Reading: “I Want You to Be”

One of my favourite spiritual writers and the recipient of the 2014 Templeton Prize is Czech priest and philosopher Tomáš Halík. His previous books have such evocative titles as: Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us and Night of the Confessor: Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty.

 Fr. Halík’s biography is fascinating. He was inspired to fight for freedom against the Communist regime in his country after Jan Palach, who had been a fellow student of his, set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square out of his frustration with the extent to which Czech citizens had become demoralized under communism. Halík secretly joined the priesthood and was eventually named an enemy of the regime by the Communist authorities for his illegal activities promoting cultural and religious freedoms. Like his contemporary and friend Václav Havel, Halík knows how to speak to a post-religious culture; he does so through compelling existential language that strikes a chord with every person in tune with his or her own longing.

Yet again, he has released a book with an alluring title. It’s called I Want You to Be, which is derived from a quotation attributed to Augustine — Amo: volo ut sis. I love you: I want you to be.

Who better than Hannah Arendt to explain its meaning:

This mere existence, that is, all that which is mysteriously given to us by birth and which includes the shape of our bodies and the talents of our minds, can be adequately dealt with only by the unpredictable hazards of friendship and sympathy, or by the great and incalculable grace of love, which says with Augustine, ‘Volo ut sis (I want you to be),’ without being able to give any particular reason for such supreme and unsurpassable affirmation.

Halík says he has been fascinated by this definition: that love is wanting someone to be. It is as Josef Pieper has also said: To love someone is to communicate to this person, ‘It’s good that you exist; it’s good that you are in this world.’ Throughout his book, Halík relates this definition to love of both God and neighbour.

He proposes that the question: Do I want God to be or not to be? is much more profound and important than our opinion about whether or not God exists. Halík says, “Longing and desire are certainly closer to the essence of faith than mere ‘conviction,’ than our mere opinion. ‘I want‘ is neither ‘mere wishing’ not ‘mere feeling’ but existential consent.”

Lest there be any concern, though, that Halík places too much emphasis on human will, I shall end by quoting this passage of his:

Of course God is absolutely independent of what I wish or don’t wish, but his respect for the gift of freedom—the greatest gift that we receive from our nature—means that his explicit presence in my life (my encounter with him in faith and dwelling with him in love) presupposes and requires that yearning “I want.” God has no wish to break his way into our hearts like an uninvited guest. He wants to enter through the gate of freedom, the gate of yearning love. As the mystics would say: God himself yearns for our yearning.

These points touch on only the fifth chapter of I Want You to Be. revealing what a deep and interesting new book Halík has written in 2016.

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