Our necessary interdependence, our essence as social beings, our responsibility to act in solidarity with and for our neighbors—these are teachings to which the Spirit had brought me long before my conversion. For on the question of human dignity and society, even an existential ethic arrives at the same inescapable conclusion. As Simone de Beauvoir expressed it,
“The individual is defined only by his relationship to the world and to other individuals; he exists only by transcending himself, and his freedom can be achieved only through the freedom of others” (Ethics of Ambiguity).
[excerpted from a response to a prompt for a course in Catechist Formation]
It was on this path I learned that this teaching is not hard to accept because it is a ‘mystery of faith’ but because we want to believe in our independence and self-sufficiency. It is as if the serpent’s beguiling words in the garden were still echoing in our ears, tempting us to take a lie for the truth; as if we still believe that we can become as God. Thus do we persist in trying to live under a lie but, as the Bard has written, “at length the truth will out.” For what any thoroughly human ethic lacks is the ground of this self-transcending freedom, that from which it springs and that towards which it aims, its arche and telos, its Alpha and Omega, its beginning and end.
“For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (Romans 12:4-6)
Why is this so important to realize? Because alone we can achieve nothing in this world or for the next; because it is only when we work together, with God, that we may come together before God. We, as the Church, are the body of Christ and as no member can act apart from the whole, neither can the whole operate in health while any member is sick, hurt, or crushed under too great a weight.
If we would free ourselves, then we must remove the chains from every limb—for we cannot walk by ignoring or cutting off our feet.
We are accosted daily by reports and images of oppression, of unnecessary poverty and suffering, of human judgment meting out inhumane punishments, of divisions sown between brother and sister, of abuses against the world entrusted to our stewardship, of the denial of human dignity and the destruction of life. Considered all together, it can be paralyzing. What have I done? What can I do? Where would I start? Where should I start?
What difference does it make if I do anything or nothing at all?
This, however, is the lamentation of the finger that wants to be the arm. The realization that I am a part is also the realization that it does make a difference whether I do my part, no matter how small it may seem.
Not that I am successful. I fail quite often and most spectacularly; thanks be to God that He forgives our failures. Nevertheless, I try. I pray that my work at least plants seeds and I trust that they will grow and flourish, even if I never see the fruits they bear.