Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Human Person: What a Mess!

The human person. Image of God.

Made from dust. Destined to return to dust.

Redeemed by the grace of the God who took the dust and made it His dust, raising it up to eternal life.

This is the truth. I believe it. I believe -- which is to say I know with certainty -- that this is the truth.

This certainty is a gift from God.

It is not up to me or anyone else to change the truth that He has given to the world. Nor would I want to change a single iota of the truth, because it is here that I find the mercy and the love that I need.

The human person. What a mess!

Who can understand the heart of a human person? I know, from my own experience -- from my own suffering and from the suffering of those I love -- something of the hindrances, the obstacles, the feebleness of enfleshed human intelligence and human freedom.

The opaque afflictions of the bodily person lead to the confusion and the interior realm of misperception that limit us and so often hinder our judgment. Due to various disorders we've only begun to understand, we are born with brains and nervous systems and endocrine systems and other systems that are off balance, "tilted," more or less dysfunctional in a myriad of ways.

We all enter into a world of relationships with other people who have more or less the same dysfunctions, people who also have a history of living with their problems and dealing with the struggle of trying to be together in the world. They make judgments and act freely, thereby a growing a little in love or becoming more selfish and destructive (or moving back and forth between the two). But real people think and choose inside a thick fog while carrying a lot of weight.

Intelligence and freedom are not lost, but they are often obscured (to a significant extent) because they are incarnate in a broken human frame and pass through all the afflictions of a distorted human life.

We think and act, indeed. But it is difficult.

We Catholic Christians know that at the root of this dysfunction is original sin. Jesus died to free us from the sin of Adam, and baptism frees us from original sin and all other sins. Still, the "effects" of original sin remain in us at various levels of our humanity.

We Christians engage in the struggle and the journey of life along with our non-Christian brothers and sisters, who do not yet know that they too have been redeemed by Jesus and are living within the context of the profuse, mysterious action of His grace.

If we have truly encountered Jesus, then we long for them also to see His beautiful face. With all our faults and weakness, we aspire to live in such a way that His glory shines through us. But the "results" of our witness are in His hands, and we must trust in Him because He holds the destiny of us all, of each and every human person with immeasurable and ineffable love.

Meanwhile, we all journey together in this life, and we are all broken.

Original sin darkens the intellect and weakens the will, certainly. But it also makes us sick. Physically sick. Disoriented. "Off-balance." Afflicted. Passing from generation to generation in pain. Sweating to bring forth thistles and thorns from the earth.

We all suffer from a terminal illness. We are all dying.

And we are all stunted as human beings by a subtle and diffuse distortion of perception and emotion. Most of us struggle to overcome this condition. A few stand out in extraordinary ways, as "saints" or heroes. Others live flawed but beautiful and admirable lives. A great number of us (I hope) just keep working at it, trying move forward. We make the best choices we can. We fail, we make mistakes, we acknowledge them, we take advice from others, we keep trying, we build up the good in ourselves and others.

Sometimes others can see that we've made some progress.

Sometimes, however, this stunted, "chronic and terminally ill" human condition can overcome a person even in spite of their best efforts; it can be as powerful as the acute disorientation that we recognize when a person has a great fever or a massive brain seizure. This sickness, in reality, is a kind of "brain damage" that we don't yet fully understand.

It is the crisis brought on by those diseases that we classify as "mental illness."

But often our poor feeble human frame undergoes more subtle convulsions that we don't perceive on the surface of our lives. The pain is deep down in the layers of memory, wound up with hormones and the whole emotional structure, with the nervous system and the brain and its tangled neurological arrangements, or with other more obscure aspects of our humanity that we have not discovered or about which we can only guess.

Humans get sick, grow old, and weaken. We experience this in various ways at various times in ourselves and/or in those we love. We all carry great burdens.

We are all suffering.

The road is difficult. Human freedom, nevertheless, is real. It is woven into all of this mess. The love of Jesus is also real, and it is offered to us within all of this mess.

Our lives therefore, are inescapably dramatic. Love is always possible in this life. So too is sin. We know this if we are honest with ourselves. We know when we have freely chosen to do something that is evil. The weight of our human condition may diminish the blame we deserve, but we still know that we must take responsibility for the things we do wrong.

We must examine ourselves honestly, and repent of our sins.

It is true that our myriad human afflictions can reduce (in various ways) our measure of responsibility for the evil that we do.

But nothing in our particular human condition can turn evil into good. If something is morally destructive in itself, there are many aspects of our burdened humanity that can make it less destructive for us. But there is nothing that can make it good for us.

If our misery drives us to plunge deeper into more kinds of misery, this is a sorrowful event that should evoke compassion, solidarity, and the effort to help. We deserve this solidarity, each one of us, because we are human beings!

But we cannot use our misery to justify ourselves. It doesn't work. We remain miserable. Even if the whole world told us we were happy, would it make any difference, really?

Self-justification is a project that ends in despair.

It doesn't help, however, simply to point this out. Because we all remain broken and in need of healing. We need healing.

Jesus is the gift that brings healing and hope.

Jesus heals us from our sins and begins to heal the brokenness all the way through us, to lift up our humanity, to empower our freedom, and to enable us to embrace the mysterious path of suffering for ourselves and others.

Our destiny is the glory of God, and His glory is a healed and transformed humanity in which we are brothers and sisters of Jesus forever right down to our bones and nerves and tissues, right down to the delicate and exquisite balance of all our parts, to the depths of spirit and mind and heart and flesh and blood.

The human person: alive and whole forever. Filled up and flowing out with joy.

The hope for every human person is Him. God wants each and every human person to be beautiful and whole forever, and He has promised to bring us to this integral fulfillment when we trust in His Son Jesus.

This is the hope that enables us to taste even now the promise of fulfillment. This is the hope that generates the compassion which we are called to have for one another, the interest in life, the building up of the good in this world, the struggle to move forward without being crushed by our own burdens.

In all things, this is our hope.