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What is man that thou art mindful of him? by Fr. George W. Rutler

February 2, 2014

by Fr. George W. Rutler


From time to time, programs on Public Television feature medical doctors suggesting ways to reduce the chances of various diseases. Sometimes the experts contradict one another, but at least they invoke some scientific evidence in their support. Very different are the endless lines of “motivational” speakers who utter all sorts of vaguely Gnostic froth and then are replaced by others with equally vacuous information about unleashing the “inner child” and so forth. The irony, of course, is that the television producers dangle this pseudo-metaphysical nonsense before the viewer, while not daring to feature any sort of classical religious direction. That may be understandable, given their secular obligations, but the inconsistency lies in presenting psychobabble as something serious.

In contrast to the purveyors of Spirituality-Lite, are the solid spiritual directors who have been real saints themselves or helped to form saints. In different ages and various ways, they seem to have agreed that the human consciousness develops in three stages. First, the child gradually asks “What am I?” and learns through experience. This physical stage then moves along to a psychological query: “Who am I?” This is the mental climate of adolescence, with all its vitality and frustrations. Man, however, is fated to perpetual adolescence, unless he enters the third stage of maturity, which asks “Why am I?” This marks the progress from biology and psychology to theology. The Psalmist (8:4) asks: “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and in so saying he was speaking of the third stage of maturity in terms of philosophical reflection. The Psalmist penetrates this even more deeply by asking why God “visits” us.

That “visitation,” or involvement of the Creator with his creatures, moved from inspired intuition to historical fact when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” In declaring “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” Jesus answered “What am I?” by being the Way, and “Who am I?” by being the Truth, and “Why am I?” by being the Life. While our limited intelligence asks in various ways, “Am I?” the question is answered in the very fact that we are loved by the I Am.

By referring all that we are to Christ, and by letting his Holy Spirit guide our intellect to truth and unite our will to his, which is the essence of spiritual “crucifixion” of all that is beneath our dignity, then we learn the what and who and why of our being. There is no need to search for an “inner child” if we simply become childlike in humility and awe. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).    

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