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Concepts of Psychology and Spiritual Maturity

by Charles Curren, Psychologist
Written in 1963

This discussion of psychological and spiritual maturity might be best illustrated by an incident reported in the Korean War. There was a great difficulty in the soft, mucky terrain and the hugh modern tanks were bogging down in the mud. But in one section the soldiers found a path, over grown with bushes and not used for many years apparently, which actually held up even the largest tanks and trucks and immeasurably facilitated their movements.

When they investigated the history of this valuable passageway they learned it was at least a thousand years old, constructed by hand in some very ancient, now forgotten dynasty.

In our consideration of psychological and spiritual maturity, then, we wish to make something of the same effective combination of new and old that is suggested by this Korean incident. We would like to show, from the point of view of modern psychological awareness, that maturity still consists ideally in the Christian ability to love self, neighbor and God and that this can be remarkably implemented in action by the right understanding and development of the cardinal virtues. To be sure, underbrush and debris have gathered here that must be swept away. Our concept of prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice must be care fully clarified and adapted to what we now know in psychology. Yet, like the ancient Korean road proved so valuable to the movement of the modern tanks, these values have helped to carry through many centuries the burden of human hearts and, I think, can still help this burden.

Pope Paul, when he was a Cardinal, defined the mission of the Church in these words:

“The Church is similar to a voyage in which the Church lives and develops and continues the work of redemption; and although it manifests all the features of a great and evident human phenomenon, it is not just human. It is a certain continued Incarnation of Christ. The title which St. Paul will vindicate unto himself, as a distinctive ‘apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God,’ is more than a personal vocation: it is a special mandate. The first action of the apostle must be that of presenting to the world an admirable, attractive Christianity. The first testimony will be that of our unity, our mutual love, our interior cohesion. The second will be that we love those whom we wish to evangelize: this is the great policy of the apostolate. It is not a conquest but a service. We shall not forget that the fundamental attitude of those who want to convert the world is loving it. This is the genius of the apostolate: knowing how to love.”

The essence of Christian maturity, then, in these terms, would also be knowing how to love. Pope Paul's definition of "the genius of the apostolate" and the genius of religious maturity coincide here. If we can arrive at an understanding of how to love, therefore, we shall have arrived at a concept of maturity.

Pope Paul's phrases, as he speaks of the mission of the Church his words about continued redemption, incarnation, mutual love and loving the world to convert it all these suggest an appeal to a mission of love.


What is this mission? Christ said: "As Thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world." (John XVII,18). St. John put it in these words: "In this is charity; not as though we had loved God, but because he has first loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins." (John IV 9,10).

We are thus to love first as God loved us. But this understanding of the mission of love encounters profound human psychological as well as spiritual dif ficulties, particularly in our time. Let us consider some of them.


Today, in the changed meanings that many words have acquired,even in some of the cultural postulates we live by, there are a number of basic attitudes in us and in our society that make it difficult for us to love as Christ loved us. The first of these obstacles, I suggest, is a Cartesianism, strongly reinforced by today's industrial scientism, that pervades our lives. Attempting to meet the Newtonian mechanism that affected the whole of society in the seventeenth century a theory that held man, like the planetary system, to be per fectly predictable Descartes proposed the splitting of the human being in half. He conceived of man's psyche, his soul (in the Cartesian sense, not in the sense of Aristotle or St. Thomas) as a kind of complica ted astronaut residing in the mechanistic, materialistic part of the human being. Science was concerned chiefly with the mechanistic concept of man, from which the psyche was increasingly removed.

Descartes conceived of man as a cold, neutral, removed, intellectual being, almost on a mathematical model. And so pure reason, in the sense of the mathematical equation, became the model of all reason, all knowing. Now, even though as Aristotelians and Thomists we do not accept this view philosophically, it appears throughout our culture, as many of our common, casual phrases show. We talk about "figuring people out," "getting someone's number," "putting people in slots." All this is Cartesianism.

Another aspect of this kind of thing that has come down through scientific and industrial development has given rise to an odd kind of ethics. For example, we judge our automobile by the speed with which it responds to our commands. A car that starts promptly, warms up quickly, we say is a "good" car. One that does not is a "bad" car. Though unanalyzed, the etical value involved here is that the good thing is one that obeys my will without the slightest de lay. Something that does not do so is bad, and I must get rid of it. This has become the ethical structure of our "it" world. If we think for a moment of what life was like in the preautomobile days, we immediately see what the difference was. Not long ago, I had occasion to watch a man try to put a bit into a horse's mouth, and I realized that there is such a thing as "horsing a round." In the ethical system of the horse andbuggy era, people knew that the high spirits that caused some trouble in handling a horse made him a better horse on the road, once he was properly harnessed. A much more human value entered into the relation between man and horse than the Cartesian, industrialized value that causes us to reject out of hand a machine that does not immediately respond to our personal needs.

Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher- psychologist, has put the idea clearly in proposing that we have become more comfortable in the "it" world we have made by considering everything outside ourselves as "its," than we would be in a world of "I thou" relationships.


