I-IT and I-THOU to symbolize relationships is Martin Buber’s great contribution to Christians as a Jewish religious philosopher, especially regarding our Readings this Sunday which speak about an integration between personal spirituality, vocational responsibility, and organizational practice.1
“I-IT” means subject to object as our response to our environment, which includes science, but, I-IT also implies separation between people when it comes to seeing them as objects; treating a person as though he or she were a thing.
E.g. A young monk was returning to the monastery after his annual retreat. Waiting for him was the older monk who always criticized him and belittled him. “Out skiving again,” the young monk was cuttingly greeted, “and in spite of all your costly retreats you still look no different to me.” The younger monk paused, smiled and murmured, ‘Ah, maybe; but you look different to me.”2
This illustrates the importance of an I-THOU relationship, like in our First Reading, where, although there as an administrative breakdown in providing the basic necessities of life to the Greek speaking widows of the Christian community, seven deacons are appointed to help, all of whom have Greek names. The deacons enter into an “I-Thou” relationship as a vocational ministry which entails love as the responsibility of an “I” for a “Thou.”
In fact, all forms of discrimination against the unborn, and other people, are not the I-THOU relationship, where God is encountered in the person of our neighbor.
The more we love and serve our neighbor for the love of God, the better our dwelling will be in our Father’s house.
E.g. There was a pious cobbler named Deusdedit, in Rome. A cobbler is a person who repairs shoes. Every Saturday he took a portion of his week’s earnings to the courtyard of the shrine of St. Peter at Rome. With these he gave alms to the poor who assembled at the shrine. The result of the cobbler’s charity was revealed in a vision to a pious person. The vision was of a house being built in heaven. But this building of a house in heaven happened only on Saturdays. For Saturday was the day on which Deusdedit went to St. Peter’s to give alms to the poor. The house was the cobbler’s “mansion” or “dwelling” in heaven, built by the “treasure” that he had transferred to heaven every Saturday through his gifts to the poor. A similar vision revealed that these mansions were treasure houses in themselves. They were built with bricks of pure gold.3
Building on the hermeneutic of Martin Buber, “I-I” is the ultimate union which is in the Eucharist. It is a union that God wants to share with us even if for a time, it is ‘spiritual communion” or ‘communion of the heart’ that most are experiencing if they also worship Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration, who is Jesus in our souls, the Thou is an “I” in communion with you as an “I”.
Purity of heart is a virtue of the unitive way, which builds the most stately mansions in heaven, purity or singleness of heart, is a disposition of contemplation.
“I am going to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2)
Those with greater love on earth will have a greater capacity to be filled with love in heaven.
1. Martin Buber’s Call to Dialogue in I and Thou. By Donovan Johnson. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2020.
2. The Cenacle Region of Aotearoa New Zealand/Australia, Reflections and prayers for April 2020, part 3.
3. The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity Hardcover by Peter Brown, 2015.