I spoke in the last chapter of the beauty of Scripture, and specifically of the Psalms. Though the Bible does indeed contain abstract concepts, it is also full of visceral expressions of human emotion and experience. In fact, it is sadly the case that the pristine beauty and simplicity of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, after millennia of thought, debate, and interpretation, has become opaque to many people. Of course, I don’t mean to lament the two to three thousand years that have passed since the texts were written, nor the beautiful and essential development of doctrine that has occurred during this time, in which the seed of the word has taken root and born abundant fruit. Hopefully what I wrote in the first part of this book in this regard has made this clear. No, for the Bible is the book of the Church—and this Church is a living Church, the Bride who is a single, many-personed subject whom the Bridegroom lovingly addresses in his love-letter of the Bible. Only in the Church is the Bible fully at home; only in the Church can the purity and beauty of its message remain intact, safeguarded within the bosom of her who treasures all of these things in her heart, and, through diverse ways, communicates them and makes them accessible to her children. Yes, and thus the Church is Mother, in whom we find ourselves, beloved children of God, safe enough to play and rejoice with lighthearted and carefree abandon in the garden of Scripture, and in the garden of the world.

What I mean to speak about in lamenting the “obscuring” that has happened over the millennia since Scripture was written is rather how diverse falsities have cropped up over the years, wounding many. I have already spoken about four primary falsities in the first part of this book—the perennial suspicion of human desires and feelings and the corresponding legalism this entails, the approach to prayer and holiness that focuses on negation to the expense of affirmation, the idea of God as a strict lawgiver and judge who is always ready to punish rather than “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1:3), and, finally, the theology that puts excessive emphasis on “mission” to the detriment of person and intimacy. Many more falsehoods could be spoken of—for example, the excessive emphasis placed on “institution,” which is no longer understood as being purely at the service of personal encounter and communion, but rather becomes a bureaucratic structure that obscures rather than reveals. This has been justified theologically by an emphasis on the Petrine—or priestly, ministerial, hierarchical—dimension of the Church, to the neglect of the Marian and Johannine dimensions—those of love, the person, and gratuitous intimacy—which are much more primary, and which the Petrine exists to serve, protect, and in which, indeed, the Petrine desperately needs to participate. But in fact, as in every falsehood, this tendency has come about not merely through theological foibles, but through a distancing from the heart of the Gospel—love and intimacy rooted in the incomparable beauty of each person!—and through the adoption of ways of acting and thinking rooted more in the sinful and fallen state of the world than in the redeeming touch of God.

I am not going to spend a long time, however, speaking against any particular falsehoods, any specific lies that have wounded human hearts and made the radiant light of the Gospel difficult to see, and the throbbing heartbeat of the God who is Love difficult to hear and feel. I would rather try to go beneath them all to the still-point at the center, where things are radiantly simple in the contact of the heart with reality. For the truth, after all, is not complicated! Even if profound thought and dialogue have gone into protecting and enunciating the authentic meaning of Christian faith throughout the millennia (and how necessary this has been!), it nonetheless remains true that all the complexity of such thought has been in order to protect the simplicity and purity of the faith for the little ones! And in all of this, the simple essence of the Gospel has indeed passed through fire, through the depths of darkness and affliction, lies and oppression. But it has come out, not twisted, not lost, not obscured, but perhaps even more radiant than ever. For as she passes through her own Passion in communion with her Crucified Bridegroom, the Church too is stripped naked. Yet in this nakedness, as humiliated as she may be, as afflicted, as misunderstood, her true beauty—and the beauty of the Bridegroom’s gift alive within her—radiates with nothing to obscure it. Now, perhaps more than ever before, we can sense and feel that Christianity stands or falls with the person and with intimacy. It is Christianity alone that can promise, and can protect, the true dignity of each and every person as a child of God, created by the Trinity’s own incomparable love and destined for eternal communion with him in heaven. It is Christianity alone that can speak into the deepest longings of the human heart, gathering them all together into unity and simplicity in the one, all-enfolding desire for intimacy which consummates the rest.