Cartesianism, in its concentration on the knowing process, profoundly affected our view of science, even the very connotation of the word. We know that "science" is really the word for knowing. But Cartesianism focused so strongly on the "knowing" process that it tended to minimize the "doing." It was woefully inadequate in under standing operation. Later Kant, among others, tried to remedy this. But he and others continued to hold to the dichotomized view of man and to the Newtonian idea of mechanism governing the human body as it did all matter. He thus dealt with "doing" much as Descartes had dealt with "knowing." He put into the psyche to parallel Descartes' mathematical knower a sense of duty, which he regarded in much the same way that we speak of a sense of sight or hearing.

Through this he postulated a categorical imperative that was to direct man's action. So from Kant, we have the oversimplification that if a man's will is a good one and he carries out its dictates, he is a good man; if his will is bad, the man is bad.

This oversimplified way of thinking about man's conduct can still be found in an un analyzed form all around us.


Rousseau tied both Cartesianism and Kantianism in with education. He proposed that if a man were properly educated, if he knew in the clearest Cartesian sense what he should do, he would invariably do the right thing and do it well. This was an especially enticing concept for America. With our Jeffersonian democratic idea of educating everyone, we combined Cartesianism, Kantianism and Rousseauianism. Hence we readily blamed the inadequacy of our school system when things did not go right. If we had more and better trained teachers, larger schools and libraries, bigger and better educational facilities, we told ourselves, all our problems could be solved. This idea, of course, has much value and we have received much benefit from it. In our time, however, we are beginning to realize that, even with big schools and well trained teachers many of our problems are still with us perhaps in greater number and severity.


This same process of reevaluation is occurring in all fields of thought. As one of the participants in this conference observed, the concept of quantum, which came into physics in the early part of this century, threw confusion into the Newtonian idea of mechanism, leaving it largely a concept of convergent phenomena that is understandable only in terms of large masses. Physicists and other scientists are still struggling with the different concept of matter arising from the theory of divergent phenomena. In medicine, an area that gained so much in knowledge and skill from Cartesian mechanism, there is now profound and intense questioning of that very concept. At the highest levels of medical and surgical knowledge, serious issues are being raised around the Cartesian hypotheses of any kind of mechan ism.

So in our modern culture, we are now in a reorganization period, taking a fresh look at man. We are beginning to see him as a unity again, which can help restore us to the stream of our earlier Christian, Aris totelianThomistic tradition, One of our operational problems, however, is that although we can verbalistically or semantically use these new terms, which are at the same time very ancient, we can be victimized by centuries of thought and feeling formed for us by Descartes, Kant and Rousseau.


Love as defined by St. Thomas and the scriptures, for example, has little in common with what our society usually means when it speaks of love "making love," which is chiefly sensual in its components, the fulfillment of an emotional need. Love in the Aristotelian and Thomistic meaning is essentially the gift of the self, and the will as they defined it has nothing to do with a sense of duty or a kind of will power like the bodybuilding exercises of the adolescent. It is not the Kantian gritting of the teeth described by Eichmann in his trial as he offered his dutiful obedience to his superiors as justification for what he had done. It is not, "yours but to do and die, yours not to reason why." The will, in the Thomistic idea, is the means by which the self is either given or withheld, the means by which we love in the sense of making a gift of our selves.


I think we may well refresh ourselves by turning back to the familiar Thomistic text that the essence of our lives and purpose is embodied in Christ's injunction to love our neighbor as ourselves. and God above all. As St. Thomas remarks, commenting on this text, the love of self is here presented as the model of which love of neighbor is the copy. Out of the two will come the love of God. Pope Paul has said that the acid test of Christian love is the love of our neigh bor. And we will love our neighbor in relation to the way we love ourselves or, as modern psychologists would put it, in relation to our self-image. Our self-image may be likened to a pair of glasses. We see others clearly or in a distorted way depending upon whether we see ourselves in a clear or distorted way.

In his treatment of friendship at the end of his Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle too points this out. The way to change a group or organization therefore, is to enable each individual in it to confront himself at a deep level. thus bringing about a change in his self-awareness. Changes in his attitudes toward others will inevitably follow. We change in relation to one another only as we change ourselves in some way.


St. Thomas says that we love ourselves on three levels. First there is the instinctive level of the self as a primitive creature. This is common to men and animals. It involves the instinct of self-preservation, all the clawing, protective, controlling defense urges in us. Sex drives at a lower level are primitive forms of self love.

The second level, to quote St. Paul, is that of the "outer man." the level of sensation derived from the five senses. This is the level of food and drink, of much television and other entertainment. of reading the kind of thing that satisfies in the realm of materiality. It is the level of building, of finding reassurance about the worth of one's self in the fact that one has built a church, a seminary, or many other buildings, accomplishments that can be seen and touched. These external things are powerfully reassuring. Although they are not on the low level of the primitive food and sex and self-defense drives, they partake of the same animality because they depend upon the five senses. We need not ridicule this interest in the external world of man; it is in all of us. But St. Thomas says there is an even higher way to love ourselves and one another.

