Material existence is weird. I says this, because I have just enough Thomistitelian (Thomistic Aristotelian) training to know the importance of a good beginning, for as St. Thomas says, a small error in the beginning when driving means you end up in the Atlantic Ocean if you’re not careful. Or something of the like.
Nevertheless, at the beginning of this blog, I intend to begin well, and so I will say, material existence is weird, and this I know from my senses and from the common opinion and from the opining of the wise. After all, we know things through senses. And we reproduce. And we need water and bread and oil and wine and wood and iron and all sorts of things which are not of us to survive, yet we can prove that the square on two sides of the triangle equal the square on the third.
As human persons, we can love and we can also kiss, and even know that at times there is a great difference between the two. All too often, however, people don’t begin by considering how weird it is that things are what they are; instead people begin by supposing what these things could be or what they should be or what we would rather they be. While I want a hoverboard as much as any of you, we have trees. Trees are incredible, and they exist, and we see them so often we sometimes forget to consider the incredible being-ness you can find in trees.
This is a little error, but it’s one that can end in some rather big errors. When Catholics forget the whole “nature” thing—the beingness and deep-down “what-it-is” of things,we tend to find ourselves far-afield of Rome. Nature is so ordinary that it becomes all too easy to forget that it matters. Nevertheless, matter it does; in ways that are both rooted in and extend beyond its very mattered-ness, because nature is the context in which any supernatural event happens. You can’t raise something beyond itself if it never was. Christ would not be substantially present under the aspects of bread and wine if we never had bread and wine to begin with. Moreover, while I’m sure God could have set things up many different ways, He did in fact set them up this way, so we cannot assume the choice of bread and wine to be an inconsequential one. Perhaps even more importantly and consequently, had God not created humanity, the Word would not have assumed a human nature to Himself.
But beyond all this, grace is transformative—it has to be if it is to be if it is the love of God by which He desires a creature to obtain the eternal good, which is Himself. Because without that grace, none of us are making it to Heaven. Yet, strange though it may be, no thing can change without first being itself. So what is a thing? What ought it to be? How shall it be made so? What are we? What ought we to be? How shall we be so? These questions are not easy ones, but they are essential ones, not only for beginning to strike towards the essence of things: before grace can work through bread, wine, water, oil, human nature, we must understand those things as they exist.
So, I propose to begin with looking at the small things, the real things, the things we encounter in our lives and conversations and other persons, and seeing how we might arrive at greater understanding of truth, better possession of the good, and deeper contemplation of the beautiful. I propose this method because, to quote my former teacher Dr. Ronald MacArthur, “this is the only way I know how to do it. If you know of a better way, let me know, because I’ve been doing this for years, and this is the best way I’ve found to do it.”
See, all too often most of us are terrified to grab a hold of reality- we lock ourselves into a world of supernatural and subnatural abstractions, because to begin with the things makes it all to easy to encounter reality, and that scares us in a profound way. It’s easy to say “Christ is present in the Eucharist.” Yet, to consider the actually reality of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity as present in bread and wine, to consider how small and limited bread and wine are, how subordinate to man they are, how they exist to fulfil basic biological needs that we share with all other material beings, like flowers and mosquitos, is to approach awe for the love that could inspire such a willing limitation and veiling. We fear to ask the question, we fear to begin, we fear to chose, we fear to see ourselves, the world, others.
As summer comes, I can tell you this: I certainly plan on daring to eat a peach. The radical act of bring reality into myself, of reaching out to accept the offering of the world which God created, will be worth it after all. It’s a beautiful idea, so how could it not be worth it in the end? And, ultimately the delight of the first summer peach is worth bearing all that reality in the subsequent aftertaste. I hope you will be willing to join me!