The great Jewish religious thinker Martin Buber asserts in his study entitled “I and Thou” (“Ich und Du”) that the human being becomes himself or herself through a relationship with the other. To put it a little more simply, I cannot become I until I recognize you as you. I must recognize the difference between me and the other. Here we have a kind of primary truth, an elemental fact, which is inscribed in the very structure of the human being. It is impossible to exist, to reach the fullness of one’s selfhood, without opening oneself to the other and accepting the other in mutual trust. And in order that such a mutual encounter be neither indifference nor domination, neither exploitation nor manipulation, it must take place under the sign of love: then it will be promotion and growth. Thus, on the ordinary human level, we encounter the burgeoning conviction that love is the central power in existence.
Scripture tells us that we have been created in the image and likeness of God. Those who would take this literally think that it means that God looks like us. This kind of thinking is really the height of conceit or arrogance. God is not corporeal; God is a spirit. God came first, not the other way around. If we accept the premise that Martin Buber asserts, being made in the image and likeness of God more likely means that God also becomes who God is by recognizing the Other who we know as Jesus. Thus, even on the divine level, we recognize that love is the central power of God’s existence. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. That love, whom we know as the Holy Spirit, is shared with us who are also objects of God’s love.
In the Book of Proverbs we read another account of the creation of the universe. I am sure that we are all familiar with the account in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. This account is more poetic. The narrator of this account is named Lady or Dame Wisdom. She claims that she was a witness to God’s creative activity, and describes the ease and artistry with which the Almighty fashioned our universe. The splendor of creation is but a reflection of the magnificence of the wondrous creator. The threatening chaotic waters of the deep were no match for this divine architect, who simply established the vault of the heavens above them. The unruly sea was also secured within land boundaries, making the land safe for its inhabitants. Not only is the structure of the natural world mysterious and breath-taking, but it is also reliable. Its orderly arrangement allows all creatures to follow their natural paths.
There is a little bit of tension that is generated by this account for at first it seems that Lady Wisdom is one of God’s creatures. However, as later Wisdom Literature will relate, we will come to understand that Dame Wisdom is really a personification of God’s creative power. Later still, at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, she is called “Logos,” the Word who was with God and who is God. That Word finds its culmination in the One that we know as Jesus, the Word made flesh. St. Paul tells us that it is through the Word made flesh that we regain that which the first human being lost – access to God. Adam lost that access by disobedience. Jesus regains it by obedience. By Jesus we are justified and once again are permitted to live in right relationship with God. Paul goes on to say that the love that exists between God the Father and Jesus is poured out upon us in the gift of the Holy Spirit which we receive through Baptism, our spiritual rebirth.
The Gospel reveals that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. The central truth that we profess through our faith is that God is the creator and we are the creatures. God is the redeemer, and we are the redeemed. God is the Sanctifier, we are the sanctified. This brings us back to Martin Buber’s original thesis. We become who we are meant to be when we recognize the Other, when we recognize God as creator, redeemer and sanctifier. Only then can we become who we were meant to be. Those who fail to recognize God as the Creator, who try to take on the role of God in human life, will find that they will never become who God meant them to be – the adopted and beloved children of God, the image and likeness of God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
(Some of the ideas in this homily are taken from Sr. Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., Professor Emerita at Catholic Theological Union.)