Arts and Culture

Interpersonal Relationships

Second in a series

AT THIS TIME I am having an experience that I have had frequently in the last few years. While re-reading a book so that I can comment on it in this column, I seem to discover insights that I missed in the first reading.

The book that I am currently re-reading is “The Essential Writings of Bernard Cooke: A Narrative Theology of Church, Sacrament and Ministry” (New York: Paulist Press, 2016, pp. 239, $27.95). Many of the insights remind me of the marvelous lectures I heard Bernard Cooke give when I took two theology courses with him at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisc., back in the 1960s.

In one section of the book Cooke comments on the statement in Genesis that God created man and woman in His image and likeness. Reflecting on this, Cooke suggests that some knowledge of the divine can be had by reflecting on human interpersonal relationships. I suspect it is almost impossible to overemphasize this insight. Cooke writes the following:

“Implicit in this deceptively simple biblical text is a profound statement about the way human life is to be conducted. If life is to extend to further life, whether by creating new humans or by creating new levels of personal life in already existing humans, it will happen on the basis of people’s self-giving to one another. And if, women and men are truly to ‘rule’ the world for God, they will do this by their love and friendship, and not by domination. To the extent that this occurs, the relationship of humans to one another will reveal the fact that God’s creative activity, which gives life and guides its development (in Creation and in history), is essentially one of divine self-gift. Humans have been created and are meant to exist as a word, a revelation, of God’s self-giving rule; but they will function in this revealing way in proportion to their free living in open and loving communion with one another.

“Whatever small hint we have regarding the way God exists comes from our own experience of being humanly personal.” (p. 117)

As I re-read Cooke’s words, I wonder if readers of this column may think it is an exaggeration of the value and importance of human love. The more I think about what Cooke has written, the more profound it seems to me. Rather than being abstract and unrelated to the real world, Cooke’s words cut deeply into the meaning of reality, the meaning of human persons and the meaning of a text from Scripture.

In order to agree with Cooke’s vision, we have to agree with its basic view of what it means to be human. Cooke is insisting that we are at our best, indeed we are most like God, when we love and offer ourselves to another or others as a self-gift. God is pure self-gift. We are imitating God when we love. No other reality can fulfill human persons as much as loving and being loved.

Our culture may deceive and trick us into thinking that our ultimate fulfillment will be reached when we possess something or some set of things. It is just not true that some possession will fulfill the human heart. The profound truth is that the activities that will fulfill us are loving and being loved.

Grace Is Everywhere

To claim that a human person is to exist as a word, as a revelation of God, indicates that human persons have a dignity, value and importance that is truly amazing. I know of no philosophy of person, no theory about the meaning of human existence that even comes close to the beauty and depth of the Christian view. If we could believe deeply that we are special, that we are created to be words about God, revelations about God, then our problems and difficulties could be looked at from a more profound angle. We might see more deeply into the truth articulated by St. Therese of Lisieux, namely that grace is everywhere.

Cooke is imagining what Pope Francis has called a ‘revolution of love.’ We should not deceive ourselves to believe that such a revolution will be easily achieved. However, I believe that we should hope for its arrival. Every loving human relationship will contribute to the revolution of love. There are no unimportant human relationships.

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