Often, it seems to me, the particular and universal are held in stark opposition and contrast – especially in terms of religion.  Many would contend (both inside and outside of faith) that a devout Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever cannot really have love and respect for others of a differing creed and therefore the most “Godly” thing to do would be to put away any form of restrictive creed in order to just love all people.  My own experience though leads me to believe differently.  The particular leads one to the universal rather than away from it and to try to achieve the universal without the particular is to end up with just a whispy sentimentalism. 

It is the fact that I am a disciple of Christ and that I have encountered the risen Lord that both leads me and challenges me to an authentic awareness of the dignity of all peoples (even those who stand opposed to me).

In his writings – specifically The Grammar of Assent – Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrestles with the question of what truly leads one to make an assent of ones whole self (body, mind and spirit) to a proposition, any proposition.  In this he distinguishes two modes of apprehending: notional and real.  Both are needed, he asserts, in the attaining of the mature mind and each strengthens the other rather than being opposed.   

Notional apprehending occurs in the intellect in terms of abstractions and ideas.  This is the realm of philosophies and worldviews.  This type of apprehending is important.  Here is often where the guiding principles of our lives are thrashed out, determined and set forth. 

Real apprehending occurs in the particular and concrete.  My daily encounters, experiences, loves and loses are the stuff of this apprehending.  Here also is included memory and imagination.  It is important to point out that Newman demonstrates that it is real apprehension alone – as opposed to notional – which leads to passion and action in our lives. 

This coming Monday here in the United States we will celebrate the fourth of July – our national holiday.  It is often remarked that this country was founded on certain core principles and that our founding fathers fought for these principles.  This is true but it is important to note that these principles were held so dear precisely because they were enfleshed for the founding fathers in the lives of their children and fellow citizens.  “We the people … secure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity…” (Emphasis mine.)  The founding principles of this nation are rooted in the enfleshed lives of its people.  To separate the two is to fall into a form of national schizophrenia as Dr. King was able to recognize. 

Sorry, I digress a bit.  

The point is this: the real and the notional are not opposed and neither is the particular and the universal.  Yes, they rub against one another and sometimes even collide and seemingly contradict but that does not mean they are opposed. 

Further, to separate the two is a great disservice.  Either you are the most “particular of particularists” in terms of faith, creed, politics or whatever or you are the most ephemeral of universalists.  Neither extreme leads to the attaining of a mature mind.  Both, in my opinion, are copouts.

In his address to those at the shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello (see previous post), Pope Benedict reminds us that when we serve the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged and marginalized then we see the face of Christ and also in the face of Christ we recognize the face of all other people as brother and sister.  I can honestly say (real apprehension) that this is true. 

When I love my neighbor I learn how to love all people more deeply.  As I encounter and love Christ I am led to an authentic and true love for all people.