As John Paul II said, it is the great task of the Church in the third millennium—and I would prefer to say it is the beautiful plan of God—to make the primacy of communion visible and tangible for all to see and experience. And this wonderful gift of communion, if it is truly to touch us, to awaken us from the slumber of fear and sin, and to draw us to the fulfillment that we long for, must permeate us to the core. And it cannot do so unless it touches us in the two dimensions of person and of the body. Once one or the other is neglected, then the term “communion” loses its meaning, and is reduced to a mere coordination of roles, or a common denominator of harmony among brethren, or the agreement of those who share the same faith and life of worship. Now, of course, all of these are also part of communion, and unfold within communion. Everything that God has given to his Church, Bride and Mother, is a part of the living experience of ecclesial communion, and many-faceted indeed it is. But all flows from, is held by, exists to serve, and returns to the single reality of interpersonal intimacy, the single mystery of the embrace of persons in the embrace of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And the body is the safeguard of uniqueness in our experience; the body is the incarnation of the individual. It is in and through contact with the person in their body, in their incomparable existence, that we come to know the unique contours of their being as created by God—unlike any other person who has ever been or ever will be. And in this contact, we are invited to learn to reverence, to listen, to contemplate, to receive, and, from this reception, to be enabled to care for the other with tenderness and attunement according to their authentic need in the sight of God, according to his own unique word echoing in the heart of their being and life.

This is the great gift and task of human existence, and the true and deepest meaning of service. It is to open wide my heart to welcome those persons entrusted to me by God, and to hold them here, in my inmost depth, with tenderness, such that I love and reverence them in even the slightest stirrings of their being, in the most subtle cries of their heart, in the unique unfolding of their story. And it is precisely this acceptance of the gift of the other, this listening receptivity and openness that welcomes them from God, that allows me to hear, not only the word spoken by their own heart, but also the word that God wishes to speak to them and for them. In this way, and in this way alone, I can accompany them, care for them, and call them forth, not in a way that does violence to them, constricts them, or harms them, but rather corresponds with the intentions of God himself for his beloved child, intentions to heal them of all that closes them in fear and sin, and to draw them into the joyful life of love and intimacy, in this life and in the next.

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The Church is the true home of the human heart. She has been given by God to be the space in which the deepest aspirations of humanity are given expression, oriented according to the original intentions of God, and indeed are redeemed and lifted up to a fulfillment that surpasses even what was given at the beginning of time—a fulfillment founded in the newness of the Resurrection of Christ. This is the case because the message of the Gospel, the Good News entrusted by Christ to his Church, is not a particular paradigm imposed by human wisdom which limits and constrains, but is the very “power of God at work in those who believe” (1 Thes 2:13). It is, in fact, the very life of God himself given in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, the living circulation of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit surging forth into the heart of time and history, and weaving itself into the fabric of each human life.

And this life is not meant to be imposed as an impersonal structure, as a so-called “categorical imperative,” as abstract principles, even if it can also be helpful that it is expressed in such a way. It is rather the living word of a living God spoken to each and every singular heart in a direct and personal way. All that is abstract, impersonal, or generalized, as true as it is in its own right, seeks to become fully concrete, fully singular, in the life of each individual, and in the singular relationships woven through love—through God’s own Love at work in the world and in the lives of those who surrender themselves to the current of his grace.

On one level, the universal truth itself seeks to be realized by each individual and within each individual, such that what is universally true is also experienced as true by me, and lived by me. This is how all the commandments of the law, all the dictates of the moral fabric of the universe, all universally-binding principles discovered by human reason, issue a word to me that calls for acceptance and obedience—not as an arbitrary yoke imposed from the outside, but as echoes of the voice of God himself resounding in the universe. And this voice calls me to live according to the truth of all being, according to the truth of my own being fashioned in God’s image, and, in this truth, to find freedom. As Christ said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). There is no freedom outside of the truth, but rather in the shelter of its embrace—or better, in the shelter of his embrace.

In a word, the universal nature of truth seeks to be affirmed and lived by each individual, and, at the same time, so does each individual aspire to be wedded to the truth, and thus to find freedom, fulfillment, and happiness. This is a wedding of subjective and objective for which each person innately longs, for which we have been oriented by the creative touch of God himself, even if the path to this union is fraught with difficulties and fears due to woundedness and sin. But in addition to this level—the union of the universal fabric of the world and the “nature of things” with the subjective awareness and experience of the individual—we can also discern another level, a more interior and delicate one. This is that singular word of God’s love spoken to each heart, in which he desires to establish an incomparable relationship of love with them, unlike any other that has ever existed. In this, the word that he speaks to them, and thus the contours of their unique life unfolding in his love, cannot be reduced to what is “universally valid,” even as this singular word always abides in complete harmony with the universally valid, and indeed expresses and realizes this with a particularly profound depth and beauty.

All, indeed, is oriented towards the establishment of precisely this relationship, in which all that is general becomes specific, all that is universal becomes particular without ceasing to be universal, all that is impersonal becomes personal, and all that is “common” becomes communion, becomes the lived experience of interpersonal intimacy. And, due to the depth and uniqueness of God’s relationship with each person, and to the very nature of what it means to be an incomparable person, it is true that this singularity cannot be reduced to anything but itself. It cannot be taken out of the singular relationship of love and made a general law or principle (as we have seen, for example, in Kant) while still remaining alive and true to itself. For this, after all, is precisely what it means to be singular: it is totally one-of-a-kind, unrepeatable, irreplaceable, incommunicable. It cannot be transferred into different circumstances, with different persons and different capacities and needs, etc., and still retain its inner meaning.

