Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Divine Romance: Man's Quest For God

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


The subject of this address delivered by Rev. Fulton J. Sheen on March 9, 1930 is man's quest for God and the three realities, which are desired by each and every living soul: being, truth, and love.

Larger Work

The Divine Romance


5 - 13

Publisher & Date

Our Sunday Visitor Huntington, Indiana, 1943

The quest for God is essentially the search for the full account and meaning of life. If we but had the power to take our soul from our body, put it in a crucible, and distil out the meaning of that quest, what would we find it to be? If we could but make the inmost heart of all humanity speak out its inmost yearnings, what would we discover them to be? Would we not find that every heart and mind and soul in creation desires fundamentally three realities and only three realities — Life, Truth, and Love. In fact, so deep are these three realities, Being, Truth, and Love that we can say the whole universe overflows with them. Of each thing in the universe it can be said that it is. Of each thing in the universe it can be said that it is true, for it is related to a mind. And of each thing in the universe it can be said that it is love, for it is related to a will and a desire.

The first deep-seated yearning then, in the human heart, is the yearning for life. Of all our treasures it is that which we surrender last, and with the greatest reluctance. Titles, joys, and wealth, power, ambition, honor — all of these we will let go provided we can hold on to that precious, palpitating, vibrating thing called life. The very instinct, which impels a man to put out his hand when he walks in the dark, proves that he is willing to sacrifice a part of his body rather than to endanger that which he holds most precious — his life. Not even the sad fact of suicide disproves the reality of this yearning, for in every suicide there is an illusion and a sentiment. The illusion is that suicide is total destruction. The sentiment is the desire for repose, the will to shake off the worries of life. Suicide is not so much the desire that one wants to be annihilated, but rather that one wants to be at ease, which is just another way of saying one wants to have a different life.

The second most fundamental craving is the desire for truth. The very first question we asked when we came into this world was the question "Why?" — a question, which betrays that we are all born incipient philosophers. As children, we tear apart our toys to find out what makes the wheels go round. As grown-ups, never having lost the desire to know the "Why" and "Wherefore" of things, we tear apart, by our mental analysis, the very toy of the universe to find out what makes its wheels go round. We turn our telescopes on the sun and ask it to divulge its secrets; we ask the stars to tell us the story of their twinkling, and the very ocean to surrender the mystery of its depth. We are incurably bent on knowing and discovering the truth of things — that is why we hate to have secrets kept from us.

But that is not all. The third fundamental inclination of human nature is the desire to love and to be loved. From the first day in the Garden of Eden, when God said, "It is not good for man to be alone," on even to the crack of doom, man has thirsted and will thirst for love. Each child that is born into the world instinctively presses itself to its mother's breast in testimony of affection. Later on he goes to his mother to have his play-wounds bound, and to shed his tears down the cheek of his mother. Finally, when the child has grown to man's estate, he looks for a. companion, young like unto himself, one to whom he can "unpack his heart with words"; one who will measure up to that beautiful definition of friendship: "one in whose presence we can keep silence" — it is only before strangers that we must speak. Then the love of spouse for spouse is sealed in the bonds of matrimony, and when monotony threatens its sanctity, there comes a child, which makes an earthly Trinity. In like manner the love of parents for children becomes the love of grandparents for grandchildren. And so the quest goes on from the cradle to the grave.

We desire life and truth and love, but do we find them in their plenitude on this earth? Do we carry within ourselves the energy, the force, and the power to realize them to the highest degree? Are we such masters and captains of our fate that we may give to ourselves an overflowing measure of these most precious of all gifts? We possess a fraction of life, a fraction of truth, and a fraction of love, but do we possess them in their fullness?

Certainly life is not completely under our control. Successes of life are soon exhausted. Reputations wane and are forgotten. Schemes have their hour and come to naught. The science of one age is superseded by another. The taste of one age is unintelligible to the next — poets become silent. Each tick of the clock brings us closer to death. "Our hearts are but muffled drums beating a funeral march to the grave." "From hour to hour we ripe and ripe; from hour to hour we rot and rot." Life may be a great torrent out-poured from the inexhaustible chalice of eternity, but we are permitted but a few drops of it in the cup of our own life.

