Thursday, July 14, 2011

The structural disproportion that constitutes us: desire

Someone who is "truly attentive to experience," Fr. Carrón recently observed, "cannot help but recognize the structural disproportion that constitutes our 'I' ("Whoever Is In Christ Is A New Creation" p.21). Say what? That is a common reaction I tried to address in a previous post: For too many "the reasons complicate".

But what is this "structural disproportion" that is part and parcel of both what and who we are? Well, Fr. Carrón uses a quote from Giacomo Leopardi's book Pensieri, which is patterned after La Rochefoucauld's Maxims: "...the inability to be satisfied by any worldly thing or, so to speak, by the entire accuse things always of being inadequate and meaningless; to suffer want, emptiness, and hence noia- this seems to me the chief sign of the grandeur and nobility of human nature." However, it can easily lead to despair, or a sense of world-weariness of the kind we find in Ecclesiastes:
What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays. The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises. Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going (1:3-7)
This inability is the structural disproportion that constitutes my "I"; no matter how much I have, I want more, yet I realize even in my wanting that having more will not quench my desire. This insight, Carrón tells us inevitably dawns upon anyone who is truly attentive to experience! In other words, it can be verified. Giussani states this in a more direct way: "The inexhaustibility of the questions heightens the contradiction between the urgent need for an answer and our human limitations in searching for it." What are these question we urgently need answered, but that our human, that is, creaturely, limitations hamper us from answering in a satisfactory manner? Existential questions, like "What is the ultimate meaning of existence?" This question is posed from the perspective of a being who is ineradicably disposed toward the transcendent, as Leopardi indicates. "Why is there pain and death, and, in the end (to paraphrase Archbishop Sheen), is life worth living?" It was no less a man than Camus who insisted that suicide is the only "truly serious philosophical problem."

"This irresolvable contradiction," Carrón insists before quoting Leopardi again, is "the eternal mystery of our being." Even for religious people, who try to leap experience, even existence, from here to God, Carrón insists, "God is not missing; the mystery of our 'I' is missing, this eternal mystery of our being!" As result "we have no need of Him and therefore seek the answer where everyone looks for it." Or, worse yet, we jump right over our "I" to God and act, even to ourselves, as though we know. Yet this is a knowing that brings no satisfaction, only moralism and sentimentality.

I am invoking the Welborn protocol for the first time, but I am sure Frank, who is now the driving force behind the blog Why I Am Catholic, won't mind. I do so to demonstrate the result of ignoring the issue that Carrón places squarely in front of us:
"Food for thought... because this is the age old, nay, timeless, question. 'Why are we here?'

"The modern atheist here has shot his wad. Somebody says 'read the Catechism' to him. Hmmm, not a great answer to the dude who wants, no, DEMANDS, that the 'book' be written by God Himself, and that all changes, and modifications thereof be delivered 'in person' by Himself. God as messenger boy of His Technical Publications Office with all the latest updates to the Magisterium Code, Annotated."
Frank is correct, "not a great answer," especially for a person who seems to understand the urgency of the question. The atheist's demand is honest, the reply "read the Catechism" is an evasion, not a witness precisely because it lacks the person's 'I'.


  1. Qoheleth backs up Fr. Carrón directly,

    I acquired silver and gold- the wealth of kings and nations. I had choirmaster and singers and besides that, what most delights men. I became great, surpassing all my predecessors in Jerusalem without losing wisdom. I refused myself nothing that my eyes desired nor did I deprive my heart of any pleasure. I enjoyed all I undertook and that was my reward for my work. Then I considered all I had achieved and all the toil it had entailed and found that it was all meaningless and chasing wind. There is no profit under the sun.

    —Ecclesiastes 2:8-11

    Thank God "the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us." (John 1:14)

  2. Yes, indeed. Even though Carrón is a Scripture scholar, it just as important for what he says to be backed up by experience as by Scripture, which deals in the first instance, not with theology, but experience.