The highest form of self-love that of the true rational man, the one who has reached the highest level of his humanity is the love of one's inner self. One who has attained this stage of development loves those things in himself that are both reasonable and voluntary. In a psychosomatic sense, he has, through deep and painful struggle with himself, arrived at control over the primitive drives of his animality, over the disordered attitude of his senses and emotions at the level of external man, and has reached a prudential awareness of self control. At this level, a man can become truly supernaturalized by the gift of God's love. When one's inner man has asserted his control over the wildness of the id man in the Freudian sense, of the primitive man in St. Thomas' sense, and over the more sophis ticated, sensual, external man, and has imprinted this control on human action, one has reached the moment of maximum freedom in the Pauline and Thomistic meaning. The prudentia carnis has given way to the prudentia spiritus.


In the process of learning to love ourselves and giving ourselves to others, I suggest that there are three general areas of difficulty. First, there is the need of a sense of self-worth. If I consider myself worthless, I have nothing worth giving: hence love is impossible, or at an extreme low level. For love to be a thing of dignity, meaning, and worth, I must see myself having real value.

Here the concept of redemption has profound meaning. We are all born into states of anxiety that dominate our infancy. One of these is the state of existential anxiety visible in the child's fear of darkness, of the overwhelming feeling that he is on the edge of nothingness, the panic a child some times experiences at the loss of a little fetish doll that he carries with him for security. As we grow older, we exchange more adult things for the teddy bears that were our childish defenses against anxiety. We may look to external accomplishments, the buildings we have erected, the other things we have done for reassurance in moments of anxiety. We invest in external things that are not actually different from the teddy bear just more sophisticated. Some people have even suggested that the smoking of cigarettes, for example, provides a primitive level sucking satisfaction. We have not, strictly speaking ever entirely put away for long the things of childhood.


Anxiety and the feeling of worthlessness seem to be interrelated. Perhaps they are two sides of the same thing. Jacques Maritain, in his “The Problem of Evil”, has proposed that because we are creatures born out of nothing, we are always on the edge of nothing. We are pushed toward feelings of worthlessness and anxiety because we have nothing that is our own. Maritain makes an interesting point about the text, "Without Me you can do nothing." He suggests that it means to point up a tendency in our created nature without God, toward nothingness, toward worthlessness and anxiety.


"Perfect love casts out fear." This text suggests that the continuum is not, as we often think, between the emotions of love and hate, the metaphysical continuum is between the overwhelming fear of annihilation at the one end and perfect love at the other. Hence if we are to move toward love, toward knowing how to love in relation to Pope Paul's concept of the apostolate in the Church and our concept of religious maturity, we shall have to move away from the basic existential sense of worthlessness and anxiety to the tremendous sense of being redeemed and the freedom of perfect love.

In the context of redemption, then, what seems to happen is that we do not escape from the state of worthlessness until some one loves us. In a strange parallel to St. John's words to the effect that God first loved us, it seems that we cannot love anybody else first. The important point appears to be that parents, older brothers and sisters the psychological matrix in which we are born plays profound part in what we are. When we are loved, we begin to have a sense of worth out of which we build up capital. We can then give love to others; we can give ourselves to others in a dignified sense. In a state of worthless ness, we do strange, contradictory things; we are victims of a terrible paradox in which we constantly defeat our purposes.

This self-defeating process, a kind of suicidal process, is seen over and over again in psychotherapy and counseling. It is common with delinquent young people. In the very process of trying to do the right thing, a person can in fact do a whole series of other things that tragically result in self-defeat. In studies of delinquency, notably one done some years ago by Healy and Bronner New Light on Delinquency in which they observed pairs of children, one delinquent and one not, in the same family, it has been discovered that the first factor of difference was that someone either in the family or in the neighborhood cared especially for, took a particular interest in, the nondelinquent. Because somebody loved him first, gave him a feelinq of worth. he could plunqe into life, whereas the other, feeling himself to have no value or meaning, held aloof from life, felt threatened,. and therefore was constantly defensive.

All this seems to mean that somebody must redeem us in a purely human way, by giving us a feeling of self-meaning, self-worth, before we can participate fully in Divine Redemption. As Pope Paul implies in his words about the acid test being our love of our neighbor, unless we can love in the natural as well as the supernatural order, we shall have no foundation upon which the supernatural love of God can operate.


The third factor which acts as an impediment to giving oneself in love, is the lack of self-possession. If, in addition to feeling myself worthless and being anxious in a hostile and threatening world, I have no control over myself, I can offer only a wild horse running furiously about in the mountains and valleys. Neither you nor I can control that wild creature. Plato described the person as a rider of wild horses: the degree to which the person became prudential was the deqree to which he tamed those horses. Unless I have attained a profound control over the primitive urges in myself, my basic anxieties, and the sensual, external things about me, I can give only the appearance of loving: I cannot make the real gift of myself.

In this state, a person's apparent love for another may really be only like the buying of something on time payments. People can believe they have received a great boon with the installation of a television set for only a dollar a week. But in the course of the years, they will payoff the actual cost of the set many times over. So, in the name of love, we may do a dramatic thing: but when we look at ourselves carefully we may realize that the demands we make on the person over the months or years may far out weigh the initial act of kindness.


