Arts and Culture

Grace and Community

Second in a series

Since writing about community last week, I have been thinking about various groups to which I belong: the Catholic clergy of the Brooklyn Diocese, St. John’s University faculty and the United States population among others. I think the most important group in which I participate is the Catholic Church. I think being Catholic affords me the opportunity to experience community at the deepest level, to influence others in the most radical way and to be influenced by others in the most radical way. It gives me a vision of reality that encourages me to both receive God’s blessings from others and be a channel of God’s blessings for others.

Finding and forming community is not easy. All sorts of distractions can stand in the way of deep personal relationships. To enter deeply into the lives of others takes time and effort, and so does allowing others to enter deeply into our own lives.

In his book, “Freedom in the Modern World” (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1932), the personalist philosopher John Macmurray writes the following:

“A person’s faith is his supreme principle of valuation. It is only by our faith that we can decide what is most worth having in life, among all the things that are worth having. Without a faith, I shall find everything that attracts me in life equally valuable and I shall be without the capacity to choose between them. I shall be governed by my likes and dislikes, and as these shift and change by the accidents of the changing world in which we live, I shall be without unity of purpose, tossed about from one accidental want to another. And the life that is without a persistent and controlling principle of order in the choices is a life without order and without sanity.” (p. 7)

Macmurray goes on to claim that society without a common faith also suffers and lacks unity. I believe that if I try to think as seriously and deeply as I can about the meaning of community, I have to appeal to the mystery of human person and God’s revelation. In his book, “Christian Sacraments and Christian Personality (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965), commenting on the mystery of person, Bernard Cooke writes the following:

“… Because of our distinctive powers of knowledge and affectivity we are able to extend our sphere of knowing and loving far beyond what we can see and hear and touch. Given enough time and proper scientific instruments, we can penetrate thousands of years into the past and millions of miles into space. This means we have an incredible capacity for enriching our way of being-a conscious and loving way of being. … Again, our ambitions and hopes are not limited to what pertains solely to ourselves. Rather through what we call personal friendship, we can identify the good, the hopes and the ambitions of others as our own. We can, quite literally, seek their good as if it were our own good. As a matter of fact, because of our love for them it does become our own good. (pp. 66-67)

Reflecting on human persons’ capacity to enter love relationships, I am tempted to write “Wow,” but God’s gift of grace reveals much more. On this, Cooke writes:

“Sanctifying grace comes to this open way of being, to this root of personal spiritual activity, and transforms it. Grace exists to be a further opening up, a reorientation, a redirecting, a transforming intensification. … Grace comes as a radical transformation, developing the potential of man’s nature, bringing its capabilities to fuller realization. God’s personal way of being is superior to man’s; it absorbs man’s into itself without destroying any of its own intrinsic values. ‘Grace builds on nature, it does not destroy it.’ This supernatural life, therefore, touches us at the very core of our being, at the very root of all our human activity, expanding our basic personal openness so that a whole new range of being and activity is now ours.

“Because of this amplified power of personal activity, we are able to relate ourselves in direct familiarity to the three divine Persons as distinct persons. We are able to include them within the sphere of our own conscious living. Because of this new relationship to the divine, we can relate ourselves in a more profound way to created persons and to the entire create universe. This we do exercising the new life powers of faith, hope and charity, which spring from the transformation of our nature in grace.” (pp. 67-68)

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).

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