And yet this very singularity is not “self-centered” in the negative sense of the term; no, it is the very opposite. The encounter between God and the singular human heart is a kind of locus point, a convergence point, in which the mysteries of the whole of reality are, as it were, distilled and condensed. All of their richness and depth is gathered together, harmonized, and bestowed as a gift upon the receptive human person, who, as spirit and body, is open to the wholeness of all that is. And precisely in this openness to the wholeness of all that is—in this virginal receptivity that mirrors and shares in the “yes” of Mary and of Christ himself to the gift of the Father—the heart is made capable also of hearing the singular “Yes” of God himself spoken to his unique child. And whatever the particular contours of this given encounter are, whatever the specific echo of this singularity, it is always an expression of that inner essence of reality as love and intimacy. It is thus not a narrowing, a closing in upon self, a choice of a particular “way” among many which severs oneself from the breadth and depth of universal truth. Rather, those who experience the singular word of God spoken into the singularity of their life, and who, in all the uniqueness of their being—and with radical trust, desire, and surrender—respond, realize that this response is truly a living contact with the very depths of being.

And indeed, since this is the case, this meeting of the “Yes” of God and the “yes” of the human heart sends ripples throughout the universe, echoing into the hearts and lives of other persons too, to bear fruit for their sake. As gratuitous as it is—as beautiful, good, and true for its own sake, in God’s love for the incomparable individual—this encounter and this path is also abundantly expansive and innately fruitful. This is because, as a living contact with the essence of reality, as a contact between God and the human person (or human persons together in God), this contact is the most profound and intense form of intimacy. It is a place in which the lines converge, in which the partial is gathered together into the whole, and yet, paradoxically, in which the absolute dignity of the singular, of the incomparably unique, is revealed most deeply. This is because here is the full realization of what is personal, precisely through the full realization of communion. Here all the rays of light, multitudinous in many different colors, return to the center point where they are harmonized in white-hot purity in the direct embrace of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And here, therefore, at their place of origin, they can pour forth most intensely into all the places in creation where they are needed the most, and can draw hearts back to this center point where person and intimacy alone remain, in all the beauty of incomparable singularity and universal communion.

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Some words of Saint Augustine relate beautifully to the reality of which I have been speaking. He said:

From the entire human race throughout the world this love gathers together into one body a new people, to be the bride of God’s only Son. She is the bride of whom it is asked in the Song of Songs: Who is this who comes clothed in white? White indeed are her garments, for she has been made new; and the source of her renewal is none other than this new commandment. And so all her members make each other’s welfare their common care. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is glorified all the rest rejoice. They hear and obey the Lord’s words: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; not as men love one another for their own selfish ends, nor merely on account of their common humanity, but because they are all gods and sons of the Most High. They love one another as God loves them so that they may be brothers of his only Son. He will lead them to the goal that alone will satisfy them, where all their desires will be fulfilled. For when God is all in all, there will be nothing left to desire. This love is the gift of the Lord who said: As I have loved you, you also must love one another. … By loving us himself, our mighty head has linked us all together as members of his own body, bound to one another by the tender bond of love. (Treatise on John, 65, 1-3)

How beautiful is this renewal of which Augustine speaks! It is not only the incorporation of each one of us into Christ, and our life in him, but also the harmony of a new body, the Body of Christ, of which we are members of God and of one another. Yet, being members of Christ, we are also members of one another, united inseparably to each of our brothers and sisters. Here a new communion is born, a communion based entirely on the newness of our belonging to God, and thus a communion that shares in and reflects the very communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are “bound together by the tender bond of love,” which is the very surging current of the Trinity’s life present and active within us; and in this love, a whole new order of human relationships is born, unheard of in the world until the coming of Christ and the gift of his Church. In this new order of relationships, the very love of God is rule and guide. The very love of God is motive and force and inner principle.

