THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION/ What is the human person?
Consider the following words of Msgr. Luigi Giussani: “when . . . the grip of a hostile society tightens around us to the point of threatening the vivacity of our expression, when a cultural and social hegemony tends to penetrate the heart . . . stirring up our already natural uncertainties, then the time of the person has come.”
Now is such a time. Now is the time of the person. Or so it seemed last week when Americans experienced or saw so many victims of natural disasters such as the two tornadoes.
There were other horrors caused by human sickness or perversion, but what stunned most was the preference of Death for children. This raised in our hearts the question: what is the human person? Of how much evil are we capable? What are the value and origin of our good deeds? What are the boundaries of human freedom, if it exists at all?
The latest issue of The Week magazine has a posting of 29 answers to these questions by prominent thinkers, both serious ones and others whose attempt at cynical humor shows that they have been unable to deal with the question. Yet these are the gurus that enlighten us on the news cable channels. No wonder that with few exceptions the answers were negative judgments of the human condition.
To seek our answer to these questions, it is necessary to begin with the experience of being human. To be human is to be someone instead of something. It is to have a Name. To have a name is to be called, to be summoned out of solitude.
I remember that when my uncle died I had to spend the night next to his open coffin, and I was very depressed and even scared... the terrible emptiness of death, its destructive silence. Then, suddenly, a cat wandered into the room, and the mere presence of another living being calmed down and took away my fear.
To be a person is to enter into conversation with Another Presence with whom a dialogue is the substance of my life. It is to be in communion with another presence. It is to belong to a community of persons. A person is therefore neither self-sufficient nor self-made. Personhood is relationship. It begins and is sustained by an encounter with another. The highest form of this encounter is love.
In The Diary of a Country Priest, by George Bernanos, he will not recognize the souls in hell as persons because they are unable to love. “Hell is not to love anymore” he explains.
This past week we saw the fury of nature and the cruelty of man. But in so many we saw the power of love.