A Thought on Paradox and Purpose

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

There is a strange paradox about the human person, and it is this: God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, as St. Catherine of Siena points out somewhere, and yet there is not only one of us, but many of us beyond counting. Each one of us is significant to a degree that we cannot fully appreciate. In other words, you have an importance that is perfect, as if you are the only one that exists. Yet, once again, you are not the only one that exists. When we see ourselves as one among a myriad of human beings beyond counting, we often get the distinct impression that we are profoundly insignificant and unimportant, about as insignificant as a blade of grass - which isn't all that significant.

Consider that when we listen to a symphony or a choir, we don't pay attention to each note. Compared to the whole, each note is insignificant. But every note is profoundly significant; for if one person sings one or two notes off key, that stands out and something is clearly amiss. A trained choir director would hear it and it would cause him some discomfort; a conductor would hear the flute or violin or clarinet play that wrong note and he would not be indifferent to it. Thus, although from one angle an individual note is insignificant - for it lacks the depth and beauty of the whole piece - , we can see that each note is profoundly significant and contributes to the beauty of the whole.

And when we hear the piece being played, we don't pay attention to the individual notes, but each note, when played in tune and situated in its proper place, surrenders itself to a kind of "invisibility", that is, it makes its contribution and in doing so allows us to pass over it. It does what it is supposed to do, and in doing so allows us to forget it, or fail to notice it as an individual note.

The life of the individual person is supposed to be lived like that. We are profoundly significant, but we are called to take our place and allow ourselves to be struck so as to resound, as one among a myriad of different notes, and the whole is a symphony that glorifies God, that communicates the divine beauty, which is simple and inexhaustible, but which can only be imperfectly communicated and expressed through a diversity of notes. We are called upon to allow others to pass us over, that is, not to notice us; but we are called to take our place and play our part, so as to contribute to the symphony that glorifies God, that proclaims His beauty and greatness.