“In the deepest heart of all of us there is a corner in which the ultimate mystery of things works sadly” (William James).
WE ARE BEINGS WHO YEARN. We sense that we’re part of something much larger than ourselves, something that transcends our finite existence, and we yearn to know what that is. Not only do we yearn to know it, but we yearn to have whatever should be our rightful connection to it. In the larger web of reality, we’d like to think there is a harmony that might be possible, and we imagine what it would be like to enjoy such harmony. However many parts or pieces there may be to what “is,” it seems natural to suppose that these parts should be in sync — and that we ourselves should be in sync with them.
Yet we see around us far too much discord and violence to believe things are presently in sync. If things were ever right in the universe, they are not so now. Something has clearly gone wrong. And when we think about this, there is a definite sadness that we feel, a certain wistfulness to our existence. What “is” is out of kilter. The best recommendations of the philosophers leave much to be desired. The most intense pleasures in the world seem, after a while, to be less than one might hope for. And the crowning monuments of human civilization eventually crumble into dust. The more honest we are, the sadder it makes us to think about all of this. Is there not anything that is completely satisfying? Is there not anything that is ultimately important?
Most of us need to think about the issue of ultimate importance more than we do. Unless we take the position that nothing is important, we probably believe something is more important than anything else — and we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to put that thing first in our lives, to the best of our present understanding.
Our main difficulty, of course, stems from our failure to distinguish between the creation and its Creator. If, as seems quite likely, we and this whole world have been created, that clears up the question of ultimacy. It’s the Creator — and not anything or anyone in the creation itself — who should have our first and final love.
“The human value is not the ultimate, but only the penultimate value; the last, the highest value is God the Father. He alone is the cause and the measure of all things, cause and measure of all valuations, cause and measure of all love” (Karl Adam).