THOUGHTS ON THE CATHOLIC FAITH NO.9 JULY 9th (Fr. John O’Neill)
SORTING OUT THE PERSON
To have knowledge is good: to have it organized is even better. Like a good chef who knows what’s what and what’s where in the kitchen, and so produces tasty meals efficiently, so the human being needs to know what is in him, and what is the purpose of those elements: then he can have a very satisfying life, even on earth: the alternative is disaster, the bitter fruit of misusing human nature.
There are two elements in human nature : spiritual and material - body and soul. God gave the soul a mind with which to think and a will with which to choose. There are things which each of these must have and things each must avoid.
The mind must have truth if it is to do what it was made to do: it needs to know the purpose of things, just as the chef needs to know that vanilla sweetens and vinegar sours: getting them confused will ruin dessert and waste good ingredients. If a person’s mind considers that possessions, power and pleasure are the purpose of life then he will ruin his all too brief time of preparation on earth and waste the gifts of the Creator by misusing them. At the higher level, the mind needs to know eternal truth, and, indeed, Him who is Eternal Truth, in Whom it finds ultimate satisfaction, for He is the purpose for which it was made.
The mind, to be fulfilled by truth, both temporary and eternal, must avoid those influences which would deter it from its purpose. These are internal, coming from the person himself, or external, coming from things, persons or organizations to which he is attached.
Internal influences are the person’s own feelings, desires and opinions which he might not be willing to sacrifice for the sake of truth, pride thus preventing freedom. External influences might be family or friends, some extreme church groups, political parties whose policies might oppose God’s will, peer group pressures, current trends, and so on. Preserving truth in the mind sometimes requires that the person stand alone from such influences, bearing in mind that freedom is not always found in “having the numbers.”
The will must choose good if it is to do what it was made to do. The will depends on the mind: it can only choose what the mind presents to it; hence the utter importance for the mind to know what is good and what is evil. Again, there are temporary and eternal goods. The mind needs to know temporary goods such as what foods make for health, what lies beneath the surface of people, and such basic things as which direction is north, so that the will can lead the person to happiness and not frustration. The essential role of the will now becomes obvious: it is to love, for loving means wanting what is good, both for self and for others, and choosing to do what it is necessary to achieve that good.
The material element in man, the body, is the servant of the soul. To be fulfilled it must be trained to do what it was made to do. Briefly, its five senses, through which the mind receives all its knowledge (save for direct divine infusion) must be channels for what is good only - the mind can think only about what the senses allow into it ; and the body generally, must be at the disposal of the will to do good, which is why health is important. So the body needs control of the senses, nourishing food, adequate rest and exercise.
All this might seem rather obvious, but there is plenty of evidence that the apostles of orthodoxy in the Church suffer disunity because many of them fail to keep check on whether all the elements in their nature are functioning as God requires, or being misused through subjective prejudice. Let objectivity be the goal of all, and humility makep its discovery always possible.