Philosophico-Theo-Political Musings on Inauguration Day: The Romance of Time and Integral Human Development

The life of a people is as mortal as the life of any person. The greater the level of personal self-transcendence, though, the more durable the communal spirit.

The vitality of the American Republic depends on the thoughtfulness and the goodness and the piety of her citizens. Now is always the acceptable hour to wake up to the earnestness of existence.

I am re-reading with a kindred spirit the astonishing work of Balthasar’s, Heart of the World. In the first chapter, Balthasar meditates on time and love in a way that puts me in mind of integral human development, the term with which Pope Benedict preferred to sum up Catholic social doctrine. I have long contended that the holy grail of conceptualizations of love is one that synthesizes romance with solidarity.

Human development requires the expropriations that time inflicts on us: “What strange beings we are! We grow only by being thrust into transiency. We cannot ripen, we cannot become rich in any way other than by an uninterrupted renunciation that occurs hour by hour. We must endure duration and outlast it.”

But these expropriations become precious if we recognize them for what they are: modes of love’s presence and absence. We should experience the extent of time, its agony and joy and monotony, as the very growth of love: “Every moment in our life teaches us with gentleness what the last moment must finally enforce with violence: that we ought to discover in the mystery of time’s duration the sweet core of our life—the offer made by a tireless love.”

Patience is just another word for being in love. 

To attempt to fix our position securely, to mummify our current status, to control the future: such attempts are symptoms of arrested development, of hardhearted lovelessness. (Reification would be a fancy word to describe this unfortunate condition—a reification of spirit, which an Augustinian could term self-incurvature.)

“If, after many a death, we die for one last time: in this act of highest life, existence has ceased dying. Only one thing can ever be deadly: to be alive and not to want to die.”

This explains the second death: to exist while refusing to be decentered. 

Integral human development—the unfolding of the dignity of the human person, the realization of a person’s bodily and spiritual potencies—comes with relinquishing the futile attempt at self-making. Love is the sine qua non of development. I am not myself unless I entrust my heart and my dreams to God’s providence and to those nearest and dearest to me.

If there can be no development without love, there can be no justice without love. In his marvelous 2010 Lenten Message, Pope Benedict makes this explicit. In providing the classic answer to the question, “what is justice?”, “dare cuique suum/to give each his due,” Pope Benedict makes clear that nothing less than divine love is what is “due” each human: “In order to live life to the full, something more intimate is necessary that can be granted only as a gift: we could say that man lives by that love which only God can communicate.”

But love can never be seized. It must be received. We must always wait for it, from the very hand of God. And so we are back to time as the dimension through which we undergo the wise and loving will of God, completely beyond our control: “Indeed, man is weakened by an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into communion with the other. By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others: this is egoism, the result of original sin. Adam and Eve, seduced by Satan’s lie, snatching the mysterious fruit against the divine command, replaced the logic of trusting in Love with that of suspicion and competition; the logic of receiving and trustfully expecting from the Other with anxiously seizing and doing on one’s own (cf. Gn 3, 1-6), experiencing, as a consequence, a sense of disquiet and uncertainty.”

We either consent to the depredations of time because we trust the goodness of God, or we doubt His goodness and see life as a zero-sum game legitimating our hardhearted powerplays. 

In the end, with Balthasar, we sense that the pulsations of time are all of them the systole and diastole of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

“What then is the justice of Christ? Above all, it is the justice that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals himself and others. The fact that ‘expiation’ flows from the ‘blood’ of Christ signifies that it is not man’s sacrifices that free him from the weight of his faults, but the loving act of God who opens Himself in the extreme, even to the point of bearing in Himself the ‘curse’ due to man so as to give in return the ‘blessing’ due to God (cf. Gal 3, 13-14).”

Focusing on the strange reality that justice is a mode of love allows Pope Benedict to draw romance and solidarity inextricably together:

“But this raises an immediate objection: what kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one? Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his ‘due’? ...Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of Another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from ‘what is mine,’ to give me gratuitously ‘what is His.’ This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the ‘greatest’ justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognizes itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected. Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.”

America begins a new chapter today. May each of us citizens discover time as love, and so also discover justice as love. May we sway together in the rhythms of a great Heart more relentless in its love than we are in our lovelessness. And finding ourselves in the bleeding Heart and returning the unrequited passion of Jesus, may we find our way to each other.