No one has ever seen love and God is love. “Why sketch an outline, why arrange limbs, why provide him with an acceptable stature, why imagine a beautiful body? ‘God is love.’ What color has love, what outline, what shape? We see none of these things in it, and yet we love” (Augustine, Sermon 34.3). Unseen, the heart sighs. “No one can see glory but he who is in glory; there remains both the desire and the intellect of those who are not in it” (Aquinas, Quodl. 8, q. 7, 1. 16). And yet we love because our heart demands to give itself. Kept to itself, the impossibility of redemption lurks in the background. Loneliness becomes the habitat of the heart, the heart without a presence that it can be naked to. Yet, even a lonely heart beats because it is seen. “Adam, where are you?” Man cannot hide from the One who looks for him. “Where are you?” Such is the proposal of God to humanity. Adam fails to see God because of the lack of certainty he has put himself in; within the bush, Adam cannot see and therefore know the world around him. He has lost his place. Mystery becomes the eclipse of God. Prayer becomes a monologue.
If today there is an eclipse of God (M. Buber), it is because we have lost the experience of being looked at with a sense of love and gratitude for our unique existence. We have lost the awareness of ourselves and therefore exile and slavery crept into our world. This is why Henri de Lubac noted that man can build a world without God but only a world which turns its back on man. It would be superfluous to analyze which came first, the lost of the experience of God that led to the lost of our sense of humanity or the lost of our compassion for humanity that led to the eclipse of God. What must be affirmed is that the human being failed to submit himself to the gaze that defined his humanity and personality, that he preferred autonomy rather than dependency on the Fatherhood of God. This line from Theophilous of Antioch pertains to our discussion: “You will say to me, ‘Show me your God.’ And I tell you, ‘Show me first the man who is in you, and then I will show you my God’” (Ad Autolycum libri tres, I, 3). Any thought of God that does not reveal (and therefore experience) humanity is a failed utopia. There cannot be any dichotomy between the revelation of God and the revelation of humanity, for God is the light that exposes humanity. The experience of the glory of God is an experience of our worth and uniqueness. We cannot achieve deification unless our humanity has been embraced by God, unless we embrace our humanity with God. “How can you be a god when you have not yet become a man? How can you be perfect when you have only just been made? How can you be immortal when, in your mortal nature, you do not obey your Maker? You must hold the rank of men before you partake of the glory of God” (Against the Heresies IV 39, 2-3). It must be noted that for Irenaeus, the glory of God is man fully alive and so to partake in the glory of God is for man to fully embrace what he is made for. This requires that he holds the rank of men, that is, stay as a man and not a god. Only when he has accepted himself as man, that is, one who is dependent on the gaze of God, can he, paradoxically, become a god. Only in obedience to the immeasurable light of his heavenly Father can he achieve an existence that transcends the corruptible world. As Joseph Ratzinger stated, “Man can become God, not by making himself God, but allowing himself to be made ‘Son’” (Dogmatic Theology vol. 9: Eschatology, CUA Press 1988, pgs 64-65).
Responding to Theophilous of Antioch would be very difficult because it is especially manifesting our humanity that is troublesome for us. How can we show the man who is in us if we ourselves have distorted our own image, if we have experienced a lack of gaze that awakened the desires inherent in us? It is not problematic to give examples when that gaze is lacking: A baby who has been abandoned by his mother, a child who lacks the gaze of both a mother and a father, a woman who has experienced infidelity from her husband, and so on. How can we show our humanity when the distance between human persons is far enough that we do not need to look at each other to communicate? What can close the distance between us? What can liberate us from the inhumanity we have experienced? How can we be free to look at the true, the good, and the beautiful? Free enough that “one does not keep one’s eyes in one’s pocket” (Claudel)?
No one has ever seen love and yet we are seen with love. It is that innocent and pure eyes of that babe in the manger that produces the smile of the virgin mother. That non-condemning innocent gaze asks to be held. The question “Where are you?” becomes more dramatic and demands a renewal of decisiveness towards life. “Where are you when there is this babe to be held?” In the smile of the virgin mother is the certainty that there is no love that fails to satisfy life. Virginity is the acknowledgment that Christ alone can satisfy the heart. This is why a mystic is satisfied with life: everything speaks of Christ. It is virginity which keeps married people alive to each other with that tender gaze that Christ arouses in them. It is not simply chastity, that is, moderation, but the understanding of the other as the gift of God, the presence of Christ in life. Without virginity, marriage becomes burdensome and provokes a sigh of resignation rather than a sigh for meaning and love. Virginity is the pure heart which sees God. The one who sees God is one who understands why reality satisfies him. This is why it must be often repeated that virginity is not abstinence from sex but rather positivity. It is the embraced proposal from the Other. It is seeing that the darkness in the world is the overshadowing of the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the radiant glory of the crucified One who reveals that reality is mysterious.
The seen and unseen coincides in the person of Christ, the humanism of God. God Himself, in infusing His Spirit to a human being, manifested the humanity we cannot expose. The Word which speaks the language of love (Spirit) is the sustenance and meaning of life. The Word-made-zygote in the womb of Mary is the lamb that conquers the “spirit of the lion” (Nietzsche) and brings back to man the freedom to erect his head before the glorious One who sees him with an unconditional look of mercy. Every experience of one’s worth comes from the affirmation of another. This is not dissimilar to the original experience of a baby who experiences reality from the smile of his mother. It is not, however, only an experience of worth the child has but an affirmation of his ontological existence. Hans Urs von Balthasar noted,
It is clear that a conscious subject can only awaken to himself and his distinct selfhood if he is addressed by one or more others who regard him as of value or perhaps as indispensable. When a child learns from its mother that it is ‘her treasure’, it becomes aware not only of its ‘worth’ (dignitas individui) but specifically of its uniqueness…The most emphatic affirmation can only tell him who he is for the one who values him or loves him. (Theo-Drama vol. 3, Ignatius Press 1992, pg. 205)
The existence of a child possesses a certain uniqueness that does not simply call out to be loved, but loved in a way that corresponds to his uniqueness. What cannot be separated, however, are his uniqueness and the way he is loved. Our humanity can now be revealed because God, in becoming man, has beckoned us. Pain, suffering, and darkness can never be an excuse for refusing to embrace life because even in the suffering God has from man’s abandonment, He manages to keep His eyes on him. “It seems to me that nothing prevents man from rejoicing in whatever he finds painful. For while he is sad at the troubles caused by virtuous living in the flesh, he rejoices in his soul because of that same virtue, because he sees, as something already present, the beauty and dignity of what is to come” (Maximus the Confessor, Quaest. ad Thal. 58). This is the new humanity, the humanism of God, man with God. There is now a gaze that infuses the spirit of freedom and love into the hearts of man. It is the gracious gaze that brings out the confident cry of a new song to the Lord. Even sin does not blindfold Him. Without this gaze, even love cannot satisfy the lonely heart. “He came to create a need, a thirst that his disappearance will render unquenchable. And at the same time he came to bring the satisfaction of this need, to place the answer in our hands, to offer himself as the sole remedy for this one fundamental craving of our nature that is its own gratification. He came to place himself at our disposal, to join forces with us. Son of God, he came to show us how to be sons of God” (Paul Claudel, I Believe in God, pg. 75). The Sun of glory has broken the eclipse away. Prayer is no longer a monologue but an invitation for the consummation.