Every person’s most fundamental vocation, moral responsibility, and source of fulfillment is authentic self-giving. I think this claim can be discovered by reason and experience. I also believe it permeates Sacred Scriptures and the life of the Church.
It has been beautifully articulated in Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes §24. Here is the passage:
God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood. For having been created in the image of God, Who “from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26), all men are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself.
For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself . . .. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). . . .
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one . . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself (cf. Lk 17:33).
I would summarize the passage in this way. God wills that humanity should be one family in which everyone is treated as a brother. We fulfill this will by love of neighbor. When God’s children are united in truth and love, they are similar to God in his inner life of three divine persons. Man cannot be fulfilled without making himself a gift.
I would like to zero in on the final sentence which I bolded above: “This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
In this passage, likeness refers to the assertion that when people are united in truth and charity, they are like the persons of the Blessed Trinity who are united in mutual self-giving love. Imbedded here is both the truth about the inner life of God—that it is a Trinitarian communion of love—and a signal that the ultimate vocation of human beings is to live and love the way God does. This is a vista “closed to human reason,” because the inner life God had to be revealed by God.
The only creature God willed for itself means we are the only beings on earth willed for our own sake, because we are the only persons. The other creatures on earth are all for something else. Human beings are for ourselves. Being for ourselves means we are ends in ourselves. We have this exalted status because we are persons.
To fully find himself means to discover the ultimate truth, to find that truth to be good, to be in full possession of all one’s faculties, to be perfectly happy or fulfilled, and to be of maximal importance and value to others.
A sincere gift of self means to give from your heart. It is not a feeling without effect, but a giving which really gives something.
A footnote in the text at the end of this sentence refers to Luke 17:33, which reads, “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” This reveals that the sincere gift of self can look like a loss of life (“except”) but it is actually a preservation of life and a finding of self (“fully find himself”).
Is it possible that life is nothing but a search for oneself in which serving others is the map? Is it possible that this is the plot of every narrative?
This post was first published in The Catholic Imagination.
© 2014. Kevin Aldrich. All rights reserved.
Photography: See our Photographers page.