Fourth in a series
REGULAR READERS of this column know I teach philosophy at St. John’s University, and much of what appears in this column is a mixture of philosophy and theology.
My study of philosophy and the many years that I have been teaching it have enriched my understanding, I hope, of both human persons and God. Both the human person and God are profound mysteries. We can enter into those mysteries more and more deeply through reflection, love and prayer. Because humans are created in God’s image, contemplating what it means to be human can lead to a more profound grasp of God’s love for us. Trying to love can expand our conscience. Loving can free us to see and know in a new way.
In his book about the philosophy of French existentialist-personalist “Gabriel Marcel” (Regnery/Gateway Inc., 1963), Seymour Cain provides provocative insights that are informative and inspiring. Explaining Marcel’s view of human persons and God, he writes:
“God is not Thou for me alone, nor am I alone thou for Him. Indeed He is only Thou for me in a community of all other beings, which I ‘intend’ (direct myself, or tend toward) when I intend Him. I embrace-not forsake all others. My relation to the Absolute Thou is not an acosmic one in which I hurdle over a world which is as indifferent to me as I am to it … Indeed, I am only as other beings count for me, and when I enter into a thou-relation with God, I will that all other beings will be thou for Him too. ‘I hope in Thee for us’ says Marcel in his later work. Given the concept of a creative and redeeming God, it is, indeed, questionable whether for God anything can be merely ‘it,’ absolutely unlovable and irredeemable, a mere datum – one of the empirical facts of life.” (p. 40)
I do not think anything can be an “it” for God, that is, unloved and irredeemable. Every being that is, exists because of God’s love. When God loves, being appears. God’s love is literally creative. God creates beings from nothing. Human lovers cannot do that, but human persons are most like God when they are loving.
Philosopher Martin Buber said that love is the godly in existence. When one person loves another, the lover introduces into the life of the beloved a unique creative force. If that love is accepted, the beloved can grow and develop in a special way that the beloved could not accomplish without being loved. I am not referring only to heterosexual love that leads to the conception of a baby. I believe all love is potentially creative. Men can be creative in relation to men. Women can be creative in relation to women. I have even observed children’s love creating their parents.
My own thinking concerning how we should relate to animals and nature has changed through reading personalist philosophers and also reading Pope Francis. Previously, I thought that it was immoral to treat another person as an “it,” but I did not extend that outlook toward nature and animals. Now I think that we should try to imitate God’s love for all God’s creatures.
Marcel’s vision of the human community in union with God is beautiful. It is also demanding. But I think it supports what Christians believe. St. John warned us that anyone who says that he loves God but hates his brother is a liar. We are spiritually closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ than we are physically close to people in our family. While that places demands on our love, it also can be comforting.
As I write this column, there are probably thousands of people around the world praying for me at Eucharistic celebrations. There may be cloistered nuns and monks praying for me. As you read this column, you can make similar statements about people praying for you. No prayer ever goes unheard. No prayer ever goes unanswered.
The author James Joyce wrote that Catholicism means here comes everybody. We are never alone. Of course God is always showering love and blessings upon us, but we are also supported by our brothers and sisters in Christ. Catholicism is a global religion, and we should allow our consciences to become “global” and our love to stretch beyond our immediate environment. On the cross, Jesus’ outstretched arms reached out to embrace everyone. That love should be our model.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).