If you’ve been following these Scripture reflections for any length of time,you’ve no doubt noticed that G. K. Chesterton (1876-1936) is one of myfavorite authors. The early twentieth century English “man of letters”wrote across a range of literary genres. Though he always called himselfa journalist, he also wrote essays, poetry, novels and biographies. It is tohis work as a biographer that I would like to refer today. Chesterton’sbiographies were widely admired in his day. He was credited with deep,startling insights into the lives and works of the people he wrote about.For example, leading Thomists of his time were awed by his life of ThomasAquinas, one calling it the book he had been trying to write all his life. Hisbiographies of St. Francis of Assisi, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning andGeorge Bernard Shaw were all widely read and critically lauded. If youwere to sit down with all of these volumes and copy out Chesterton’smost striking remarks about each of these figures, the resulting list ofquotations, valuable in their own right, would have an additional surprisingquality. Read out, with the proper names omitted, they would serveadmirably as a description of G. K. Chesterton himself. It’s as ifChesterton could ultimately find in others only those qualities that hehimself possessed, leading me to wonder if it might be the same with allof us. Perhaps our deepest intuitive insights into the virtues of others areevidence that we possess those same virtues ourselves. (I’m reminded ofAugustine’s remark that to praise the virtuous acts of another is to havea share in them.)
Many have suspected that the converse is true: that the behaviorsand frailties that most annoy us in other people are the very ones that wedislike in ourselves. It is proverbial, for instance, that one should be slowto trust someone who insists that no one can be trusted. The idea, Isuppose, is that they are basing their low opinion of the trustworthinessof others on their estimation of their own character. So, if you arelooking for someone to trust, you might be wise to choose someone whois trusting. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the same held true of thepositive qualities we perceive in others – that our deepest insights intowhat is beautiful in other people are evidence that the same beautydwells somewhere in us?
These thoughts are spurred by our Second Reading from the Firstletter of John:
Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
The idea is that we are able to love God only because God, who is love, isalready there in us. Jesus makes much the same point in our Gospel:
As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
The theologian, Karl Rahner (1904-1984), insisted that human selfconsciousnessfirst flickers into being when an infant sees the lovereflected in its mother’s eyes. What a comfort and inspiration it can beto realize that our subsequent love of our mothers, and of one another,and of God is evidence that the God who is love, the infinite love thatcreates and sustains the universe, dwells already in us. Perhaps it is tothis that Jesus refers when he says, “I have told you this so that my joymay be in you, and your joy may be complete.”
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”