In the seminary, I remember, when we were dealing with the Last Judgment and such is sues, some of the Fathers made us students pretty uncomfortable with the presentation of some fairly severe notions about how dif ficult it was going to be to be saved. Then there was great relief when the professor would add that, of course, St. Thomas said that we all would be judged on love. This made everything seem so much easier. The more I have been involved in counseling, psychotherapy, personality awareness, the more I wonder whether being judged by love does represent such an easy view. If we are to be judged by love in St. Thomas' meaning, we may find it an extremely severe and difficult judgment. I believe it is hard indeed to love someone genuinely, even for a moment in time. The id forces, what St. Thomas called the primitive forces, the needs of external relationships, of emotion al satisfactions, so stulify and weaken the original gift of love that we may even discover that sometimes the gift was not love at all, but a subtle and clever use of others for our own needs.

This often comes about because we become personally identified with something we have made an investment in. We find it difficult to separate ourselves from the investment. When new positions, new responsibilities, are thrust upon us, we make sincere speeches about our unworthiness, our humility, etc. But after a time we become accustomed to the situation. The things that used to belong, for example, to the Church may now become our own. We begin to take them for granted, our identification with them makes it hard to disentangle ourselves from our investment and to make a pure gift of ourselves in service to others and to God.


Let us look now at how the cardinal virtues enable us to possess ourselves, to practice this prudence of the spirit that would allow us to make a true gift of love. The moral virtues rightly understood in Thomism are not things in themselves; they have meaning only as they are expressions of love. Even justice is part of a whole mosaic cen tering in prudence, and prudence itself is meaningful in the Christian life only as it is part of a loving relationship to man and God.


St. Thomas describes four fomes peccati that are the result of original sin. The first of these suggests the reason for a basic impetuosity in man, a nervous unwillingness to evaluate prudentially, a tendency toward inconsideration; it is the quick stereotype reaction and answer. Through a somewhat Cartesian and angelic desire for clarity and precision, we are unwilling to humble ourselves to the human condition of seeing things in a mirror darkly instead of face to face. We want some of the precision that Aquinas describes as characteristic of an angel. We are not willing to struggle painfully with the prudential process, taking counsel with ourselves. We seek the quick solution, the simple answer.


To offset this first effect of original sin, St.Thomas says we need the virtue of prudence. But this virtue can be attained only by a long and painful struggle, a process of getting to know the self through taking counsel with the self. Modern concepts of counseling have added a skillful and sensitive relationship by which one can take counsel with one's self through another often more effectively than one can do it alone. This modern counseling process, however, is not fundamentally different from the process described by St. Thomas, in which we move in search of self- understanding from the present back into the past. We cannot really know ourselves in the present unless we look back on all the aspects of the psychological matrix that made us what we are; all the coping mechanisms, all the childhood needs and fulfillments that affect us even in the present moment of any choice. We grow thus to see that many present judgments have been at least somewhat influenced by things that happened to us much earlier in our life.


Moreover, the complex combination of animality and rationality is us - in the Aristotelian sense of rational animal - makes us often first react as animals under any kind of stress. A simple experiment illustrates this. If I quickly wave my hand in front of a subject's face, his head moves back, and he blinks. If I continue the motion, his head will finally stop moving back and he will stop blinking. When we ask people to tell us what happened, they say that they just saw a narrow object, that they were not really conscious of what was some such aspect of self-knowledge. They were often occasions when we felt deeply understood as we tried to express something. Such moments usually occur when we trust someone, either in communication or in an action: when the other person has penetrated beneath the surface expression and has really understood us. They are moments of deep awareness, and they may even determine a good part of our later life.

In retrospect, the details of the occasion, the time, the place, what we were doing, the very words of the conversation may come back to us with startling clarity. There is often an extremely subtle, existential, the Holy Spirit-breathes-where-he-will-aspect to such happenings. Suppose the other person had not cared enough about me to have made the incident possible. You may say that someone else would have, and that subsequent events would have turned out the same. But there is yet great subtlety in this kind of gift of another to me. Not having been loved repeatedly in this understanding way, one might never have had the urge to love back. Each of our lives might thus have been quite different.


The first aspect of prudence, then, is taking counsel with the self at some profound moment in time. It may happen casually or in an interview of a counseling series, in one of those precious moments when counselor and client really meet each other under standingly. I sometimes wonder whether we are not too concerned with the hour-long interview idea, the long series idea, the need for elaborate skills, and so overlooking the moment when a person just needs some one who can give himself in a heartfelt relationship. Whether we experience this moment with another or before the Blessed Sacrament or with ourselves, it is the moment of deeply taking counsel with the self that brings this first aspect of self-possession.


