Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Musing on Creation

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When Cardinal George departed for Rome and the Synod of Bishops, where he will be fully occupied until Oct. 27, he asked me to write a column for this issue of the Catholic New World. This is the result. These thoughts are important to me. I share them with you. They are a harmony of fact and faith. They are about our relationship with God.

Nihil ex nihilo fit: “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could” is the way a line from “The Sound of Music” rendered that Latin philosophical principle. It is the foundation of my belief in God, the Creator, the First Cause. When I see a chair, a car, a building, I know there was a maker. When I see a flower, a lake, a mountain, I look for a maker. I find God.

The order in the universe impresses me. The regular path of the sun, the relationship of the moon and the seas, the seasons: Their orderliness prompts me to seek a superhuman power capable of inducing this order. I find God.

Love for a person or thing, it seems to me, is basically love for God, though we seldom recognize it as such. Human beings and dogs and birds and flowers and mountains are lovable. Why? Because they are reflections of God’s beauty and goodness; they have been created in God’s image and likeness.

The more nearly a created thing is like God, the more lovable it is. So animals are more lovable than rocks, because rocks are inanimate while animals are alive, as God is: and the human person is the most lovable of all God’s creatures because humans are most like God — we have mind and reason and will; rocks and trees and animals don’t.

Everything created is a partial reflection of God, “a chip off the old block,” a person or thing resembling God in some way or in many ways. But always less than God. And however deeply we humans know or love some creature, we can never be completely satisfied by that knowledge or love. As St. Augustine said to God: “Thou has made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”

I have never met a completely happy human being, nor do I expect to meet one on earth. We can never be completely happy here. Why not? Because that’s the way God made us, wanting to know truth, and to possess the good and the beautiful. That’s where true happiness lies. But only God is all true, all good and all beautiful. And we cannot possess God in this world.

There is a sense in which every created thing says to us: “I am true, “ or “I am good,” or “I am beautiful.” “I can make you happy. Just try me, give me a chance.” But my experience is that some of these things or persons are false; that other created things make me happy for a short time; that some make me happy for a longer time. A select few fill my cup almost full. But none make me completely happy.

That’s what Clark Firestone meant when he wrote: “Mankind is never completely happy, because every range of truth that he scales shows other hills, purpling in the distance.”

That’s why Evelyn Waugh put these words into the mouth of the hero, speaking to the heroine, in “Brideshead Revisited”: “Perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols ... Doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.” God casts the shadow.

Francis Thompson, at the end of his great poem “The Hound of Heaven” puts these word on the lips of God: “I am he whom thou seekest.”

I am struck by the similarity of the insights of the persons I’ve quoted, though they’ve lived in different lands and different centuries.

Another way of saying this same idea, a way that squares with my experience, is that there is deep within each of us a desire to know someone who is perfect, and to be known by this someone. This is accompanied by a desire to love this someone who is perfect and, in turn to be loved by, to be united with, this someone who is perfect. This someone is God, can only be God. Why? Because that’s the way God made us. “The perfect someone” is a way of describing God.

The only way that we human beings attain God, are united with God in a way that is completely satisfying, is through death. We must pass through the door of death; on the other side is happiness, is God, face to face with us in a new and wonderful way.

I am consoled by these thoughts. They do not reduce the mystery of death, but they do make faith more credible. And I do believe that we will live forever with the God who created us and with the loved ones who have preceded us. As a German proverb says: “Those who live in the Lord never see each other for the last time.”

None of these thoughts are original; perhaps none are new to you. But I wanted to draw them together and share them, in the hope that they would strengthen you, invigorate you, perhaps inspire you.