Theologian Michael Himes and I go back a long way. I first met Michael about a month after I had been ordained a priest and Michael had just graduated from grammar school. So I was about 26 years old, and Michael was about 14.
How could I have ever guessed that in God’s Providence Michael would become one of my favorite theologians, a theologian who has influenced my life profoundly?
His latest gift in my life is an essay entitled “Finding God in All Things: A Sacramental Worldview and Its Effects” (As Leaven in the World: Cattholic Perspectives on Faith, Vocation and the Intellectual Life, Editor Thomas M. Landy, Sheed & Ward, Collegium, 2001).
The worldview that Michael presents is both very insightful and very inspiring. I hope I will be able to make it the way I view God and God’s creation.
Michael stresses that God is Ultimate Mystery and that, while it is possible to make true statements about God, it is not possible to make clear statements about God. I think the point Michael is making is extremely important. There is a danger to which we are all tempted. We can shrink God to some image or idea we have of God. For example whenever I pray the Our Father an image of an old man with a white beard appears in my mind. Now I know that God the Father is not an old man with a white beard and I can move beyond that image, but I have seen that image of God the Father so often that it spontaneously pops into my mind. In fact, on the wall outside my room, I have a large copy of Michelangelo’s painting of creation, and in that painting the great artist depicted God the Father as an old man with a white beard.
In a philosophy course I teach at St. John’s University about God I try to impress on the students that God is a mystery too deep for us to ever completely comprehend. The Roman Catholic existentialist philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, claimed that when we speak about God, it is not God about whom we are speaking. I think Marcel was commenting on our tendency to reduce God to an image or idea we can understand. However, while we should be careful in our speech, we cannot be completely silent.
What is it that God gives to creation? Father Himes writes the following:
“Creation exists so God can give God’s self to creation. That gift of self is what is meant by agape, love. Creation exists because it is the object of love. Love, agape, is the only ground for its existence. So deep is this claim in the Christian tradition that Christianity actually insists that it is the least wrong way to understand what we mean by the Mystery that grounds and surrounds all that exists.”
As I am writing Michael’s words, the first lines of Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur” come into my mind: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Everything that God creates resembles God in some way. Philosophers talk about the transcendentals which characterize each being that God creates. The transcendentals are being, one, true, good and beautiful. Every being is one, true, good and beautiful. God cannot create evil. God can create creatures such as us who because of our freedom can perform evil actions such as sins, but because God is infinitely good, God cannot create evil.
I wonder what my life would be like if I could recall in my personal relationships everyone is good, true and beautiful. I am imagining how I would act if the truth that God has created me and each person I meet out of love permeated my outlook on persons. Would I ever hold a grudge? Would I ever refuse to forgive someone? Would I be experiencing awe and wonder in my every day activities instead of anxiety and worry? I suspect I would. The beauty and goodness of God and God’s creatures might have a special place in my consciousness and in my conscience.
Michael explains that agape is a special kind of love. It is a pure self- gift demanding no response. It is not earned or won or merited. It is a gift. This is the love that grounds all creation, grounds the existence of persons and all other creatures. Why does God create? Posing that question, Michael writes the following: “The reason that anything exists is that it is the object of God’s love. All things that are, are loved into being. The fundamental ground for anything is that it is called into being because God loves it. … the universe gives nothing to God: rather God gives something to it, namely God’s self. Why? …Because that’s what God is like: overflowing love.”
God is overflowing love. WOW!
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.