Our human need to be known and loved. Last week, we methodically looked at the lexical meaning of each word within this first objective. This week, we look closely at the spiritual meaning.
Humans are distinguished from other creatures by our capability “of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving and entering into communion with other persons” – so says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #357. We find this definition especially well suited to our Mission at hand. For the numerous ways Catholic principles were challenged in St. Thorlak’s day, and all the more in our own time, many find the foundational definitions supporting Catholic teachings surprisingly sound and widely acceptable.
This definition of human hinges on the notion of allowing others into our hearts and minds, and willingly visiting in the hearts and minds of others.
Both elements, our openness to giving and our openness to entering, are radically challenging. Giving others access to our hearts and minds exposes our greatest vulnerability: our very selves. We risk others mocking, dismissing or exploiting that which makes us who we are in our deepest essence. Opening our opinions, ideals, hopes and imaginings to others gambles that they will not feed upon them for their own power or gain over us. Does this seem a bit melodramatic? Think about the secrets you keep tightly guarded about yourself, and ask yourself why. It takes a lot of energy to protect ourselves from exploitation; it must be for very important reasons that we all routinely do just that.
Openness to sharing the intimate thoughts and feelings of others sounds much less threatening, much more easily accomplished – assuming others are open to sharing with us, right? Well, that means that we are open to knowing and considering the passions of the person in front of us, from the baristas to the classmates to the passengers across the aisle to the significant others in our lives. Are we willing? Are we open? Are we interested? How easily do we knock on other people’s doors – particularly those with whom we are not yet very familiar?
This could get complicated quickly. Isn’t it human nature to open ourselves easily among those who share common interests and values, and to show more caution with people whom we know disagree with (or disapprove of) us? Yet this definition of “human”— given to us by an institution more than twenty centuries old and considered unyielding by many – makes no exceptions regarding those whom we are to seek in communion. It says, to be human, we freely seek communion with one another. Period. It makes no allowance for selecting those whom we most resemble or most prefer.
What about obstacles arising from conditions we do not choose? Autism, anxiety, speech and language difficulties make connection difficult, but certainly make us no less human. For that matter, other people’s grudges, prejudices, fears and emotional histories can just as well create barriers for us. We believe the solution is in the desire. No matter how many factors impact our ability to connect right now, our openness means more than our execution.
There are countless reasons why we do not grant access to our most cherished ideas, or why we do not comfortably greet others’ thoughts with the same reverence as our own; yet, until we at least agree to be open to this goal, we hold ourselves to a standard far below what personhood is meant to be. We must counteract excusing behavior as “human nature” when people habitually guard themselves or refuse attempts to understand others’ points of view (even if those viewpoints contain error). Correction: It is AGAINST human nature to resist knowing each other personally and deeply.
The Mission of Saint Thorlak begins by living our human need, right here, where we are. Our entire vocation is striving to allow others into our thoughts and feelings, and to participate in the thoughts and feelings of others. How we choose to do this is up to each individual’s creativity and expression, capabilities and limitations… but we believe it can be done.
Pray: Heavenly Father, show us today how to give others the chance to know us: first, in our own thoughts; then, in our hearts; and finally, if we are able, in our words and actions. If we are not yet able to speak or act, we pray for openness to the way to see this happen.
Contemplate: Communion makes us human. Think about this in everything we do, with everyone we encounter.
How frequently do we check in on ourselves to see how well we are doing at being human?
There are no standard responses. Every person, every situation is different and requires different degrees of prudence. There are as many gentle souls out there as there are predators who exploit our trust, and the wise person seeks out the difference. But our fundamental way of living must start with at least the willingness, the wish, to reach a level of ease enough to allow ourselves the experience of being human.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak