius XII in 1958, these censured theologians surfaced as “theological experts” (periti) at Vatican II.

    No question the current disconnect between the pre/post-Vatican II Church is due to the contradiction between Pius XII’s magisterium as expressed in “Humani Generis” and “Mediator Dei” and Vatican II.

    Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity” appears to be a futile attempt to reconcile the magisterium of Pius XII and his predecessors with the Vatican II “reform”.