Faith & Thought

Our Relationships Have Global, Cosmic Implications

by Father Robert Lauder

Anyone who has read the recent columns I have written knows that I am deeply interested in the view of grace presented by Bernard Cooke in his book “Sacraments & Sacramentality” (Mystic, Conn., Twenty-Third Publications, revised edition, 241, pp. $14.95). I find Cooke’s insights very exciting and provocative. He is trying to help readers broaden our view of God’s presence in our lives and deepen and expand our view of grace. Cooke writes the following: 

“Perhaps the most basic sacrament of God’s saving presence to human life is the sacrament of human love and friendship. … To put it in contemporary terms, some knowledge of the divine can be gained in experiencing the personal relationship of men and women (and one can legitimately broaden that to include all human personal relationships. … 

“As an instrument of divine providence, human history is meant by the creator to be effected through human community, through humans being persons for one another. … 

“The very possibility of existing as a self is dependent upon communion with 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 essentiality 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” (p. 80-82). 

I find this view of human life and of God’s presence in our friendships and love relationships breathtaking. While reading Cooke’s insights into the presence of God’s grace in our lives, I thought of the end of Georges Bernanos’ masterpiece, the novel “The Diary of a Country Priest.” The main character is dying and a classmate who has left the priesthood is ministering to him in his last moments. The priest who is ministering apologizes to the dying priest that he does not have the oil to administer the last sacrament. The dying priest responds with his last words: “Does it matter? Grace is everywhere.” 

I think many Catholics believe God to be present in heaven and in the Eucharist. However I suspect many do not realize that through sanctifying grace, God is present in every person who is in the state of grace. If we can believe deeply in God’s presence within us, that we are sharing in the life of Father, Son, and Spirit, then all human activities take on a deeper meaning. Our friendships and love relationships become like sacraments. To express that profound truth, Cooke uses the term “sacramentality.” To have a deep friendship is to have a marvelous opportunity not only to grow emotionally and psychologically but to grow in our relationship with God. 

I just thought of a practice that many seminarians had when I was a student in the major seminary back in the 1950s. Many of us visited the Blessed Sacrament in chapel seven or eight times a day — before class, after class, in between classes. That was a wonderful practice. 

However I am wondering if we isolated God’s presence to the chapel and did not have a strong sense of God’s presence within us all through the day, every day. I wonder if any of us thought of our friendships as sacramental. I suspect we did not. If we had, I imagine that belief would have greatly influenced our lives, how we studied, how we related to one another, how we thought of God’s presence in our relationships as we moved toward priesthood. 

I love Cooke’s vision of how we relate to one another, that our relationships have global implications, indeed cosmic implications. A quick and superficial view of Cooke’s belief that through our relationships we should come to rule the world by love and not by domination can make that belief seem to be at best wishful thinking. But when we realize that God will be at the center of our relationships then we are dealing with a profound vision of love. 

We should hesitate to minimize what can be accomplished. I suggest that it is never a good idea to minimize the power of the Holy Spirit. Better to do what we can and allow the Spirit to breathe where it will. Sacramentality calls our attention to God’s presence everywhere but in a special way in interpersonal love relationships. It is as though those we love become sacraments in our lives. Not only is this a beautiful vision of human life. It is also true!

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.