Subject: Response to Dave Stark
Date: Sat, 2 May 1998 14:26:52 -0700
From: "Pete & Janet Flatley"

Thank you for a fascinating dialog, made all the more refreshing because the Seapadre and Mr. Stark are engaging in serious, non-abusive meeting of the minds. I would like to add another dimension to the discussion.

First, some background. I am a cradle Catholic in my golden anniversary year (sounds better than saying I am 50 years old, no?) My Catholicism is rooted in South America, where I was born, and was formed in the US during 12 years of Catholic education. In my 30s, I experienced an emotional crisis with physical consequences and was brought to my knees. Everything I believed or held dear was thrown into turmoil, including my Catholic faith. My recovery was, I believe, due to God's grace and the love of a singularly exceptional man, my husband. My commentary is a distillation of the lessons I learned during that period of suffering and joy.

Human beings are composed of body, mind, soul and spirit. I believe science (literally "knowledge") deals in the realm of the body and that which is known or knowable through, as Mr. Stark points out, "observable phenomenon." The mind focuses on abstracts like beauty, art, joy, honesty.

The soul refers to that part of our humanity that deals with relationships: how do I relate to my physical world? How do I relate to other creatures, human and otherwise? Where the body and mind deal with who, what, where, and when, concrete and abstract, I think the soul resides in the why. Having raised three children to lovely adulthood, I know we are born with the desire to know why. Our curiosity is boundless in childhood and eventually, we progress from "why do all grandmas have wrinkles?" to "why am I here?"

The spiritual side of our humanity is where the body, mind and soul come together in a "synthesis of totality." The spirit weaves itself throughout the other facets to bind them together into a unique entity called a human being.

This synthesis does not mean that all four parts of me are in perfect balance. In fact, many problems arise because of an imbalance. The theory of the hierarchy of needs points out that, at the lowest level of survival, the body is dominant, demanding to be fed, clothed, sheltered. Then, we desire to meet the abstract needs of the mind and the soul's need for companionship and understanding from others and the world around us. At the highest level, we seek to fulfill the needs of the spirit. Some needs are more urgent than others (my need for food supersedes my desire to attend a concert); some needs contradict others (my need to show you my love with a gift of flowers trumps my need to buy another pair of jeans).

Just as the moral law is a standard, built-in feature of all human beings, so too no person (with the exception of the physically or mentally handicapped) needs to be told his body is hungry, thirsty, or suffering from climatic conditions of cold or heat. How often have we heard, "I know good art when I see it?" No person needs to be told that she desires a companion to understand and support her, someone to give and receive love. Neither, does it follow, that a person needs to be told to search for that which will fulfill the spirit. All of these needs are known innately to each person. The fact that we seek to fill the needs of the body, mind, soul and spirit indicates that there must exist that which will fill those needs exactly. Else why would every human--no matter how primitive or complex the society--have those needs?

So for example, there exists food and the means to create clothing and shelter. The university system exists to meet the thirst for knowledge. From matchmakers to personal ads in the classifieds, entire industries exist to help find the perfect mate. But what about the spirit? What are the needs of the spirit? And can those needs be fulfilled?

I believe our spirit seeks perfection. Sack cloth could provide adequate covering for our bodies, yet the fashion industry knows our weakness for designer clothing. When Mr. Stark graduates magna cum laude with a degree in physics, he will not presume to know all about physics! Moreover, does he not seek the woman who will wonderfully fulfill his need for companionship and love?

And the spirit? It seeks the perfect. Alas, another built-in standard feature of human beings is our imperfection, so the perfect is not to be found in another human being nor in anything created by humans. But, as I said, why would human beings seek perfection if perfection did not exist?

Two philosophers attempted to answer that question. Jean Paul Satre declared that man seeks perfection, but perfection does not exist. Therefore, life is absurd. Augustine also saw man's search for perfection, but he said it does exist and it has a name: God. In fact, he said our heart is restless, Lord, until it rests in Thee.

Now where does this lead us? I think we too often get hung up on the Catholic Church, its teachings, its history, its flaws. We reject the Church, or what we think is the Church, and consider ourselves justified. But what are rejecting? You might say the hypocrisy, the sinfulness, the imperfections. Well, as the old saying goes, "Come right in! There's always room for one more hypocritical, imperfect sinner!"

Pardon me if that was brutally honest, but I talked earlier about our built-in imperfections; certainly that applies to institutions as well as the humans who run them. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church is not just another human institution. It was established by Jesus Himself and continues, warts and all, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit yesterday, today and forever. At that point, listen to the Voice who asks, "And you ... who do you say I am?"



PS Thank you, Seapadre, for a wonderful website. I look forward to visiting often.