Contagious Imprints


When the flu gets into your system, it imprints itself on the whole thing: all the body functions are thwarted to a greater or lesser extent. When a heavy rock falls on the sand, its imprint is left there. Something analogous happens in human relationships. Where a strong personality is in contact with others, the very force of its activity effects change; Father Garrigou-Lagrange puts it this way:

The property of powerful agents in the physical, intellectual, and moral order is to imprint by the very force of their action their likeness on their works, on their children, on their disciples.

But this is no abstract, difficult truth of philosophy or theology. It’s just plain practical experience. It happens for parents, artists, teachers, nurses, priests, community organizers, anyone who has a life or a job that is relational (that relates one human being to another).

Any value could become a “contagious imprint”, so to speak. The real question for Christians is: How can I live this truth as regards faith, hope, love, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and all the virtues? How can these become, in and through me, contagious imprints? For, in the final analysis, isn’t that why God has made us one human family, rather than a collection of isolated individuals?

Well, for spiritual beings, only what is inside can come outside. The contagious imprint can only come outside if the inside pre-contains it already. This is different from the flu or the heavy stone, where the imprint and the original are different. But in spiritual values, the imprint and the original must be one and the same, only found inside different people: one person pre-contains the original, the second person has it contagiously imprinted on her soul.

Isn’t this exactly what the tradition means when it says that good is of itself diffusive? Or isn’t this exactly the message of the life of a Blessed Charles de Foucauld or a Jacques Maritain LBJ? The values which are inside are radiated and diffused outside, fully intact (Blessed Charles, recognizing a strange importance to the idea of planting tabernacles among non-Christians, first saw this as regards the Eucharistic Presence; but later he saw its application to the presence of humans beings among human beings also). What is spiritual is not lost in kind when it radiates or diffuses out from the original. A contagious imprint is both truly contagious and imprinting.

Goodness is what we want to pass on. Having reflected on the work of his former teacher Henri Bergson, Jacques Maritain remarks that it is in the lives of other human beings that we are drawn to the good, and, being drawn, imprinted in some way, with some desire or impression which is itself the good desired in germ:

An act of true goodness, the least act of true goodness, is indeed the best proof of the existence of God. But our intellect is too busy cataloguing notions to see it. Therefore, we believe it on the testimony of those in whom true goodness shines in a way that astonishes us.

Since it is Christian contemplation towards which the exercise of the virtues leads and which, in its turn, rejuvenates, enlivens, and strengthens the very exercise of the virtues itself, it is Christian contemplation that is the first value inside us that can be radiated, diffused, and imprinted. Jacques Maritain gets this into just a few words, when he remarks,

Contemplation… is frequently the treasure of persons hidden in the world… souls who live by it in all simplicity, without visions, without miracles, but with such a flame of love for God and neighbour that good happens all around them without noise and without agitation.

“Good happens all around them without noise and without agitation.” Why? Because the contagious imprint of good is already inside them, simply resting there in a peaceful view on Jesus who is Peace; and because spiritual values are not contained; they spread, diffuse, radiate, are contagious. What’s inside comes outside. The whole person is transfigured. And that’s what counts. That’s what has the deepest and broadest impact.

Plainly, then, anyone who deters others from contemplation when their time has come, or anyone who places an antagonism between action and contemplation, doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He either has opened his mouth too soon and expressed his views on his contemplative experiences too rashly, or he has never tasted contemplation in the first place. For it is from the heart that the hearts speaks. And a heart that has contemplated its God is a much more credible thing, a thing with much more influence and imprint, particularly in its unpredictable combination of fortitude and gentleness, than a heart that has kept greater distance between its desires and God’s.

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One thought on “Contagious Imprints

  1. Powerful, penetrating–more than flowery words, challenging. Your last paragraph I read over and over, fearing I represented the worse for the wear. In reality, I am a quiet person, one who rarely speaks. I fear I am blasting away online, although my only activity is comments to you (lucky you) and efforts upon my unpromoted and amateurish blog. I take them serious; understanding, “only what is inside can come outside”. Criticism, or the idea my mouth should be closed, are welcomed. I am convinced there is a pollution of ideas being perpetrated online, individuals consumed with effort and identity, unable to transmit the truth: “Good happens all around them without noise and without agitation.” Fearing I am a noisy agitator aiming for acquiescence, I offer my attention. Fortitude forward, I keep reading.

    Words from ‘The Spiritual Combat’ by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli: “Our deception consists in the tendency of our sensitive nature (serenely comfortable when sufferings are at a distance), boldly to compare itself with those stalwart souls who bear the greatest pains with unwearied patience. To avoid such a snare, we must fight the enemies at hand in a world of reality, rather than achieve meaningless victories in a self-created world of fancy. Then we shall see if our resolutions are cowardly or courageous, imaginary or real, and thus advance to perfection in the footsteps of Saints.”

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