And although truth is a condition of our nature, neither do we possess it in its fullness, for the more we study the less we know, or rather the less we think we know. Learning opens up a thousand new vistas of knowledge down which we might travel for a lifetime, if we had a thousand lives. What man is there who has devoted his life to study who will not honestly avow that he really knows less now than what he thought he knew the night he graduated from high school? How often, too, the search for truth corrects the prejudices of youth, and how often earnest seekers after truth have come to mock and remain to pray? Great minds like Newton have confessed that all their knowledge seemed to leave them standing on the seashore of truth before which stretched an ocean of infinite truth. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest mind the world has ever produced, declared at the end of his life that all that he wrote seemed to him as straw compared to a vision which Divine Truth had accorded him.

Finally, love in its perfected state is not to be found in this world. Broken hearts, ruined homes, young widows, divorce courts, orphans, all are so many eloquent proofs that man has not found a true and lasting love. Unfortunately, with the passing of time it often loses its delicacy. How rare, for example, is the young man who can treasure for days and for weeks and for years the gift of a rose or the touch of a hand of a friend. Quaff as he will the magic of love's wine and drink deep as he may of her springs, a day must finally come when the last cake is crumbled at life's great feast, and the last embrace is passed from friend to friend. The noblest and best of human love ends — and nothing is perfect that ends.

Though we are the lords and masters of the universe, though we possess these strong yearnings, which are the very main-springs of our beings, yet we do not find these yearnings fulfilled on this earth. Life is mingled with death; truth is mingled with error; and love is mingled with hate. Our life, then, is not in creatures; our truth, then, is not in the spoken word; our love, then, is not in what we see. Life cannot exist with death; truth cannot exist with error; and love cannot exist with hate.

But where find the source of these three realities? Where find the author of existence and truth and love that vibrates through all creation? Shall we say that they have no source? But, if they have no source, how can they be and affect our lives at this moment? They are things that are reasonable and, therefore, must have been intelligently produced. They cannot come from the dismal slime of primeval jungles, for then the mind would be confronted with the absurdity that the nobler comes from the less noble. Where, then, find their source?

Suppose I am in search of the source of the light, which is in this broadcasting studio. Where shall I find it? The source of the light is not to be found under that distant chair, for there light is mingled with shadow. The source of the light is not to be found under the microphone, for there light is mingled with darkness. Where find the source of light? I must go out to something, which is nothing but pure light, namely, the electric bulb glowing in the center of this room. So, too, if I am to find the source of the life and the truth and the love that is in this world, I must go out to a. Life that is not mingled with the shadow, death; I must go out to a Truth, which is not mingled with the shadow, error; and I must go out to a Love which is not mingled with the shadow, hate. I must go out beyond "the margent of this world," out past the "golden gateways of the stars," out past the clotted clay of all humanity, out even to the "hid battlements of eternity," out to Someone who is Pure Life, Pure Truth, and Pure Love.

"There is a quest that calls me
In nights when I am alone,
The need to ride where the ways divide
The Known from the Unknown.

I mount what thought is near me
And soon I reach the place,
The tenuous rim where the Seen grows dim,

I have ridden the wind,
I have ridden the sea,
I have ridden the moon and the stars,
I have set my feet in the stirrup seat
Of a comet coursing Mars.

And everywhere
Thro' the earth and air
My thought speeds, lightning-shod,
'Til it comes to a place where checking pace
It cries 'Beyond lies God.' "

Oh, would that I had the speech of angel tongues, or the language which Adam spoke in Eden, or a tongue like Isaiah, which had been touched with a coal from the very altar of God — then, perhaps, I could make you understand what God is. But our untempered speech, which descends "grimy and rough cast from Babel's bricklayers," strong it is to damn, strong it is to speak of cheek and lip and bosom; for these things move with light ease in the speech of the working day. But to speak of God: It moves with the clumsiness of the hieroglyphs. Poor as it is, language may tell its story that God is not some dim far-off abstraction, not some "spatio-temporal configuration"; not "an epochal occasion"; not an energy — but the fullness of Life and Truth and Love. God is that Life, which has throbbed throughout the agelessness of eternity, wherein each moment is eternity and eternity is as a moment; that Life whence has come all existing things, from the stars, the "glimmering tapers lit about the day's dead sanctities," on even to the smiling face of a babe in a crib.

