Faith & Thought

The Cross Could Be The Total Gift of Ourselves

Re-reading Michael Himes’ excellent book “Doing the Truth in Love: Conversations about God, Relationships and Service” (New York: Paulist Press, 1995, 152 pp., $12.95) has been an exceptionally interesting experience for me. Because my vocation as a priest has led me to be a professor of philosophy at St. John’s University, I do a great deal of reading. 

I have always thought of myself as a “good reader.” Now I wonder. Re-reading Michael’s book, I have come upon some sections that I have no recollection of previously reading. Perhaps rather than a “good reader,” I am a “good re-reader.” There is a paragraph in Michael’s book which I now find exceptionally interesting and challenging, though I do not recall reading it previously. 

I think I understand the paragraph, and I think that through it Michael has given me a new understanding of the mystery of the human person. The following is the paragraph: 

“At the moment of death, Jesus is most clearly himself and therefore most clearly the revelation of who God is, which is why the fourth Gospel can insist, ‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself’ (Jn 12:32). This is the reason why his death is the hour when the Son of Man is glorified and the Father is glorified in him (Jn 13:31; 17:1); it is when Jesus is most clearly, most perfectly who he is. 

“And so we come to see the cross as the point toward which we are all advancing by our own deepest desire, if only we knew it. It is what we really want most deeply, if we could ever know what we really want. It is for the cross that our hearts are restless, in Augustine’s language. The cross is the symbol of our desire to give ourselves away. 

“It is our hunger finally and fully to hand ourselves over, to give ourselves to others, because it is in doing so that we are truly who we are. … You become absolutely you. And who, finally, are you? You are the image and likeness of God who is pure self-gift, the blueprint on which we are built. And so to give ourselves away is what we most deeply desire” (p.78). 

I am going to review the steps that Michael has presented that lead to the conclusion that our deepest desire is the cross. Before reading Michael’s book I thought of the cross as something we should try to avoid but also to bear with courage and confidence in the example that Jesus gave us in bearing his cross. 

I am fairly certain that I never thought of the cross as my deepest desire. By reviewing the steps that Michael took to claiming that the cross is our deepest desire I hope to make Michael’s insights more clear to me and perhaps also to readers of this column. 

The first step is to think of God as pure self-gift. Michael claims that because God is a profound mystery it is easy for us to think incorrectly about God, but he suggests that the least erroneous way to think about God is to think of God as pure self-gift. God is always giving God. 

A second step is to realize that two of the most profound truths about the human person are that every person is called to be a lover, which is another way of saying that every person is called to be a self-gift. Another profound truth about every person is that every person has a radical need to be loved. 

We have no choice about whether we are called to be lovers or whether we need to be loved. This is how God made us. We do have a choice whether we live as self-gifts and allow others to profoundly influence us by loving us. For Jesus, the cross was the perfect self-gift and the perfect surrender to his Father’s love. This is why the cross is the symbol of our deep desire to offer ourselves as self-gifts to God. To do this is our deepest desire. 

To understand that this is our deepest desire may take serious reflection and prayer about God and our relationship with God. When we offer ourselves as self-gifts we are most profoundly who we are. We are confirming and expressing our self-identity and also making the best gift of ourselves to God. 

The cross could be the total gift of ourselves, and that total gift is our deepest desire. The cross is the best way of giving ourselves, the best way possible for us to express our love for God. As I am writing this column, I have decided to make the insights that Father Himes has offered into the cross part of my morning centering prayer. I hope that will help me to not only understand the cross as my deepest desire but also allow that desire to be expressed in my life.

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.