For about 30 years, I have been a member of a priest discussion group. I call myself the moderator because I usually pick the date on which we will meet and suggest the book that we will discuss.
In the 30 years that we have been meeting, we have been fortunate to have some wonderful guests who have
shared with us their insights. Among those who have met with us are novelist Alice McDermott, theologian Elizabeth
Johnson, Jesuit author Father James Martin, actress-director-author Liv Ullmann, author and columnist for the New York Times David Brooks, author and former editor of Commonweal Paul Baumann, novelist Peter Quinn, journalists and former editors of Commonweal Peggy and Peter Steinfels, and author David Gibson.
For our next meeting I have suggested Ron Rolheiser’s “Wrestling with God.” I think the priests in the group have had the same experience that I have had, namely that the meetings have been a special blessing. Besides giving us an opportunity to enjoy one another’s company, I think that the discussion meetings have provided one way for us to renew our faith and to gain insights into the Christian mystery.
In “Wrestling with God,” Father Rolheiser has written the following: “Thomas Aquinas once posed the question, What is the adequate object of the human intellect and will? In contemporary terms, he is asking, What would completely satisfy our aching and longing? His answer: all being, everything, all that is. We would have to know and somehow be affectively connected to ‘everything, all that is’ for our restless minds and hearts to come to full peace. Because that is impossible in this life, we shouldn’t be naïve as to how habitually restless and complex our lives are going to be.” (p. 22)
St. Thomas Aquinas’ insight is extremely important. In a sense, it is calling our attention to the profound truth that no finite being , no limited being, no matter how good it is or how beautiful it is, can fulfill us.
Every human person’s mind and will is stretching out to God. That is true even of people who claim they do not believe in God. In reflecting on the importance of our self-image, I came upon a provocative text from Abraham Heschel’s paperback book “Who Is Man?” Heschel wrote the following:
“Like all concrete beings, man occupies a place in physical space. However, unlike other beings, his authentic existence goes on in inner space. Geography determines his physical position; his thoughts are his personal position. The thought we think is where we are, partly or entirely. The thought we think is the space of the inner life, comprehending it. A person is his thoughts, particularly in the way he understands his own self. His thoughts are his situation. His nature includes what he thinks he is.
“Unlike a theory of things which seeks merely to know its subject, a theory of man shapes and affects its subject. Statements about man magnetize the inner space of man. We not only describe the inner ‘nature’ of man, we fashion it. We become what we think of ourselves.”(p. 7).
A person’s self-image is crucial to a person’s development. I am still amazed at this point in my life at the number of people I know who do not love themselves. Can a person who does not love himself or herself love others? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am certain that a person’s interpersonal relationships are greatly influenced by a person’s self-image.
I believe Heschel is right on target insisting that we become what we think of ourselves. The image of the human person that Christian revelation presents is magnificent. Every person is freely created by a loving God. Every person is so lovable that the Son of God offered himself on the cross for every human being.
God could not create an insignificant or unimportant person even if God wanted to do that. The idea of a person who is insignificant or unimportant is an idea with a built-in contradiction like the idea of a square circle. To be a human person is to be infinitely significant and important.
Perhaps some Christian preaching and some versions of Christian spirituality have been presented in the past with an overemphasis on sin and a neglect of the tremendously liberating truth about God’s love for us. I experienced such preaching in high school, college and even in the seminary.
The center of Jesus’ message is God is totally, infinitely in love with us. If we accept that message and believe it deeply, we will see ourselves as we really are. The most profound truth about us is that we are God’s beloved.
Father Lauder presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.