Arts and Culture

Personal Relationships Make Us Better Humans

As I have reported earlier in this series of columns based on Josef Pieper’s book “Leisure The Basis of Culture” (New York: Pantheon Books, translated by Alexander Dru, 1952, pp. 127), though I am re-reading Pieper’s book for the third time, in some ways, it seems as though I am reading it for the first time because I am discovering insights in the book that I have no recollection of discovering in my previous readings. 

I am not even certain why I decided to re-read the book at this time. It may have been that I noticed it on my bookshelf. However, I am finding the re-reading experience so exciting and challenging that I suspect that it was providential that I chose to re-read it again.

Commenting on a person’s existence in the world, Pieper writes the following:

“And what of ‘world’? Well, world means the same thing as a range of relations. Only a being capable of having relations, only a being of whom ‘inner’ as well as ‘outer’ may be predicated- and this in its turn means a living being- has a world. Only a living being exists within a range of relationships.”(p.84)

 Memory gets a bit hazy as years pass but I don’t recall ever studying in undergraduate philosophy classes the meaning of relation. Now in every philosophy course that I teach at St. John’s University I spend a great deal of time stressing the relational dimension of the human person. 

We are who we are because of our relationships. No other being in our experience can relate the way a human person relates.

Elaborating on the meaning of worlds that Pieper has stressed, I would describe a person’s world as the network of meanings or the set of meanings that are real to the person. 

Each of us lives in many different worlds. For example I live in the North American world, the Catholic world, the Brooklyn Diocesan world, the athletic world, etc. The more deeply I am receptive and open to a world, to a set of meanings, the more deeply I will be shaped by that world. 

Many influences have shaped and formed me, such as parents, close friends, teachers, spiritual directors but I believe that besides all the realities that have influenced me, the person writing this column has chsen to be the person he now is. Of course I cannot prove that but I believe we are ultimately responsible for whom we have become and are becoming.

The strongest influences in my life have been those people who have loved me and those people I have loved. I believe that the strongest, most powerful lover in my world, and indeed in everyone’s world, is God. 

I believe that all persons are freely co-creating themselves along with God’s free loving act of creating.There are many free acts that we perform that help to form and shape us as persons, many free acts that help us to be more free. Pieper writes the following:

“…the higher the order of a being, the more embracing and wider the power of establishing relations-the greater the field of relations within its power. This may also be expressed by saying that the higher a being stands in the order of reality, in the hierarchic order of being , the wider and deeper the world.”(p.p. 84-85)

Within our experience we are the beings who most resemble God. Every being resembles God but we resemble God in a special way because of our consciousness and freedom. We are images of God in a way that no other beings in our experience are. Reflecting on the many free activities that we can perform, some seem to hold out the possibilities of growing more than others. I think prayer is one of those activities. In fact I would suggest that prayer has a special power to transform us, to help us to be more free, to help us to resemble God more. 

Among all our free actions I think prayer has a special power to deepen our world and to deepen our relationship with God and with other persons. I would go so far as to say that to pray is the special vocation of every person.

There are many wonderful prayers. Probably all persons, who pray regularly, have favorite prayers, prayers that may have played a special role in their earthly journey, prayers which have helped them in the great adventure of their lives. I suggest that the Eucharist has a special power, indeed a mindboggling power to shape and enrich our worlds and in the process of enriching our experience, to transform us. 

The Eucharist is the most wonderful prayer because it is the Risen Christ praying. One of the great privileges and graces in the lives of Catholics is that we can offer Christ’s prayer with him.

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.