Out of this comes the second phase of prudence, which is the judgment of the self. This judgment usually rejects in terms of either ideals or means, past attitudes or values, and it sets up new attitudes and values. We can illustrate this process by applying it to one common oversimplifica tion that often victimizes and defeats person: a false view of one's capacities and potentialities. One psychologist has de scribed this as an I.F.D. process; that is, an exaggerated ideal which results in failure and frustration which in turn produces a state of demoralization. He says that most people's difficulties come from the fact that they have set up unrealizable goals. Maritain, in his Degress of Knowledge, points out that one of the difficulties with Aristotelian ethics is that it is an ideal ethic. It presumes an absolutely rational man at every moment. In the human condition, of course, man sins each day. One feels terribly let down, therefore, when he fails to achieve the ideal unless he has acquired a realistic sense of his own "too solid flesh" and its human limitations. We are not angels nor are we completely integrated after original sin.

In material things, it is easy to see the difference between the human condition and the norm, or ideal. It is obvious in bowling, for example, that the ideal is a strike each time and a three hundred score; in base ball one should bat one thousand a hit each time. These are the ideal goals for each effort. But, in fact, we know the human condition produces much lower than this. One is a significant success with two hundred in bowling and three hundred in baseball. We need to recognize the limits in ordinary human performance, without this we can often be defeated by a psychological guilt structure built up by the false ideals projected upon us by forces outside ourselves, often by a Kantian sense of duty, by what Freud calls a superego. Such a structure of guilt, which often is not true moral guilt at all, we may not clearly analyze, but just carry around with us as a kind of depressive voice.

The inability to attain the ideal leads to the failure and frustration stage. If the frustration lasts too long, it is followed by a demoralization stage, from which almost anything can result. The person gives up coping, trying. This can be demonstrated readily in animals. It is easy to demoralize an animal; he just runs about helter skelter or pulls off in total defeat.

Sometimes however, prudential reevaluation may lead a person to a much greater sense of his own potentialities. Here then, he begins to aim at higher and more demanding achievements and goals, as his confidence and reasonable self- regard increases. His path to virtue in this case, is a movement away from pusillanimity or "inferiority complex" to a more courageous self commitment.

In the prudential process as we see it in counseling, a reorganization of the self is brought about by a reestablishment of a more realistic, truthful, self- respecting concept of what the person is and what he can do. He learns to judge in relation to the human condition, to feel a certain satisfaction in achieving as much as he can and in trying to do better. He experiences a recognition of his self in relation to others and a deeper sense of self- regard. This goes back to St. Thomas' idea that we must first love ourselves in order to love others.


Studies of this kind indicate that psychological help apparently begins at a stage of conflict and confusion that is also a stage of some kind of self- rejection. It begins with the sentence, "I am disgusted with myself," and moves toward an attitude of ambivalence in which the person says, "I

am still disgusted with myself in some ways, but in other things I feel better about my self." In some significant areas, the process reaches the stage of the person's being actually pleased with himself. Rightly understood in a prudential sense, this stage could represent true self- love at the highest level of, the Thomistic idea that we have to reasonably love ourselves in order to love our neighbor and God.


The third phase of prudence is the organization of the soma, instincts and emotions around this judgmental process. In the final stage of the counseling process a per son's growing self-understanding and security in judgment fuses into the planning of new and better solutions and the making of more significant choices according to these new life plans. These choices may be small and hesitant at first because the person is insecure and has to grow in confidence and hope. Gradually, the solutions that are planned are acted upon. These actions, because they have been carefully thought out and organized, usually prove more adequate and successful than previous life plans. If they still fail somewhat, the causes of failure can be examined. Here especially takes place the evaluation in action so necessary to the perfection of any art, particularly the art of good living. As his plans begin to succeed, the person gains confidence in his judgments and often takes quite rapid strides in acquiring new ways of acting.

All this can be done by one's self. It certainly can often be done before the Blessed Sacrament; in fact, it is done that way in a vast number of cases. Aristotle and St. Thomas and others in the past could not have had their awareness of the process, without having known how to accomplish it. All that is added in trained counseling, is a person with special skill in the right sense of loving. In the moment when that relationship comes about, it seems to give us a rock that we can get a footing on as we move on in the process.


St. Thomas, following Aristotle, suggests that in any barrier or conflict situation we have an instinctive recoil, an instinctive urge to pull away. This reaction may be readily seen in animals. Unless conditioned otherwise, at the continued encounter with pain or serious discomfort, an animal will simply pull away, stop trying, stop struggling. St. Thomas says that the lack of control of this urge in man is also a result of original sin and must be coordinated by a special virtue: courage, or fortitude. Religious maturity even demands a special aspect of this virtue, called, magnanimity.


Essential to fortitude, and even more essential to magnanimity, is confidence in the self. This is so because, if the self is to be the instrument for these significant achievements, it is necessary for us to have complete confidence in our tools, just as the workman must have confidence in his tools and the musician in his instrument.

The magnanimous man has profound confidence in himself and trust in others. Our aim therefore in our relationships with those we are responsible for, should be a produce both courage and magnanimity, virtues essential to any kind of religious dedication.

