By Fr. Glenn Jones:
You know … when you think about it, we human beings are wonderfully made. After all, not only do we live and grow and are animate like all animals, but unlike them, we can think, plan, reflect, discern cause and effect, conduct science, etc. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that our mental ability is that which makes us most like God (though still infinitely less than Him, of course). And Jesus, when rebuffing an opponents’ challenge, quotes Psalm 82: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said ‘you are “gods’”? (John 10:34)
We might then remember Rene Descartes’ contemplation of whether we truly exist and are not just a figment of some being’s imagination, conceiving his famous phrase: “I think, therefore I am.” But lesser noted is that Descartes continues his thought that there seems something beyond material about humanity. Something “spiritual”. As the Catholic Church teaches: “The soul [has] the ‘seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the mere material…’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 33)
Obviously, our “divine” powers are quite limited. None of us are immortal. Or … are we? Most of the major religions believe in an afterlife of some sort—a perpetual on some spiritual plane above what we can now perceive with our senses. But, as pointed out in earlier columns, the fact that we cannot perceive something by material means does not necessarily imply that it does not exist; it simply means that it is beyond our sensory perception—stars to a blind man being an analogy.
Some will claim, “Your God is a myth, like the Greek or Roman gods!” Christians (and Jews and Muslims; a few billion people), of course beg to differ, and one might argue that the fact that other cultures have a different perception of the divine doesn’t mean that the divine does not exist. We might point out the past misconception that the sun revolved around the earth, or that Apollo rode his golden chariot of the sun around the earth; these were simply mistaken ideas of what existed in reality. Or point out that in the last century were many misconceptions of cosmic and physical realities “corrected” to (hopefully) more accurate agreement with what really is.
Now, as humans’ “godly” powers are linked with our mental faculties and free will, each person is faced constantly with the choice of how “God-ly” they will be. Do we choose to do—to be—good, or evil? It’s like having the cartoon angel and demon on opposite shoulders whispering into our ears, urging us to opposite directions. Our “angel” is reason, conscience, justice, charity, empathy, etc.; the “demon” on the other is greed, hatred, lust, envy, etc.—the all-too-familiar temptations toward deficiencies of the good—or, rather, the purposeful disregard of the good we innately know—often labeled as the seven deadly sins which lead to the doing of evil to others for our own gain.
But “Good” lay in doing what is beneficial for the other person, not in seeking our own gain at others’ expense. The good always has its purpose and goal in the benefit of other persons in some way, and thus St. Paul reminds us: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24), and “The commandments … are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:9-11)
So, the Christian understands that love is essentially equated with the fulfilling of God’s law. But Paul is only echoing Jesus: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Do we not remember St. John reminding his Christian reader: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) It seems then, that to be consistent (at least as understood by Christians), is not deviation from God’s moral law deviation from love? And, as “God is love…” (1 John 4:16), all that God gives to us for instruction is, by definition, sourced in, and from, love. Christian faith’s origin, activity and goal, then, is love, for “…he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…” (Ibid)
Shakespeare’s Hamlet proclaims: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of world! The paragon of animals!” (Hamlet, Act II, Scene II). If the English lit scholar will forgive my heresy, Shakespeare gets it a bit wrong: we are only noble, admirable and angelic if we seek to do good in charity and love, else Will’s declaration becomes a caustic parody … a derisive sneer at man’s utter failure to attain the godly heights for which we are created, and which each of us contains within.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing … When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways … faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3,11,13)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.