by Father Robert Lauder
Eighth in a Series
THE MORE TIME I spend with Father Michael Paul Gallagher’s Faith Maps: Ten Religious Explorers from Newman to Joseph Ratzinger (New York: Paulist Press, 2010, 158 pages, $16.95), the more I like the book. I find it not only interesting and informative but also spiritually challenging.
I am wondering if the experience of reading and studying theology as spiritually challenging is the way that most people experience theology. While reflecting on Father Gallagher’s insights, I recalled my study of theology in the 1950s when I was a major seminarian at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington. Our priest professor of dogmatic theology, Father Martin Healy, had some wonderful insights and I recall being not only intellectually challenged but also spiritually challenged.
One of the discussion groups that I moderate is going to use Father Gallagher’s book as the basis for discussion for five or six meetings. I am eager to see how the group reacts to Father Gallagher’s insights. Only one member is a theologian and so for most members of the group it may be the first time they encounter the religious explorers Father Gallagher discusses.
Noting that Rahner emphasized that God’s Spirit was present to everyone, not just to those who consciously professed Christian faith, Father Gallagher writes the following:
“Rahner’s starting point was the gift of God already at work within the human spirit, …He believed in a God-given magnetism present in every heart, drawing each person out of themselves towards truth and love. He understood this inner dynamism not just as preparation for God but as God’s presence in us. Just as we speak of depth psychology, Rahner was trying to develop a depth theology, starting from human interiority and desire rather than from doctrine or teaching about the Gospel. He believed that God’s Spirit is always already there before our preaching, and so it seemed vital to help people to get in touch with their deep and silent experiences of God.” (p. 39)
That God’s Spirit is already present and active in every person I find very encouraging. What I find challenging is the task of helping people, myself included, to become more aware of the presence of the Spirit as they participate in the human adventure, as they act out the drama that is part of everyone’s life.
I think that one way of helping people become aware of the presence of the Spirit in their lives is to get them to ask questions, such as “Why am I here? What do I want out of life? Whom do I love and what do I do for my loved ones and why do I do it? What is important to me in my life?”
Perhaps a better way to become aware of the Spirit’s presence would be to get involved in working with dedicated believers for those less fortunate than we. The act of reaching out in service accompanied by people who are believers might help to make the presence of the Spirit more evident. If Rahner were alive, he might tell us that what is most important is that people come in touch with what is deepest in them and reflect on that depth. If the Holy Spirit is present then that presence should be somehow discernible.
Rahner thought that today many people lived at a distance from their own depths and he saw this as a spiritual malnutrition. If they can be helped to be in touch with their deepest experiences then they might see that going beyond themselves toward truth and love, being generous in serving others and courageously facing life’s difficulties goes way beyond any selfishness. All of this is a sign of the Spirit’s presence.
It is true that Rahner believed that theology should have self-experience as its starting point but this does not mean that Rahner is shrinking God to fit the human person’s experience. What Rahner was insisting upon is that experience of the depth of self is simultaneously an experience of God. God’s presence to human persons is what gives persons their ultimate and most important meaning.
If in reflecting on the mystery of the human person we leave out the presence of God then we’re not reflecting on the really existing actual human person because God and the human person are tied together.[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.