The magnanimous man, in St. Thomas' view, is audacious not foolhardy, but audacious in taking risks. He plunges; he gives himself. The risk we are talking about here is not any of the obvious risks encountered in man's relationships with others; it is a more subtle, existential risk, involving a willingness to move out of our animal inner comfort system. There is a kind of resistance to the necessary effort to bestir ourselves to serve the needs of others. We have to come to grips with our too solid flesh in the commitment to love someone truly. The initial act of audacity trusting somebody else is a difficult thing.


In the parable of the talents, as we know, it was the anxiety ridden man who was playing it safe and he, not the two who plunged, was condemned. Many of the stories Christ told about the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep and going to look for the lost one, about the hireling who runs when he sees the wolf' while the good shepherd stays, about the prodigal son, etc. emphasize the fact that the Christian vocation requires the taking of risks, the plunge from the safe, comfortable place to the wilderness, to the desert. This risk must in some way relate to people. It involves a basic complexity in the idea of knowing how to love in Pope Paul's concept.


Why is this risk so threatening? Why does it arouse our instincts of defense and escape? Here I find meaning in the text that the Gentiles love their friends; the Christians love their enemies. This text from one point of view seems to mean that in giving myself to another I risk removal from the herd. I risk the rejection of others, even attack by others. I risk removal from my state of comfort and security as I move out into what may be initially a cold and difficult relationship. I also risk the possibility that a person may turn on me and attack me. I am rather in the situation of the man in our psychological experiment, who, not protecting himself, gets slapped in the face. In this sense, having been slapped once, it would be psychologically quite difficult to turn the other cheek and run the risk of being slapped again. This is the risk we take when we love first. We have no assurance that the other person will not turn on us. That is why loving one's enemies is so subtle, psychologically. I see the situation as psychologically threatening to me. If at that point I offer a defenseless acceptance, I make a very difficult act of love.

We are speaking here, of course, not of issues of basic injustice where reasonable defense and even attack may be necessary and even obligatory. We are rather trying to catch the idea of a primitive defense drive that animallike can impede and even thwart a genuine acceptance of and commitment to another person where he, at first, appears resistant or hostile to me.

All these anxiety fears that make it often so hard to give ourselves, are vast exaggerations, of course; the situation seldom presents such grave danger as the threat of complete annihilation. But in the terms of another text that he who would save his life, will lose it in a certain sense we seem required to risk ourselves as the good shepherd does in the presence of the wolf. Only then does the return relationship of love come to reassure us. We then realize that the human race can sometimes be astonishingly gentle. The world is not always animal; it is also human. It will not always tear us apart. We see this in the way the world took Pope John to its bosom. As long as we have the memory of Pope John, we shall not forget the fact that the whole human race could respond to this loving gift of the self, to this man who even watched his language, lest he offend. The whole world was touched by his gentleness and gently loved him in return.


There is another aspect of this concept of the gift of self in love that is especially applicable to religious, the idea of obedi ence. St. Augustine said that prudence is an art similar to the art of playing a musical instrument, the art of the carpenter, or any other highly developed skill, but carried to the whole of living. As one moves toward maturity, one increasingly wants to offer a skilled performance as the finest kind of gift. The drive to perfection is common to the musician, to all artists, poets, etc., and at a lower order, to the athlete. This perfection consists primarily of rigorous obedience to severe and demanding rules. In athletics, for example, the little child wants no rules; he wants to hit the ball with his own bat and to do whatever his fancy directs. As he begins to play a primitive kind of baseball, he moves toward submission to rules. In big league games, we find four umpires present to enforce the rules. This calls for the highest skill the baseball player has.

For me, this concept of the gift of artistic perfection helps illuminate the tremendous magnificence of obedience. It involves out of the motivation of a loving gift of self to God a fineness that gives dignity even to things that may otherwise be considered trivial or ridiculous. In athletics, to one who does not understand the compli cated skill required in playing golf, for example, golf can look like a pretty silly game. Everybody can laugh at things that superficially seem to be easy, until he tries them and finds out how much skill they demand. People rightly respect and admire the fineness of obedience to the demands of his sport or craft in an athlete or artist who has worked sensitively through many years to reach a high point of performance. When a pianist gives himself to you in a fine performance, you have received a gift that is refined and polished by the most meticulous obedience to rules. If you know anything about music and piano technique, you understand that he has reached a high level of maturity through developing his skill in obedience to the most subtle demands of musical technique.

At its highest natural level, religious obedience is of this sort. It matches in precision, intensity and dedication, the commitment of the champion athlete to his sport or the artist to his craft. It wants to offer to God a total gift of self at the highest possible level of human submission and commitment. Like the heroic act of love, it wants to hold nothing back in its total gift of self.

This kind of obedience has obviously nothing in common with immature substitutes in the form of dependency, arrested adolescence, various kinds of supine submissiveness and the like. But like the fineness and delicate characteristic of the highest degree of artistic and athletic skill, religious obedience may require adherence sometimes even to the most minute rules, so that one may offer the most nearly perfect performance possible, as a supernatural gift of love.

In our discussion of fortitude, magnanimity and obedience we have been largely focused on things that are difficult to do. We therefore must, through prudent self- awareness, learn to control our basic anxiety, our fear recoil and our frustration failure reactions.


