Arts and Culture

Hidden Dynamo Drives Human Spirit Toward the Infinite Good

by Father Robert Lauder

Almost everything that I have read in W. Norris Clarke’s book, Person and Being (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1993, p. 113), I want to share with others. When, in rereading the book, I come upon what I think is an exciting insight, I want to tell friends about it.

While preparing a class presentation on the book, I try to think of ways that will make the insights clear to those attending the lecture. I find especially interesting and insightful what Father Clarke says about the human person in relation to God.

The Jesuit philosopher writes the following:

“The innate, unrestricted drive of the human spirit … toward the Infinite Good is the great hidden dynamo that energizes our whole lives, driving us on to ever new levels of growth and development, and refusing to let us be ultimately contented with any merely finite, especially material, goods, whether we understand consciously what is going on within us or not, whether we can explicitly identify our final goal or not” (p. 37).

Rooted in Desire for God

Put very simply and succinctly, what Father Clarke is saying is that our desire for God is what is at the root of all of our activities. We cannot stop asking questions. When we hear that statement or read that statement, we immediately ask ourselves if it is true that we cannot stop asking questions. We even question whether we must ask questions! We want to know, and we do not merely want to know what is interesting; we want to know what is true. God is the Ultimate Truth, and all other truths depend for their existence on God.[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.

Not only do we desire the truth, but we also desire the good. We cannot choose anything that does not in some way appear to be good. God is the ultimate good, and everything else that is good depends on God. Even when we choose to sin, we choose to do so because something appears good to us.

Of course, the classic depiction of choosing sin because what is being chosen looks good is our first parents’ choice to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent has told them that they will be like gods if they eat the fruit.

Isn’t all temptation something like this? Isn’t it true that every time we sin, we are not only rejecting God but also rejecting the truth of who we are, namely God’s creatures? A theologian friend of mine says that basic to growing in holiness is the ability to look in the mirror and say “There is a God and I am not He!”

Reflecting on Father Clarke’s insistence that the unrestricted drive of the human spirit is toward the infinite good, I can appreciate the value of asceticism. We can easily be seduced into settling for lesser goods. Of course, we settle for “lesser goods” when we sin, but I am thinking of other choices which we make that may not be sins but which do not help the “great hidden dynamo” to stay on focus and nourish and direct it toward our “final goal.”

Father Clarke’s insight could help us in making all decisions but, perhaps because I teach at a university, I am thinking of how our drive toward the truth and the good can be helped through formal education. Studying, listening to lectures, taking exams and writing papers can be a great burden, but if the education is properly directing the “unrestricted drive of the spirit,” the education is more than worth all the effort that it demands.

The Real World

Whenever I hear seniors at St. John’s University say something like “When I graduate, I will be entering the real world,” I usually respond, “No, you are now in the real world. When you graduate, you will be entering the world of shadows. You may never again have the opportunity you now have to enter deeply into the real world.” I hope my statement helps them to think about what a gift education is.

In our search for the true and the good, we can easily be seduced into pursuing lesser truths and lesser goods.

In many ways, our society tries to convince us that we need all sorts of things that we do not really need. I know a mother of teenagers who has done an excellent job of helping her children see when false needs are being nurtured by advertising. I still marvel at how often religious language is used in advertising: “This perfume is heavenly!” or “This automobile is salvation!”

I agree completely with Father Clarke’s observation that the great hidden dynamo toward the Infinite Good energizes our whole lives. What a wonderful adventure human living is! It’s a journey toward God.