Arts and Culture

Lose Yourself to Love, Find Yourself in Christ

Sixth in a series

THERE ARE SO many insights that I have received from philosopher Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J. that it is difficult to prioritize them in importance. Father Clarke’s book “Person and Being” (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1993) is a gem. There are a handful of books that have changed my life. “Person and Being” is one of them. Re-reading it again in order to write this series of columns on philosophy has really been a labor of love.

One of Father Clarke’s insights that I find especially illuminating is that we can be profoundly joined together to other persons by love. This union does not cause us to lose our identity, but rather, it strengthens our uniqueness. As far as I can figure, love is the only union that causes those involved to nourish and strengthen their own identity, to become more themselves.

Father Clarke writes the following: “And the remarkable paradox in all this is that we do not lose our self-identity and self-possession as we become absorbed deeply in communion and community. Belonging to an authentic community does not submerge the free self but liberates it, nourishes it as its natural environment and ends up bringing us to know our own unique individuality even more keenly. (Inauthentic community can, however, all too easily submerge and diminish the self and its dignity, as we all know.)” (p. 80)

When I reflect on Father Clarke’s insights under the light of Christian faith, those insights seem even more beautiful and inspiring. Catholics often use the term “sanctifying grace” which I think refers to God’s loving presence within us. St. Paul expressed this succinctly: “It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)

In a love community, indeed in any relationship in the state of Grace, the gift of self from each person brings about the presence of Christ.

In my homily last Sunday, I told the congregation that if anything in my talk helped them spiritually, it was due to Christ living within me. And if their attendance and participation in the Eucharist helped me believe more strongly, that was due to Christ living within them.

Christian faith adds a startling dimension to our understanding of love relationships. Every person is potentially a “Christ-bearer” and the Risen Christ can become part of every relationship. I believe that no one loves alone and no one receives love alone. God is Love and so God is part of every experience of love.

Can someone who does not consciously believe in Christ, or even in God, be a “Christ-bearer”? My answer is that I believe that people who are following their conscience and living good, moral lives may be close to God and so have Christ living within them. The Holy Spirit breathes where He will!

In one section of his book, while not directly referring to Christ, Father Clarke writes about how a loving person might be in touch with God through loving:

“The fullness of personal development turns out to be losing or letting go of oneself that is simultaneously and by that very fact about a new finding of oneself at a deeper level. Self-transcendence is thus of the very essence of all personal development at its highest, whether the person involved identifies explicitly his new Center as God or not. Only by reaching beyond the human can we succeed in becoming fully human. To refuse to do so condemns us to fall short of the human itself. To be a human person means to self-transcend toward the Infinite.” (pp. 107-108)

Perhaps the best description of the human adventure is that it is a love story, one in which everyone is called to be a lover. At the center of the adventure is God, Who is Infinite Love, calling persons into deeper love relationships with God and one another. For Catholics, this adventure and God’s call may be most obvious in a Eucharist, which we often call a love banquet. In a eucharistic celebration, we are invited by God to love more strongly and we are nourished by Christ, present under the appearance of bread and wine.

St. John of the Cross claimed that in the evening of our lives we shall be judged by how we have loved. How right he was!

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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