Sixth in a series
ANYONE WHO READS this column with some regularity may have noticed that one of my strong beliefs is that there is no human activity, except sin, that cannot draw us closer to God. We are surrounded by God’s love and I think that many activities can help us grow into a deeper relationship with God. This is one reason why I agree with and strongly appreciate Pope Francis emphasizing that God is part of everyone’s life. I confess that I did not always think that. Now I am amazed and embarrassed that there was a time when I thought that God was absent from some people’s lives.
There was a time in my life when I thought that some people had driven God completely out of their lives. I no longer believe that. Now I believe that there is absolutely nothing that people can do that would cause God not to be part of their lives. God’s love for us is more powerful than any sin we might commit.
In his “Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality” (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000, pp. 143, $12), Michael Downey writes the following:
“Sexual exchange, the perception and pursuit of truth, beauty and justice, art, architecture, and music are all expressions of a deep desire for communion, giving form to the magnitude of God’s love. They are to be recognized as authentic ways of participation in the divine life. Indeed, all authentic forms of interpersonal communication and communion are paths of deification. …
“Every living thing participates in some measure in God’s being. Now, if God is understood as personal, as being toward and for, then every living thing is toward and for the other, existing to varying degrees in communion with the God whose providential plan is not just for the salvation of the human race, but for the salvation of the whole world. Everything that is reaches its destiny by existing toward and for the praise of God’s glory.” (pp. 75-76)
When I think of God’s involvement in all of creation, I am awestruck. From the stars above us to the ground under our feet, God is present and all of this is graced in the sense that all of it can lead us to be toward and for God. I am not proud of this, but I am not a “nature person” in the sense that for most of my life I have not appreciated the beauty of God’s creation. Since the appearance of Pope Francis’ magnificent encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” I have been trying to think more globally and view all creation as God’s gift. The view of creation that Downey presents means that there are no human activities that cannot draw us closer to God. In that sense, all of creation is a grace, a gift bestowed on us by God for our growth, and if welcomed, that can help us be more like Christ.
If we accept the view of creation that Downey presents, then we may be able to give our lives beauty and a striking unity. We can avoid living in a way that might be described as schizophrenic in the sense that we split our lives into two sections: one for what we might call “holy activities,” and another that is secular. If by secular we mean an area from which God is totally absent, there is no such area. All of creation is filled with God’s presence.
This view of reality helps me to think that many people might be drawing closer to God without engaging in activities that we normally think of as religious, such as regularly attending church. I am all for people attending church and celebrating the Eucharist, but perhaps some people, who through no fault of their own, don’t recognize the meaning of the Eucharist, are meeting God in other ways. Believing that there are such people fits with my experience of many people who don’t seem religious in the usual way, but who seem to be very good. It’s possible that some of them are holier than some of us who are outwardly religious.
In God’s creation there are many ways of growing closer to God. This should help us who consciously express our faith in Christ to refrain from judging others. We don’t know who is and who is not close to God. It is important that we don’t forget that. If it is true, and I think it is, that all authentic forms of interpersonal communication and communion are paths toward God, then God may be touching the hearts and souls of so many people.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).