The interfaith prayer gathering at Assisi Oct. 27 draws attention to the mystery of the human person. There, holy people, people whose focus is on the Divine, gathered in startling diversity.
One might think devotion to the one God would inspire humanity with visible unity in worship and belief. Indeed, the Catholic belief is that such unity will one day be a reality.
However, God has implanted in each person, not only a yearning to be one with the divine, but also a soul that walks a unique path. God comes in the person of Jesus, but even before that, each person has struck out on a journey to God.
The situations of persons in different cultures, in different natural environments, have provoked diverse forms of journey. There is the man in the jungle, the woman in the high Andes and the nomad in the desert. Each walks a different path and employs a different form of worship.
What is most striking? Is it that the forms of worship are so different or is it that such different persons have all been drawn to worship in some way? Is the diversity of worship a scandal or is it a sign that the Divine is so beyond human knowing that each effort to see it can only catch one miniscule, fleeting glimpse of the Transcendent?
The mystery of the human person, however, is seen not only in religion. Try to understand the nature of a creature who might become, on one hand, a mass murderer or, on the other, a Mother Teresa who left every comfort to live among dying derelicts.
What is the meaning of a creature who deliberately harms another and then, realizing that fault, turns around and asks for forgiveness, asks that the wrong be undone? On the other side, there is the person who has been wronged. He or she might react with a lifetime of seeking revenge or, alternatively, with total forgiveness.
The human person is a creature of laughter and of tears, of astounding intelligence and of wilful ignorance.
Behavioural science in the 20th century maintained all human actions are predictable. This must be the most pathetically wrong-headed notion ever. The human person is too deep, too mysterious to be the object of sure predictions.
The Christian belief is that the human person only makes sense in the light of the cross, in the light of redemption in Jesus Christ. There, the paradoxes are heightened still further. But through the paradoxes, it is revealed that our nature is to love. Love is often distorted and sinful; other times, it raises us to a share in glory.
The last word goes to Blessed John Paul II: "Love is greater than sin, than weakness, than the 'futility of creation'; it is stronger than death; it is a love always ready to raise up and forgive . . .". In the last analysis, these diverse human creatures find fulfillment only in union with Absolute Love.