God is that Truth in whom darkness and ignorance can find no place, before whom all is spread out in its widest extent and smallest detail; that Truth the Greek academicians sought as they walked the streets of Athens, the truth the scientist seeks as he uncovers fossils in the strata of the earth, the truth the saint seeks as he leaves the lights and glamours of the world for the shades and shadows of the Cross where saints are made.

God is that Love who ever wills and loves the good because it is His nature, that Love whence has come the love of spouse for spouse, and that yet stranger love of a Stephen who loved and prayed for those who stoned him in hate, and the purer love of "passionless passion and mild tranquilities" wherein the heart confides in God alone.

If, then, God is the source of the life, the truth, and the love in the universe, and if the very existence of these things depends more upon Him than the evening rays upon the setting sun, do we not owe Him something in return? If there are gifts shall there not be gratitude for gifts? If a man invents a machine, does not the government give him patent rights entitling him to returns on his invention? If an author writes a book, is he not entitled to royalties on his writings, simply because they are the creation of his mind? Now, we are God's invention, or better still, God's creation. Is not God, therefore, entitled to return on His creation? Is He not entitled to royalties on His works? And since He has given us three great gifts, which contain all other gifts, should He not be entitled to triple returns on those gifts? Since He has given us truth, are we not in duty bound to know Him? Since He gave us love, should we not love in return? Since He gave us life, should we not serve Him? If we admit that triple bond, then we admit religion, or commerce between God and man, and such is the first lesson of the penny catechism: "Why did God make us? God made us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven."

Thus I come back to my starting point: The quest for God is essentially the search for the full account and meaning of life. And life has a meaning because the essence of God is Love.

God is not a Being who does not know how to love; not one of those tepid hearts that have no flames, and whose tiny sparks have not the power of enkindling others, but fly back only upon themselves; not a powerless God who knows how to love but cannot realize His dreams; not a God who burns with love but has only cold words to say. God's love is not like a stream, which runs deep and mighty as long as it is held within narrow banks, but like the great feast at which five thousand sat and all did have their fill.

If we would know what God is then we need only look into our own hearts. Something God-like is mirrored there; for whatever is best in the treasured lives of heroic men and the serene unwritten lives of innocent women, whatever is best in the loyalty of human hearts and the unwearying sweetness of a mother's love, whatever is noble in the sacrificing care of a father and the devotion of an unselfish friend — is but the dim reflection, the far-off echo, the faint shadow, of that which in God is perfect. We are enjoying but a two-billionth part of the light and heat which streams from the sun; and it may equally be that we are receiving even a smaller fraction of the Love and Life and Truth which is in God.

Do not think that any heart can speak with such a rapturous language but that there is a deeper heart, a greater love, and a nobler affection. If your own mother seems to you to be the incarnation of all that is loving in life, do you think the God who made mothers can be any less loving? If your own father seems to you to be the realization of all that kindness in life can mean, do you think the God who made fathers is any less kind? If your own heart and mind revel in the size of the planets arid the nature of the spheres, do you not think you should thrill at the knowledge of Him before whom all the nations of the earth are poised as the grains in the balance? If there are times when the joy of living almost transports us into other realms; if there are times when the discovery of a human truth lifts us into heights of ecstatic repose; if there are times when the human heart in its noblest reaches and purest affections has the power to cast us into an ecstasy, to thrill and exalt us — then what must be the great Heart of Hearts! If a human heart can increase the joy of living, then what must be the great Heart of God! If the spark is so bright, oh, what must be the Flame!

The Divine Romance

The Blessed Trinity

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