When I was in seminary, one of my professors, Dr. David Fagerberg, explained that you can understand the Sacraments in one of two ways. The first way is to ask, What is it? This is an approach that is analogous to a frog dissection project, looking at definitions that address matter, form, substance, and presence. The second way is to ask, How are the Sacraments effective in our lives? This question explores themes like – What does it mean to say that Baptism removes all sin, personal and Original Sin? What does it mean when Jesus says unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you do not have life within you? What does it mean to say that Viaticum prepares the soul with the Anointing of the Sick and the final reception of the Eucharist to take life’s ultimate journey from this life to eternity? An insight I gained was that we need to ask both type of questions to fully understand these avenues of grace we call Sacraments.
A similar distinction can be made when we try to explore the question, What does it mean to be human? One approach would be to explore the biology, chemistry, evolution, and physical characteristics that makes the human person distinct and similar to different species. At the same time, to limit one’s understanding of the human person to these type of questions does not give us the full picture of what it means to be human. To borrow an image I have used before from Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, we can also ask the question, What does it mean to be a human person fully alive? Similar to my reflection on understanding the impact of the Sacraments in our lives, we need both type of questions, what is a living person and what is a person fully alive, to gain the full spectrum of what it means to be a person.
Below are four videos. The first is from the AAAS’s program Science for Seminaries. The video explores the theme of evolution, both scientifically and culturally. The second video is also from the AAAS’s Science for Seminaries program, exploring more deeply the scientific question of trying to understand what makes humanity distinct from and similar to other species. The third is more about the ethical understanding of the human person, seeing in Catholic Social Teaching the dimension of life that is not just the fact that we are here, but how we are to live as a human family. Lastly, I want to share a presentation Br. Guy gave at the University of Arizona, exploring the question, What is Life? As we explore these questions and approaches to what it means to be a human person, may we come to a deeper appreciation of what it means to be fully alive, made in God’s Image and Likeness.
AAAS’s Video On Biology
AAAS’s Video To Be Human
Engaging Science in Seminaries: Catholic Social Teaching Part 1
What Is Life?