I have decided to post one of my papers written for my class in Theological Anthropolgy. My teacher was Dr. Morris Pelzel. This assignment was to be written as if given in a talk to a college audience with a diverse grouping of individuals, some Christians, some not, some with no specific religion, and all in a learning and searching time in their lives. I thought this would be an appropriate paper to post on the web.
Choices and Discovery – a Christian Perspective
“Human beings can fully discover their true selves only in sincere self-giving.”1 Through Gaudium et Spes (translated – The Church in the Modern World), one of the documents of Vatican Council II, the leaders of the Catholic Church have reached out across the boundaries of nations, religion or lack thereof, generations, languages, skin color, philosophies, and economic realities to bring an alternative perspective of what it means to be fully human in our complex, individualistic and ever-changing world. You and I are living in a time when any type of information is readily available, news and communications are only as far as a text-message away, and though we have the world at our fingertips, it is sometimes difficult to cut through all of the busyness and clutter in our lives to find what is really important. I would like to share with you a Christian viewpoint using input from leaders like the late Pope, John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, the worldwide council of Bishops, a variety of Christian thinkers and writers, and scripture. Our goal today will be to have a better understanding of humanity, our place among that humanity, and the Church’s role in helping us live out our role within the human family.
To move forward we must first view the backdrop of today’s culture. The bishops state, “In no other age has humanity enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic well-being; and yet a huge proportion of the people of the world is plagued by hunger and extreme need while countless numbers are totally illiterate.”2 As we continue to make strides in technology, disease control, communications, and the globalization of our economies, we seem to fall short in the area of human rights, poverty assistance and cultural acceptance. All too often we find ourselves at war with the other side, diametrically opposed to some issue strictly because of the label of a political party, cultural, religious, racial or economic difference between us. The complexities of political unrest, poverty, terrorism, and social differences paint a very bleak picture. It seems that the world is too big and messed up to fix by ourselves. There is a key to unlock these complexities if we can but decipher our role within these situations.
Where in our personal experience of life can we glean hope for the future, especially in the decisions that face us each day? It begins with who we are. In modernity we are taught, through education and example, to have a very individualistic view of the world. Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,”3 was the beginning of the separation of morality from ethics. We have been given the impression that we are alone in the world and our security and happiness is totally up to us – we define ourselves. There is some truth to this, but lets explore further. We are told that things will get better if we eat the right food or drink the right beer. We do have noble thoughts and principles for human rights, yet when put into practice there seems to be more harm done than good. We attack nations to save the citizens; we ignore genocide in the name of freedom; we prioritize away the needs of victims of hunger, natural disaster or economic stress; we are more concerned with profit than with the needs of employees; we walk past a neighbor in need in the name of keeping an appointment; or we sit in our homes, hurting and lonely instead of reaching out and asking for help – all in the name of self-awareness and individualism. John Paul II states:
“Attacks [on humanity and human dignity] go directly against respect for life and they represent a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights. It is a threat capable, in the end, of jeopardizing the very meaning of democratic coexistence: rather than societies of “people living together”, our cities risk becoming societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted and oppressed.”4
It is through the misguided separation of life and moral responsibility that we become numb to the needs of others, and many times ourselves. But there is another perspective.
The truth is, we are individuals created by God to be in community and fellowship. Our deep, internal nature is to care for others and use our talents for the betterment of all. Gaudium et Spes states, “Believers and unbelievers agree almost unanimously that all things on earth should be ordained to humanity as to their center and summit.”5 Differing views and diverse opinions of the definition of humanity often polarize us. Relationship is at the center of humanity – relationship with God and with each other. The bishops continue, “By their innermost nature men and women are social beings; and if they do not enter into relationships with others they can neither live nor develop their gifts.”6 Many refuse to explore and understand that the source of our life and relationships is God, our Creator, while others are just not educated about this issue. The Church has been established by God to reach out and educate the uneducated and bring answers to those asking questions. Cardinal Hummes states, “[The Church] wishes to help man [and woman] to discover the full truth of the human being and [his or her] vocation in this world.”7
Men and women also fall to the temptation of sin, or separation from God. Gaudium et Spes states, “As a result [of sin], the entire life of women and men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness.”8 But God Himself, through the person of Jesus Christ, came to free us from the bondage of sin and to restore us to a place of grace and freedom – freedom to have right relationship with the Father and with each other. This relationship is open to all and enjoyed by Christians who have made the decision to follow Christ. Bailie states, “A Christian is someone whose understanding of the mystery of life and the nature of [their] own existence has been decisively reconfigured by the truth which [they have] found in Christ.”9 It is through this understanding and our appropriate use of the aforementioned freedom that we are called to honor each other and ourselves as more than mere objects.
The dignity of the human person extends beyond our personal relationships to those of the whole world. Dignity also reaches into the areas of truth, intellect, wisdom, and conscience. Gaudium et Spes states:
“Humanity’s intellectual nature finds at last its perfection, as it needs to, in wisdom, which gently draws the human mind to look for and to love what is true and good.10 Through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to others in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the lives of individuals and from social relationships.”11
When we understand who we are, as individuals and as humankind; when we understand that yearning and search for truth are at the core of our very being; when we understand that God is the author and guide for the good and true that we have access to; and when we understand that our brothers and sisters are just like us in their wants and needs and desires; it is at that point that we can have the freedom and abilities to look past the differences that we may have, look beyond the selfishness we may have felt and look to the deep transformation of our culture that is needed to share this gift with those who are in need. This is love, the love that God has for us and that we should have for each other. Pope Benedict XVI states:
“Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern.”12
The sign of love and concern that manifests itself in need is then moved to a priority position in our lives. Our jobs, education, family, friends are all important and don’t change in relation or priority to who we are – but we have the power to make decisions that impact those in need in a positive way. We buy products from companies who support the needy or who don’t exploit the marginalized; we shop at stores where the employees are treated fairly; we volunteer our time and talent to organizations who make an impact; we vote for candidates who offer a culture of life, not death; we turn off the TV and turn to our neighbor, family, friend or mate to get to know them better and let them know a little more about us. It is in our decisions to support and seek the good and true that we have impact. Not only immediately, but also by our example others are brought to a decision point of honor and conscience in their lives. This is the model of Jesus Christ in our lives. The bishops tell us:
“In [Jesus] preaching he clearly described an obligation on the part of the daughters and sons of God to treat each other as sisters and brothers. In his prayer he asked that all his followers should be one. As the redeemer of all humanity he delivered himself up to death for the sake of all: ‘no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13).”13
We have an example of love in Christ, who was sent by the God of love. Schindler states, “Thus the Son reveals the first meaning of God and his love to be Glory, or beauty. To be is to give – or be creative – and to receive, on the way to giving again and ever more abundantly.”14 We are called to share this love with our brothers and sisters of the world. This is truly discovering our choices.
1 Gaudium et Spes, Paragraph 24, Page 190.
2 GS, 4, 166.
3 Rene Descartes, Discourse on Methods, Part Four, 24.
4 Pope John Paul II, Evangelium vitae, 18.
5 GS, 12, 174.
6 GS, 12, 175.
7 Cardinal Claudio Hummes, “The Call to Justice: The Legacy of Gaudium et Spes Forty Years Later,” 7.
8 GS, 13, 176.
9 Gil Bailie, “The Subject of Gaudium et Spes Reclaiming a Christocentic Anthropology of the Human Person,” 21.
10 GS, 15, 177.
11 GS, 16, 178.
12 Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 18.
13 GS, 32, 197.
14 David L. Schindler, “Christology and Imago Dei: Interpreting Gaudium et Spes” in Communio