Do you qualify as human? Surely you understand the ink shapes printed on this paper. A living human is breathing, his heart is beating and his mind conscious — to an extent — of the world surrounding it. The dictionary collecting dust on my dresser defines “human” as “a bipedal primate mammal.” A Brazilian short film directed by Jorge Furtado takes human classification one step further, adding that humans having a “highly developed telencephalon” and “the opposable thumb” as the underlying factors, apart from being a biped primate mammal, to qualify as a human being. If you meet the above requirements, congratulations! You are a human being.
Last year, our morality instructor bombarded us with questions asking us to distinguish between what is good and what is evil. The topics which most stuck to my mind included the purpose and essence of humanity; what distinguishes humans? We recognize we are like other animals — simply another species of animal. Our intricate and sophisticated bodies use the same fundamental machinery as any other vital and functioning living organism: cells, proteins, DNA, etc. As long as the reactions in our bodies continue to function orderly, we continue to live. Such a picture adds no significance to our existence; humanity is reduced to nothing more than a series of coincidences in this vast and ever-expanding universe. Some underlying element must motivate our lives and add substance and definition to our being.
Inside our individual realities, the world is comprised of existing entities. The objects you touch and see and interact with, living or non-living, all exist to your perception. All existence has a beginning. The first book of the Bible states God is the creator of everything. The creation story from Genesis is unforgettable: God created the day and night, sea and sky, plants and animals, and man and woman. Both man and woman were different though — they were made in the “image and likeness of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 357)
From the beginning of existence, God had written in the human heart the desire for him, the only place where we will find truth and happiness. God the creator, who is “infinitely perfect and blessed in himself” created man and woman freely out of “sheer goodness,” calling man to “seek him, to know him, to love him with all of his strength.” (catechism, no. 1)
A phrase I hear thrown around these days is “If it feels good, do it.” Without a doubt, the flesh we were given influences the choices we make. Feelings are temporary emotions created as a reaction to a stimulus. However, similar stimuli may foster distinct sensations from person to person, generating inconsistencies in a “feelings” based decision-making system. Sensations and feelings are sometimes considered to drive our thoughts, when in reality, our thoughts should be — and are — the operators of those feelings. You control your flesh, your flesh does not control you. The society we live in surrounds each living individual with overwhelming amounts of immediate gratification and shortcoming satisfactions. I mean, who doesn’t love cookies?
We human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and live “in” the world, not “of” the world. John’s first epistle tells us to “not love the world or the things of the world … For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)
The emotions we experience may often be superficial, never truly profound. One may fall astray and focus on worldly desires, on whether it “feels good,” and overlook the purpose of humanity. Man and woman were created with a desire for God, “to love him with all of (our) strength.” The definition of love is often distorted by society’s interpretation of expressions as equal to love. Expressions, like temporal feelings, sentiments and sensations, are merely superficial and of the flesh.
True love is the desire and actions towards the well-being of another, generative and self-giving. Thomas Merton, OCSO, one of the most influential American Catholic writers of the 20th century, once said, “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny … To work out our identity in God.” The lives of each individual human cannot be reduced to a series of coincidences or machinery functioning to breath, eat, reproduce and die. Humanity and the relationships we foster possess substance; substance we choose to embrace or ignore.
Life is the quality that distinguishes a being from a dead body, the force considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings. You are not dead. You are vital and functional, breathing, heart beating, conscious of the world surrounding you. You possess the image and likeness of God, the ability to love consciously, the ability to question not whether it “feels” good, but whether it “does” good. Fundamentally, you are human.
Apolo Castillo is a senior at Subiaco Academy. He attends St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith.
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