Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), a French Jesuit priest, is considered one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. While a teacher at the Catholic Faculties of Theology in Lyons, his pupils included Hans Urs von Balthasar. His books and writings greatly influenced the Second Vatican Council, and he was admired by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Although he was never a bishop, Pope John Paul II elevated him to Cardinal in 1983, a testimony to the depth of his holiness and the brilliance and profundity of his writings.
The Discovery of God has been described as Henri de Lubac’s most personal writing. It is not an easy read, but it is a book that has fed my mind and my soul for over twenty years. I would like to share with you some excerpts from this exceptional work. In the first two
quotes de Lubac addresses the questions of modern skeptics who would deny the existence of God, or who seek scientific evidence of His existence. The result is a diagnosis of the current spiritual condition of our culture. We just prefer to put ourselves first. It’s not that we cannot see God; we just choose not to see Him. We lack the sensitivity to recognize how God is working in the world. We have lost the “taste” for Him.
1. So in the matter of God, whatever certain people may be tempted to think, it is never the proof of God which is lacking. What is lacking is [the] taste for God. The most distressing diagnosis that can be made of the present age, and the most alarming, is that to all appearances at least, it has lost the taste for God.
2. Man prefers himself to God. And so he deflects the movement which leads to God; or since his is unable to alter its direction, he persists in interpreting it falsely. He imagines he has liquidated the proofs. He concentrates on the critiques of the proofs and never gets beyond them. He turns away from that which convinces him. If the taste [for God] returned, we man be sure that the proofs would soon be restored in everybody’s eyes, and would seem . . . clearer than day.
So where can we find the taste for God? Henri de Lubac says that God calls out to us – God beckons us, speaks to us in the depth of ourselves, in the empty place in ourselves. We have an ache for God, an emptiness, and God longs to fill it. To find a taste, we need to look within, because nothing in the world can fill the void.
3. Abyssus abyssum invocate. Deep calls to deep. The abyss of God’s overflowing fullness calls out to us – those who are an empty chasm, a fissure in our hearts that seems to be bottomless. Our ache for God cries out to God’s waterfall of life that fills us to overflowing.
4. The first language God uses to communicate to me is creation. Being created by the Word, everything which comes from Him is a word and speaks of Him. It is for me to attend and to answer – but the initiative is not mine.
God takes the initiative in calling out to us. Everything that is created cries out “I am not my own cause”. It cries out and points to God as the Creator, if we have eyes to see.
5. To reject God because man has corrupted the idea of God, and religion because of the abuse made of it, is the effect of a sort of clear-sightedness which is yet blind. For surely the holiest things are inevitably destined to be the victims of the worst abuses.
This is a perspective we need to hear today. We all have an idea of God in our mind, our own specific idea of Who or what God is. It’s so fundamental to our thinking that it’s difficult to reflect on – we can’t get our minds around it – it’s rooted in our minds, but also obscure. For this reason, it can be easily corrupted. It takes real intellectual effort to hold on and develop our idea of God. In our world we also see religion abused – people who practice religion inauthentically, hypocritically or self-righteously. We can clearly see the abuses, but do we carry the thinking through to the end, past the negatives to the intrinsic good of religion? The idea of the holiest things being subject to the worst abuses is profound. It’s so easy to dismiss holy things as “out there” or “outdated” or “weird”. It takes real effort to appreciate what’s really at stake – to see through to the supernatural reality present.
6. When we meet a saint we are not discovering at long last an ideal, lived and realized, which had already been formed within us. A saint is not the perfection of humanity – or of the superman – incarnate in a particular man. The marvel is of a different order. What we find is a new life, a new sphere of existence, with unsuspected depths - but also with a resonance hitherto unknown to us and now at last revealed. We are shown a new country, a home we had originally ignored and as soon as we perceive it we recognize it as older and truer than anything we had known and with claims upon our heart.
Our call is to be a saint. Saint means holy – it is an attribute of God. There is something or Someone at work in the life of the holy ones, in the life of a saint. There is a radiation that shines forth of an uncreated order, an order not found in nature, a supernatural order. It’s way more than being kind, or moral or upright. It’s Christ living, working, shining through a person. It’s a divine reality showing forth - a new sphere of existence – a glimpse of Heaven.