It is the guiding breath of longing and aspiration that carries human hearts moment by moment in their trajectory throughout this life into the consummation in which God will be all in all. And, carried by the impulse of this longing, of this magnetism of the Spirit, they also relate to one another with a new depth, tenderness, and compassion, for they are all members of his Body, all irreplaceably precious as belonging to Christ, and being, indeed, bearers of Christ. Yes, in the bosom of the Church, who is both Bride and Body of Christ, “all her members make each other’s welfare their common care. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is glorified all the rest rejoice.” What a beautiful communion, what a profound and total sharing of life, such that the slightest stirring of my heart in prayer, longing, hope, or pain vibrates in the hearts of my brothers and sisters, and the same for their experience within me! Yes, here nothing is insignificant, nothing is too hidden, too little, too small. Rather, all is felt like ripples from a stone cast into water—for good or for ill—within the Body of Christ. Let us then side wholly with goodness, beauty, and truth, with the loving and recreating work of God within this world. For all things, by grace and mercy, are taken up into the embrace of God who redeems us, as he is weaving all humanity, broken by sin, back together into the single fabric of restored intimacy that participates in his own life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The previous words have hopefully opened up the space for us to affirm anew, not only that the Church is the true home of the human heart, the home of humanity itself, but also to affirm how she is this home. She is the home because she is the place of meeting and encounter, the place of communion. She is the hearth around which all human hearts, alone in the cold and darkness, gather in order to bathe in the warmth and light of God’s love, and here, also, experience the joy of true intimacy with one another. To use the words of the previous section, the Church is the home where “incomparable singularity” and “universal communion” intersect. And they do so precisely because the universal communion of the Church is founded upon the incomparable singularity of each person in the eyes of God. It is not founded on the primacy of the “whole,” nor merely on the common good, nor only on commonality in belief and practice, nor even on an understanding of the great family of humanity, but on the awareness of the absolute dignity of each individual child of God, redeemed by Christ for eternal participation in the intimacy of the Persons of the Trinity. And thus, further, this is an awareness of this dignity as belonging to someone who is called to find fulfillment and happiness precisely in the life of intimacy, first with God, and also with all of humanity.

To say this is to come immediately to the heart of the Gospel again. It is person and intimacy. And it is person and intimacy, not in the abstract, but in the concrete; and yet also not in the merely human realm according to human capacities and measures, but in the very light and love of the Trinity, who is the perfect realization of the intersection of Person and Intimacy. Thus, the heart of the Gospel is a Person: Christ. And in and through Christ is discovered and experienced a family of Persons, a Communion of Persons—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in everlasting embrace. Thus, the Gospel is nothing but the full expression of our vocation and destiny to share, already in this life and perfectly forever in the next, in this very inner life of God as personal love and intimacy.

Let me give an example of what I mean by saying that the Church is the home—we could say the family, for it is the family that makes the home—where incomparable singularity and universal communion intersect. This is really quite obvious for most Catholics who live their faith with a loving heart (even if, in the wounded culture in which we live, they often hear the very opposite in homilies, podcasts, and talks, or read otherwise). This is because, in fact, they experience it constantly, and profoundly, as the very air that they breathe. It is so close to us, and so intimate, that we tend to take it for granted, not realizing what an amazing and wondrous reality it is. This is because the whole of the Christian life, the whole mystery of faith, consists in a living relationship with a singular Person: with the Incarnate Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, and in him, with him, and through him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Thus, on the basis of the most singular Person of Christ, and in and through the unrepeatable story of his human existence two-thousand years ago, in a given time and place with all the limits implied in this, we make contact with the most expansive universality and the most all-enfolding communion.

And yet in enfolding the whole universe and every human person, this communion does not thereby become anonymous or general, nor somehow cease being singular; rather, it safeguards and protects the singular, revealing it as the true living heartbeat of the entire universe. For, after all, the awareness of human dignity was not born in ancient Greece or Rome, nor in the Enlightenment, but rather in the cradle of Christianity: it was born from the awareness of the preciousness of each and every person in the light of God’s creative and redeeming love. “If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he ‘gained so great a Redeemer,’ and if God ‘gave his only Son’ in order that man ‘should not perish but have eternal life’ (Redemptor Hominis, 11). And only on the basis of this awe-filled awareness of the incomparable dignity of each person was it able to reveal the deep vocation to communion which is inscribed in each one of us as the image and likeness of God.

Or perhaps better, these two dimensions exist as simple facets of a single reality, feeding into one another in a ceaseless circulation: person and intimacy. The person has inalienable dignity because God, who is eternal Communion, has created them to participate eternally in his own inner life; he has, in other words, bestowed upon them, as a pure gift, an absolute value and dignity meant to live forever in his own embrace, and there to find everlasting fulfillment and consummation. On the other hand, this communion is only possible, this participation in the life of God is only possible, on the basis of the personal dignity of the individual, who is fashioned as an incomparably unique beloved, a child of God, capable of entering freely into intimate relationship as an “I” before a “Thou,” and to live and rejoice in the “We” of communion. Here we see just how deeply person and intimacy are interlaced, such that we cannot sever one from the other, but rather are invited to accept both together as the simple inhale and exhale, the simple throbbing heartbeat, of reality as it shares in the innermost mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.