God & the Soul: Nothing More?

(Homily for 31st Sunday, Year B)

In his Soliloquies Augustine of Hippo has a dialogue with Reason. Reason asks him what he desires to know. Augustine responds:

A. God and the soul, that is what I desire to know.
R. Nothing more?
A. Nothing whatever.*

Jesus says something similar when asked about the intricacies of the law. It exists to help a man to love the one God - "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mk 12, 30) As a corrolary Jesus adds, "and to love your neighbor as yourself." In other words, if I recognize my purpose as eternal union with God, I will naturally want the same for my brother.

Jesus thus underscores the two things which will last - God and the soul. Everything else is winding down: these bodies we pamper, the planet we live on and universe itself. No scientist would deny the material world is gradually spending itself.** Our sun will eventually burn out. What then will endure? We have the response in Jesus' two great commandments - love of God and love of neighbor.

We easily get sidetracked from our ultimate goal. Down here in Peru, with so many living in bare subsistence, they can think, "if only I had money, my problems would be solved." Georgina Rea, our lay missionary at the Mary Bloom Center has helped many folks in desperate situations. Often it involved medicine or an operation to save a life. But, while she cares for material needs, she has not forgotten what finally counts - the human dignity which results from a relationship with God. Georgina begins each day by attending Mass and always prays for and with the people she serves.

While the poor have their temptations, especially to envy, we who possess so much also face a grave danger. We can fall into the illusion that a bank account, medical insurance and a pension plan will give us security. I have a friend who owns a small business, a nice home and several pieces of prime real estate. He watchs the stock market to see how much money he earns or loses each day. All this makes him nervous so he eats hamburgers and french fries dipped in mayonaise. Now, my friend has enough sense of humor to see the irony. But he must take another step by recognizing wealth as flimsy fortress. It will buy him no long-term protection, but he can use it to help the people mentioned earlier. Put God first - and even money will find its proper place.

God and the soul. Nothing more? Nothing at all.

************

*Augustine is hardly a solipsist or even an individualist. To know the soul ultimately means to know and love all men. Here is the full text of paragraph 7 of Soliloquies:

7. A. Behold I have prayed to God. R. What then wouldst thou know? A. All these things which I have prayed for. R. Sum them up in brief. A. God and the soul, that is what I desire to know. R. Nothing more? A. Nothing whatever. R. Therefore begin to inquire. But first explain how, if God should be set forth to thee, thou wouldst be able to say, It is enough. A. I know not how He is to be so set forth to me as that I shall say, It is enough: for I believe not that I know anything in such wise as I desire to know God. R. What then are we to do? Dost thou not judge that first thou oughtest to know, what it is to know God sufficiently, so that arriving at that point, thou mayst seek no farther? A. So I judge, indeed: but how that is to be brought about, I see not. For what have I ever understood like to God, so that I could say, As I understand this, so would I fain understand God? R. Not having yet made acquaintance with God, whence hast thou come to know that thou knowest nothing like to God? A. Because if I knew anything like God, I should doubtless love it: but now I love nothing else than God and the soul, neither of which I know. R. Do you then not love your friends? A. Loving them, how can I otherwise than love the soul? R. Do you then love gnats and bugs similarly? A. The animating soul I said I loved, not animals. R. Men are then either not your friends, or you do not love them. For every man is an animal, and you say that you do not love animals. A. Men are my friends, and I love them, not in that they are animals, but in that they are men, that is, in that they are animated by rational souls, which I love even in highwaymen. For I may with good right in any man love reason, even though I rightly hate him, who uses ill that which I love. Therefore I love my friends the more, the more worthily they use their rational soul, or certainly the more earnestly they desire to use it worthily. (emphasis added)

Augustine of course believed in the resurrection of the body. The relation of that doctrine to the immortality of the soul would be worked out more fully by St. Thomas Aquinas.

**Besides speculating on how the universe will end, scientists also give some insight into how it began. In his book God, the Evidence Patrick Glynn devotes a chapter to the "Not-So-Random Universe." He tells how Cambridge physicist Brandon Carter shocked the scientific world in 1973 (500th anniversary of birth of Copernicus) by enunciating the anthropic principle of the universe. That is, it was "fine-tuned" from the first split seconds to produce life and the tiniest variations would have made life impossible. For example, "the nuclear weak force is 10 by 28th power times the strength of gravity. Had the weak force been slightly weaker, all the hydrogen in the universe would have turned into helium (making water impossible, for example)." (p. 29)

As C.S. Lewis warned, we should not get too excited about scientific theories because they are always subject to change. Still, much of what scientists are currently uncovering does point to design.

On Separating Science from Naturalism

From Archives (Homilies for 31st Sunday, Year B):

2012: Moment of Decision
2006: Men Have Forgotten God
2000: God & the Soul: Nothing More?

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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