Discussing the Transcendentals

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Discerning desires that point to God


“Thou has made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” — ST. AUGUSTINE

We’ve all felt that restlessness. It wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t something truly beyond us. We know it innately. Your teens know it, too, and this awareness serves you well in teaching them about the transcendentals: truth, beauty, and goodness.

Start with “Have you ever?” questions …

1. Have you ever noticed how often children ask why? Have you ever noticed how scientific discovery somehow stems from the need to find out the reason for something? Have you ever read an article or watched a video and yearned to know more about the topic?

We carry with us an innate sense that our knowledge is incomplete, even for the most brilliant among us. There is always more to be discovered and understood. This is our desire for truth.

2. Have you ever experienced or witnessed injustice? How did it affect you? Depending on the degree of injustice, you may have become enraged and demanded restitution of some kind.

We wouldn’t react that way if we didn’t somehow already know, without being taught, that there is such a thing as justice and goodness beyond what we experience. This is our desire for goodness.

3. Have you ever been struck by the pure beauty of something — and then moved on when that something lost its initial impact? Maybe a scenic vista, a piece of art or music, a picture, or the written word awed you. Why doesn’t that awe last?

If we found perfect beauty, we would not need to move on, but somehow you know that this most beautiful thing isn’t perfect beauty. We wouldn’t need to move on if we weren’t innately aware that a more perfect beauty is to be found. This is our desire for beauty.

After grasping what the transcendentals are — those things beyond us for which we have a built-in desire — we can identify their importance.

Ask the large group

Which of the transcendentals resonate with you the most? Which one evokes the strongest reaction? Let’s call that one your primary transcendental. That is likely the one that God can best use to share himself with you and speak to you.

Divide into 3 groups

Split up your group by whichever transcendental the youth best connect with. Then discuss:
◗ What made you choose this group?
◗ How does God use this transcendental to speak to you? Or how have you seen God through this transcendental?
◗ Have you ever used this transcendental to help another person see God?
◗ Which transcendental is your weakest? How might you increase your awareness of this one and increase your awareness of God’s presence throughout your day?

Our desires point toward God

Our desires for truth, goodness, and beauty ultimately point us to seek fulfillment — as Augustine pointed out — in God who is Perfect Truth, Perfect Goodness, and Perfect Beauty.


Becky Groth is a writer for ODB Films. See more at ODBFilms.com.

This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April 2019

Photo: manjik, istock

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