Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Growing Up (Finally)

Growing up is a humbling experience.

I am now in my late forties. Many of the "facts" that I asserted with such zeal and conviction when I was a younger man were, I now realize, only opinions combined with passion. I still hold many of these opinions, but in a different way, recognizing that they pertain to practical matters and that they must be open to the organic development that the experience of life brings to our understanding.

At the same time, the essential Truths--the matters upon which my life is really grounded --have gained greater firmness and depth in my mind. My faith has grown stronger. The relationship of my reason to reality has grown more solid.

Truth is a matter for adherence, for witness, and for reasoned presentation and defense.

Opinions are matters for continued observation and discussion, matters in which something of the truth is perceived, but many questions remain. And in the world of practical things, questions often remain because the reality under consideration is still in the process of development. I find that the more I understand about concrete problems, the more inclined I am to form intelligent questions rather than (even provisional) answers.

Some Examples of Matters of Truth: Jesus Christ is God Incarnate; He communicates His life through the Church; the human person is created to love and to be loved; it is always wrong to directly intend to kill an innocent human being; I can only find true happiness through a living relationship with God, and with the human persons that He has given me in my life.

Some Examples of Matters of Opinion or Question (and I frankly feel the need to state all these as questions, even though I hold strong opinions on some of them): What is the significance of the rise of "traditional" Islam in its native countries and in the West? How should the West engage Islam? How ought democratic institutions to play a role in the development of emerging nations? What are the distinctive characteristics of the United States of America as a nation? What needs to be recovered? What needs to be developed?

Okay, those may seem a little large and political. How about these: When the kids bring me one of their conflicts, when should I resolve it and when should I try to lead them to resolve it themselves? How much should I allow the kids to use the computer? What the heck are we going to do about High School for John Paul? And many more.

An interesting common thread runs through all my understanding and consideration, from adherence to the most profound Truth to considering the smallest questions. I cannot effectively accomplish any of these things "alone." I cannot "be" in isolation, much less understand anything.

There is God first, source of all good, source of the grace of faith, creator and sustainer of the light of reason. There is Jesus Christ, and the Church. There is reality that presents itself to me and informs my mind. And there are those who point to reality and distinguish it from my own fantasies: those, of course, who are responsible for preserving and transmitting the teaching of the Gospel in the Church, but also many other kinds of teachers (because in this life most of us will always need teachers), as well as friends, resources, doctors, advisors I can trust for guidance. And in a very special way, my wife. My wife!

I can't think straight without other people. I am not a great, self-generated autonomous individual. I can't do it by myself. The real, concrete recognition of this is a tremendous moment in the process of growing up.

It is also humbling.