Asking the Right Questions: On the Need of Interior Reflection Reply

John Paul II, back in 1985, began a series of Wednesday audiences later entitled “A Catechesis on the Creed”, divided into 3 parts, each dedicated to one of the persons of the Trinity: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. In the Wednesday audience on Jan. 9, 1985 he stated the following: “a cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there arise at the same time the fundamental questions which pervade human life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?” The Holy Father goes on to say that “they are questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart. In fact, the answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives.”

Are we asking the fundamental questions?

Are we asking these fundamental questions? If we don’t ask the right questions we won’t get the right answers. In order to ask these fundamental questions interior reflection is necessary. Today we are becoming too accustomed to living outside of ourselves, and if we do go inside this effort usually remains at a level of self-centered introspection. St. Bonaventure in his Itinerarium mentis in Deum (The Journey of the Mind towards God), clearly points out the need for us to look within ourselves, that is, the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God -somehow strongly reflected in our spiritual faculties-, in order to find God. He says this is a necessary stage after looking for God in his material creatures, which are as footprints of God reminding us that “Someone” made them: “They have led us to this: to reenter ourselves, into our inner being where the divine image shines.”

St. Augustine had already stressed this point many centuries before. In his work, The Confessions, when speaking to God remembering his own journey towards Him, he exclaims: “And behold, you were within me and I was outside of myself, and it was there, outside of myself, where I sought you.” Augustine acknowledges that it is not enough to look for God in the material world. He finally practiced interior reflection which allowed him to be come to understand to what depth God was within him: “intimior intimo meo” (more interior to me than I am to myself).

St. Augustine’s doctrine and experience regarding this interior search is best expressed in his well known imperative: “Noli foras ire, in teipsum redi; in interiore homine habitat veritas”, that is, “Do not go outside, return into yourself; it is in the interiority of the person where the truth dwells” (De vera relig. 39, 72). This phrase can easily be misinterpreted as subjectivism if not interpreted in the light of Augustine’s theology. It is God himself who is the truth to be found; it is God himself who helps every person to find him. He is a truth that, though allowing himself to be found within the person, obviously transcends each person.

This is not something only taught by Catholic theology. It is a trait of all human persons inasmuch as each person has self-consciousness. John Paul II in his Encyclical on Faith and Reason, states it thus:

In both East and West, we may trace a journey which has led humanity down the centuries to meet and engage truth more and more deeply. It is a journey which has unfolded—as it must—within the horizon of personal self-consciousness: the more human beings know reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their uniqueness, with the question of the meaning of things and of their very existence becoming ever more pressing. (FR, n. 1)

Every human person looks for transcendence, totality, real happiness, whether they know it is found in God or not. Looking for these things in external, material realities is not the right place since how can a material reality quench a spiritual thirst?

Only true seekers of truth are not content with easy answers to their fundamental questions. Many true seekers of the truth came to believe deeply in the God revealed by Jesus Christ. We find very luminous examples in Justin, a pagan philosopher; Augustine, a man totally oriented towards external realities and pleasures; Edith Stein, Jewish by birth and religion, turned atheist. They did not stop looking for the truth, until they found Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the Truth, the Way and the Life.”

It is the mission of the Church to transmit the answers to the fundamental questions. These answers have been entrusted to her by God. Pope John Paul expressed it clearly in the aforementioned 1985 Catechesis:

Through catechesis, as through the overall work of evangelization, the Church is aware of responding to man’s most essential questions, those which each one has already asked or will ask sooner or later in the course of life. Where does man come from? Why does he exist? What are his relationships with God and with the invisible world? How must he behave in order to achieve the goal of life? Why is he subject to suffering and death, and what is his hope?

To these problems catechesis brings God’s response. It aims to give an understanding of a doctrine that is not simply the product of certain personal researches, but the truth communicated to us through divine revelation. Therefore, in communicating the truth of salvation, catechesis is concerned with making manifest the fundamental questions arising in man’s heart. It shows how God has answered them in his revelation with a gift of truth and life that surpasses man’s deepest expectations. Its role is to give certitude, based on the authority of revelation.

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