Arts and Culture

Insights on the Mystery of Person

First in a series

Recently I had an exceptionally interesting experience in a class at St. John’s University in Jamaica. I was trying to help students prepare for an exam so I decided to read aloud some pages from the text we were using in the course to see if the students understood what I was reading. The section in the text was about the mystery of love. I have read and studied the section many times. But as I was reading it to the students, something strange happened. Insights that I had received from the text many times previously seemed to leap off the page. They seemed in some strange way new, as though I was grasping them for the first time or at least seeing more deeply into them.

All of the insights focused on the mystery of person and how a human person is a unique being. What makes the person so different from material things in our experience, and even from animals, is that a human’s nature is to be relational.

Wherever a human being is, that person is in relation. This is because of human consciousness, which is relational. It is impossible just to be conscious. Human consciousness is always consciousness of. We can decide how we will relate, but we can’t decide whether we will relate. God has made us relational beings. The most dynamic, outgoing, lively extrovert is relational; the most lethargic, withdrawn, shy introvert is relational.

The Baltimore Catechism was implicitly calling attention to the relational essence of the human person in its statement that we were made to know and love God in this life and to be happy with God forever in the next life.

My philosophical view of the human person is that each person is on a journey highlighted by knowing and loving, and that each act of knowing and loving can help a person to become aware ­– to some extent – of three mysteries: the mystery of self, the mystery of other human persons and the mystery of God.

No truth that we come to know is ever the final truth. We can’t stop asking questions. This is because our minds are magnetized toward God and no truth less than the Divine Truth Who is God will ever satisfy us. If our desire to know goes unhindered and unblocked, the ultimate goal is the affirmation of God. No love is ever the final love because no finite good is big enough or good enough to satisfy our capacity to love. If our love is not restricted or distracted or in some way misled, then our love points toward an Absolute Good Who is God.

I find it interesting that some atheistic philosophers accept the basic sketch that I have offered of human knowing and loving. In that sense they would agree that our knowing and loving, if they are to make sense, should be interpreted as pointing toward an Absolute Being whom people call God. However, these atheistic philosophers also report that they don’t think there is any such Being and so reality does not make sense. They conclude that because there is no God, reality is absurd. To put it simply: it would seem that everything in us points toward the existence of God, but the tragic joke is that there is no God and so a human being is a useless passion.

I have come to see that much in our society not only does not encourage people to ask ultimate questions, but actually discourages such questioning. An important task for the new evangelization is to help people ask those ultimate questions. Christians believe that there are answers to those questions. But does that matter if their contemporaries don’t think the questions are important – or indeed if they don’t even think about the questions?

In spite of my impression that our society is becoming more secular and many Catholics seem to have drifted away from the Church, I am not discouraged. We try to do what we think is our best and the rest is up to the Holy Spirit.

Father Lauder has a 55-minute lecture, “The Mystery of Love,” on YouTube (search “Father Lauder” and “Mystery of Love”) and on NET-TV.

Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).