THE HUMAN BEING: BEAST ? ANGEL? OR WHAT? INTRODUCTION
Sr Valery Walker o.p
A talk given at the recent St Thomas Weekend in Stone
Am I an animal ? or partly angel/spirit ? do I have a soul? what happens when I die ? what sort of being am I ? what am I for, if anything ?
As believers, Christians, Catholics, we’re gathered here, I imagine, to think and discuss because we are all aware of the variety of opinions, if not the confusion, that reigns around us in our society concerning the answers to these questions.
We Catholics are in the happy position of having accepted the revelation of God, relayed through Christ and his Church, concerning
• the love of God that brought us into being and keeps us there and
• his loving purpose in doing so. We are not in the dark concerning these things; we have the light of Christ. So we heard from the Second Vatican Council:
“The human being, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator….God has created human beings for a blessed destiny that lies beyond the limits of his sad state on earth.”
But we believers are the few.
In preparation for this weekend, I did a little research. I asked four local friends (one at a time) : Did he/she think she had a soul and if so, what did she think it was ? Interestingly, they all but one, thought they had a soul and all thought it was that within them that thought and felt, loved, suffered etc. All of them thought it lived on – but in what way was not so clear. One young man thought that, just as our bodies when they die return to the earth and contribute further to the ecology of the world; so our soul , at death, returns to the common pool of life, so to speak. He also thought that his soul was no different than a dog’s. One friend was brought up a Catholic (but would appear not to be a practising Catholic); he wrote:
I thought then and still do now that your soul is the part of you that carries on living either in your children or something you've left behind, like a legacy or a good memory? (maybe for me it maybe those arches in the cloisters?)
This is just to give a glimpse of the confusion !
So - we have answers given us and we are grateful to have them and live by them and we thank God for them.
At the same time we have in fact a duty, both to ourselves and to our neighbour/friends, to have exercised our minds on these matters and attempted to see where evidence can be found in the make-up of the world around us, in experience, in history, to demonstrate the truth of what we believe. From our detective stories (if nothing else !) we are aware that a person can be traced through the effects of their actions; likewise, God the Maker can be glimpsed through his works. “The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason,” the Church’s Catechism asserts. And we have it at least twice in Scripture: in the Book of Wisdom ch.13 and in the Letter to the Romans, ch. 1.
Why should we do this thinking? Well, in the first place because we have intelligence and “Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to the question of origins.” the Catechism of the Church tells us.
We have reason and we should use it !
Secondly, we owe it to our neighbour to be able to reply to their questions/criticisms with thoughtful answers based on reason as far as it will take us.
So here we are, awake to that obligation, prepared to stretch our minds a bit, hoping to end up a little clearer, both in understanding and in speech.
Anxious for God’s help in what is not an easy task, we will finish this evening with Compline or Night Prayer.