by Father Robert Lauder
Fourteenth in a Series
I FIND THE VIEW of philosopher-theologian Bernard Lonergan as presented by Father Michael Paul Gallagher in Faith Maps: Ten Religious Explorers from Newman to Joseph Ratzinger (New York: Paulist Press, 2010, 158 pages, $16.95) exceptionally insightful.
Lonergan’s analysis of our society in so far as it presents obstacles to religious faith speaks to my experience. Often I meet people who either cannot ask important questions about the meaning of their existence in the world or who, for some reason, have decided not to deal with such questions. Reading Lonergan’s insights into our society I have made a resolution to encourage people, especially those who no longer attend the Eucharist, to ask themselves questions about what they believe and why they believe what they do. I plan also to ask them what they believe about the Eucharist. To be honest I have to admit that I am stunned by the number of people I know who once regularly attended the Sunday Eucharist but now almost never attend.
Of course thinking about the faith is not the same as thinking about some scientific experiment. Nor was Lonergan’s response to the difficulties that our society places before our faith only a response that encourages us to think differently. Rather Lonergan thought we should try to reach a level of human authenticity. This involves realizing that our freedom means that we are responsible for what we do as human persons.
It is not too much to insist that we are in charge of our lives, and the responsibility is awesome, perhaps even frightening. Of course there are many persons and events that influence us. I think of my family and the schools I attended. Freud claimed that between the ages of three and six our basic personality was formed for life. Amazing! I disagree, but I have to admit that our families play an incredibly significant role in our lives. For many of us the schools we attended also played a big role in our growth or, unfortunately for some, in their decline.
Lonergan seemed to think that the strongest force in our lives should be love. With this view I agree completely. Lonergan refers to falling in love as an extremely important experience. Father Gallagher writes the following about the role love plays in the human adventure that leads to God:
“The climax of this adventure has not been mentioned; it involves the peak of our freedom where another reality enters the scene. That reality is love. Lonergan speaks of the event of falling in love as opening a person to a new state of ‘being in love’, and of how this new horizon ‘takes over’ as the source of one’s whole life…The experience of love anchors a person’s energies; it is the contrary of a life of drifting….Of course love takes different forms. There is a love of intimacy between people, and there is also a ‘being in love with God’ which ‘can be as full and as dominant, as overwhelming and as lasting an experience as human love’…(p. 69)
Lonergan pays special attention to the religious experience of being in love with God. For the Canadian Jesuit, the religious experience of being in love with God is the highest fulfillment of our capacity for self-transcendence. There are many ways that we can freely transcend ourselves, go beyond where we are in life, enter another level of maturity or fulfill some other need or desire that we have. For Lonergan nothing is greater or more fulfilling of our capacity for self-transcendence than the experience of being in love with God.
I find especially beautiful Lonergan’s insight that faith is a knowledge that comes about through religious love. I know that for much of my life I thought of my relationship with God as picking myself up by my own bootstraps, and deepening my relationship with God on my own. Perhaps this error is tied to the model that is often presented in our society of the “self-made man.”
I believe we can never reflect too often or too deeply about the amazing truth that the same God Who is creating the universe loves and is in love with each of us.[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.