But there is yet an opposite kind of situation that, by its very allure of appearing both easy and deeply rewarding, can lead us away from our real commitment and gift of ourselves. This non barrier goal, around which the virtue of temperance centers, is disorienting not for what it gives but for what we can falsely assure and promise our selves it will give. Here compensatory needs come forward so that we can crowd into something very easy to do, an allure and meaning away beyond its necessarily limited content and reward. Since a vast number of tasks which daily face us, are comparatively easy to do, there is almost no limit to the number and extent to which we can make these situations or actions appear deceptively significant and fulfilling. We give them this significance, however, only because we are really using them as escapes from more difficult and often frustrating tasks to which we are, in fact, really committed. They can even be existentially considered basic escapes from the severe human limitations of life itself, limits within which we are fundamentally unwilling to operate. It is around these kinds of excessive urges, that we must temper and modulate ourselves through prudent self knowledge and control, if we are to make a true gift of ourselves to what really matters. Otherwise we remain enslaved and bound up in an unending chain of escapism that can lead us nowhere. To arrive at this control we need the virtue of temperance.


We can see this kind of enslavement and the need for control illustrated even in such a simple thing as watching television. It is never apparently more alluring than when, for example, we have serious study or writing to do. This hypnotic effect of television on large numbers of people has given rise to a widespread consciousness of how controlling a thing the turning on of the television set can be. To use another illustration, a whole new area of compulsion has arisen in our society from what is coming to be known as the charge account compulsion; people are charging far more purchases than they can afford, piling up end less debts for themselves and often for the others in the family who must work extra simply to payoff unnecessary debts.

Another example of this, related to temperance, is contained in what might be called eroticism applied to the sexual reproductive function. The British novelist, J.B. Priestley, has recently pointed out the tendency in our society toward this kind of compensatory eroticism. Eroticism is not sexuality in the ordinary sense of the physical act, with its limited purpose and fulfillment. Rather it is the tendency to crowd into the sexual relationship quite unbelievable luxury and meanings that it could not possibly have.

Priestley says:

Now for various reasons some of them obviously commercial, eroticism flourishes in our society on a scale never known before, not even before the decadence of Imperial Rome. One reason for this is that eroticism is a short cut to masculine interest and curiosity. It is a safe and easy card to play. Eroticism, unlike sex and love, (and these two are also to be distinguished) apparently offer something for nothing. It is sexual pleasure without sexual responsibility. It is having your cake and eating it. Unlike sex it is not completely natural and it is at the furtherest possible remove from love which is extremely personal. Eroticism is impersonal which explains why women may lend themselves, yes, to it, but never believe in it and it is artificial, man-made belonging to a technically advanced but very confused civilization. Eroticism we might say is the twanging of a single nerve concentrating on a certain kind of excitement and pleasure to the exclusion of everything else. It is solitary and self -regarding, other persons involved in it being treated as instruments, things.

Nothing worth calling a relationship can be created by it. One sex cannot do the other sex any good in eroticism. The opposite sex is not really there, so to speak, in its true complementary character --- it must be clearly understood that on this level we are dis cussing there is no relationship of persons but simply a relationship between the sexes as sexes, not this man and that woman but man and woman, when we come to persons we arrive at love.

One further point might be added here. In addtion to the prevalence of this kind of distortion of the physical in our culture, those who are dedicated to celibacy can sometimes become victims of this same distortion in a different form. We can tend to exaggerate the meaning of the sex act in a way even that married people themselves might never conceive of it. We can then exaggerate too, perhaps all out of proportion, the sacrifices we have made even --- using it as an excuse for many other physical and material compensations. The same kind of thing happened during the prohibition era, when people considered it an ecstatic experience to go down into a basement and crowd into a stale bottle of beer or vinegar-like wine or whiskey the most amazing joys and sinfulness. My Methodist boyhood friends could sometimes crowd all kinds of allure and sin into a deck of cards. There is thus a tendency in all of us to give exaggerated meanings to even simple things as strange forms of compensation for various kinds of emptiness or in security in our own lives. It is the old adage in different dress - the grass on the other side of the fence can always be made to seem greener because we cannot get to it and we cannot accept the simple reality of life limitations.

We can see in this way how temperate self- knowledge acts to restrain these immoderate compensatory urges in us and keep us pointed to the difficult and hard goals that make our courageously magnanimous vocation. It is thus that, by temperance, we are aided to grow in psychological and spiritual maturity.


The final aspect under the cardinal virtue of justice that aids us in a genuine love of another, is the sense of the limits of the self. The old definition that justice is the giving of each one that which is really his own, has profound psychological significance here. Unless one can truly recognize and accept another as a person in his own right, one cannot genuinely give oneself in love to him. Alfred Adler caught the essential problem when he proposed that there are within us two wills one primitive, the other much higher that in a sense conflict with one another. The first is the will to power, which he describes as self-centered satisfaction in controlling another. The opposite of this is the will to community – the urge to give oneself to another. Justice would therefore control my will to power and lead to community since it involves a clean sense of the limits of myself and the true limits of the other. In this light, we can see how the concept of justice is essential to love. I cannot give myself to another unless I have a profound respect for the limits of our respective selves.


