Arts and Culture

Understanding Who We Are: Images of the Human Person Are Images of the Living God

 by Father Robert Lauder

MANY FACTORS GO into a person’s spirituality. From schools to friends, from media to spiritual advisors, from scripture to liturgy, there are many realities that might influence how a person views himself or herself and how that person views God. I have come to see that the images we have of self and others are intimately linked to images we have of God and how we think of God can greatly influence how we think of ourselves.

From my study of the history of philosophy, I think I have discovered a pattern. When a thinker minimizes the powers of the human person in order to give credit to God, that view actually diminishes the greatness and mystery of God. When a thinker emphasizes the gifts of the human person, that view simultaneously provides a strong view of God’s greatness.

Image of Person/Image of God
There is a parallel between the image of person and the image of God. As an illustration of this I would offer the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor had one of the strongest humanisms and also one of the strongest theisms. Other thinkers who had a seriously inadequate image of the human person seemed however inadvertently to set the stage for atheism.

Just around the time that I was becoming aware that some people I knew did not have any self-love, I came across what is called A Litany of the Person. I think it was composed by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

I have been a Catholic all my life and a priest for half a century, but until a friend gave me a copy of A Litany of the Person about two years ago, I had never heard anything even remotely resembling it. There was a time in my life when I would have thought that such a litany was almost blasphemous. I would have thought that it fostered pride and that it focused too much on the human person and not enough on God. Now I think the litany is marvelous and I often give copies of it to others.
What I love about the litany is that it highlights the most important truths about the human person. It says with many different phrases that God’s love for us is beyond our imagination, that what God has done for us and is doing for us reveals that love.

We Are Inseparable
Is there anything in the litany which is not true? No. Though the litany focuses on the human person, each phrase also says something about God. The litany emphasizes, at least implicitly, that God and we, though distinct, are inseparable. Every statement we make about the human person is also implicitly a statement about God and every statement we make about God is also a statement implicitly about the human person.

When I reflect on the litany, the person who comes to my mind is the great Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. His theology is a profound reflection on the truth that God and human persons are inseparable because of God’s loving involvement in our lives.

I have read the litany many times and I find that I cannot pick out one phrase that is my favorite. Each one is revelatory of our dignity, our value and our destiny in God’s providential love.

At an early age I memorized the statement that we were made in the image and likeness of God but in the context of the litany the truth that we are images of God has taken on a deeper meaning for me. Perhaps every phrase in the liturgy can take on a deeper meaning if we meditate on the litany which is what I plan to do. This is not narcissism or navel-gazing but rather a way of entering more deeply into relationship with God Who is blessing us beyond our capacity to imagine or conceive.
Looking at the various phrases I find it difficult to pick out favorites but at least at this moment I find four speak to me in a special way:
• dwelling of God
• capacity for the infinite
• chosen of God
• abode of the Trinity

Tomorrow perhaps four different phrases will have a special meaning for me. I think I will find it difficult to take this litany seriously and yet not trust in God.

Next week: Benefits of film discussion groups[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.