We can illustrate the will to power by observing the degree to which parents, and especially mothers, sometimes feel the need to project themselves onto their children, the need to make their children conform to the images they were not able to fulfill for themselves. We actually have to restrain our urge to control in order to move out in to a communion with another person. In order to really love him, we must give him his meaning as a person. In my observation of counseling skills, to use another example, it seems to me often one of the chief things these skills do, is to enable us to control our own willfulness toward others, to repress our urges toward assertion of power over others where we have no right to intrude. Such unwise intervention may traumatize and weaken a person's urge to maturity by making him more dependent on me. But by recognizing my own limits, as a counselor or in any relationship, I am giving the other person his place. Only then can I make him the object of a genuine love. We can thus see how prudential self-knowledge of myself and the other leads to justice which itself is a necessary prelude to love.


It is interesting to note here that, in this issue of a just regard of others and a control over ourselves in their regard, we are combining temperance with justice. That is, we must control our easy compensatory urges to think only of ourselves, by moderating our exaggerated self-centeredness. This selfishness is not really a true self-love at our highest level of self-regard but more a sensual and primitive self-inversion. It therefore can, not only encroach on and impede others, but also defeat ourselves in their regard. We can see why humility, the virtue under temperance which moderates this tendency in us to exaggerated self-regard, is also most basic to the just regard of others here. Humility, thus considered, is defined as the reasonable pursuit of one's own excellence. Through the slow prudential acquiring of such humility, we will have an equally just and loving regard of others' rights to pursue their own excellence too with our help perhaps but genuinely independent of us.


In our discussion of psychological maturity thus far, we have attempted to show that such maturity is characterized by a natural and supernatural love of self, others and God that communicates itself through the cardinal virtues. We might now take up one final point on the concept of psychological maturity itself. It is popular now to label such a discussion of psychological maturity under the general category of questions concerning factors in mental health and mental illness. The concept of mental health is all around us today. It occurred in some of the discussion in the preceding session.

While this concept has been undoubtedly beneficial, yet at this stage of our present knowledge of psychiatry and psychology, we should still keep in mind the fact that the term "mental health" is an analogy. We are not actually sure how much it is a matter of health. When a man is lost, he is lost he is not sick. The Gospel talks most of the time about people being lost and found, not nearly so much about their being sick. There is a big difference here, and we do not know what many of the issues are. But we do all seem to be agreeing more and more on this, that people are aided most, whatever the treatment, by some kind of genuine love of them. A true amor benevolentiae, as far as we can arrive at it in a moment of encounter, is still the most useful means of helping a person. Whether it occurs in psychotherapy or counseling or any kind of medical or psychiatric encounter, some gift of self seems basic.

If we focus too closely on sickness, however, we feel an understandable urge to cure the sick person. But often that urge to change a person under the guise of curing him, succeeds only in pushing his negative will farther and farther back toward resisting us, defensively opposing us and not changing.


In addition to the concept of mental illness, we need therefore to rethink the whole notion of love and the community of love as St. Paul described it. You recall that he insists that if we are to teach some thing to some one, we will not do it by speaking with the tongues of men, or of angels that will a mount to nothing. St. Thomas first asks why it will amount to nothing, and then answers his question by saying that it is be cause nobody can learn in that purely impersonal, cold, intellectual structure. St. Paul beautifully describes the kind of relationship that is needed: it is loving, patient, kind, longsuffering; it bears all things.

In this regard, it seems to me that we need to think again the loving bearing of one another's burdens. Call it what you will. In this way I can get something off my chest, as we say, because you have loved me first, or you have at least been willing to spend some time in understanding me, and so have helped me bear my burden.

In light then of our remarks, let us turn again to the last part of Pope Paul’s definition of the Church:

The first action of the apostle must be that of presenting to the world an admirable, attractive Christianity.

If, in our own lives, we feel loved, if we radiate love and pride and meaning in our religious dedication, people will feel this in us. It will not be just a lot of nominalistic talk; it will be something people can recognize in an encounter with us asa concretized experience, which is what love is.

The first testimony will be that of our unity, our mutual love, our interior cohesion . . .

This is a profound kind of maturity to be achieved by all of us, superiors and subjects alike.

The second will be that we love those whom we wish to evangelize.

In other words, we are so filled with the loving experience of our own community, of our own sense of communion and communication one with another, that we can throw our capital of love out to those who are not loved. We can love first.

"This is the great policy of the apostolate. It is not a conquest, " ( -- not a will to power, a will to control, however subtly, in a time payment maneuver; it is not a conquest, not even a crusade ) "but a service." "We shall not forget that a fundamental attitude of those who want to convert the world is loving it."

This surely changes a great many things. I suspect that, in sharp contrast with the building of a wall in Berlin, we may need to tear down a few walls. We can no longer talk about withdrawing from the world as if the world had no need of us or we of the world.

"This is the genius of the apostolate (and, I believe, of Christian maturity): knowing how to love."