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Vol 41 No 1

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James Quillinan

Neil Darragh

Helen McCabe
THE FAMILY IN AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY: Christianity's contribution to understanding the family and its role

Francine and Byron Pirola
MARRIAGE IN THE LIFE OF THE PARISH: He sent them out two by two ... Luke 10:1

Brian Lewis

Marie Farrell RSM

Desmond O'Donnell OMI





THE HUMAN PERSON, the self, is a beautiful creation, ‘the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake’ (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, no. 24). Created in the image and likeness of God and for communion with God, the human person has a fundamental goodness and an inalienable dignity. Loved in Jesus Christ, the human person is the supreme concern of God, of Jesus Christ, and therefore of the Church.

The Church’s mission is to people, to us human persons, ensuring that our dignity and rights are respected and that we are enabled to become the human beings we have been created and called to be.
The thread that links the articles that follow is the human person. We are invited to reflect upon the massive effort to provide a suitable Catholic education so that we do our utmost to enable our young people to be the persons God created them to be (Quillinan). We remember that we must continue our efforts to discover those in our midst who have a calling to service in the church community and to support them in their preparation and in their future ministry for people (Darragh). We acknowledge the historical significance of the family, which is described in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 211) as the ‘divine institution that stands at the foundation of life of the human person…’ (McCabe). We acknowledge the importance of supporting married people and their families, enabling them to give their witness and teaching about how God loves people (Pirolas). The dignity of the human person is attested by the respect accorded to conscience and its free decisions (Lewis). And Mary is a model for us of true and authentic personhood (Farrell).

The story of the prodigal son—or, since we are focusing our attention on the father, ‘the story of the prodigal father’—tells us how much our God longs to welcome us home from ‘a far country’ (O’Donnell). Our life, if lived in response to the grace of God and assisted and sustained by a faith community, is a journey to authenticity. It is a journey of conversion as we turn from what is not the real me—ways of thinking, acting, relating that are not honest and truthful—to discover and allow to emerge the real me with all the dignity and goodness and beauty that the Creator has given me and has fostered in me.

People are not valued so highly in the society in which we live. Other concerns take priority: possessions, power, influence, reputation, enjoyment, luxury, productivity, a healthy economy. In the pursuit of objectives such as these, often people suffer.

Often, too, the human person is not appreciated for its intrinsic dignity and worth by human persons themselves. People have a low opinion of themselves—they suffer from ‘low self-esteem’. They have heeded messages from media and public opinion and other sources that set unrealistic standards concerning body image, intelligence, temperament, character and ‘perfection’, and they can be chronically unhappy with themselves.

Some people take a still darker view of the human person. They judge humanity as a whole to be pathetic—a poor, sad crowd without prospects.

I seemed to detect something of this latter sentiment—or existential judgment—in the description of the ‘self’ given by a guest on Kerry O’Brien’s 7.30 Report on the ABC at the end of February. The guest was Rupert Everett, the actor who, I am told, would be remembered by anyone who saw the film My Best Friend’s Wedding, in which he is reported to have stolen the show. Not, therefore, a person lacking in brilliance or fame nor, as he demonstrated in the course of the interview with Kerry O’Brien, is he at all inarticulate. But he gave an appalling description of the ‘self’. Kerry O’Brien asked him to explain a statement he had written, viz.:

…lost from my own life and, looking back, that was my endless quest; not acting, not fame, not love, just losing myself.

He answered:
I think the self, really, our self is an exhausting, anxious, conflicted, aggressive, angry, frightened thing. And we drag along all this baggage from the past everywhere and we’re always anxious about what’s going to happen next, how are we going to keep going, how are we going to pay this bill, how are we going to keep our children in school whatever it is.

The Gospel, Christian faith, Church teaching and Catholic theology tell us that if we have any view of ourselves that resonates with any negative descriptions of the self such as this, then we are mistaken. We are not attending to our true selves, but concentrating our attention on some distorted and inauthentic state of mind and spirit that constitutes an alienation from our true selves. The real me is beautiful, sublime, ‘God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it’ (Eph. 2.10).

Our parish has an outdoor sign that faces down the road, and we put short sentences on it for the benefit of our neighbours and of motorists stopped at the pedestrian lights. For much of Lent our sign read: Lent. A Time To Be Myself. A rather enigmatic message, but hopefully it would at least have puzzled people as to its meaning. Lent is/was a time to let my real self be freed by grace from all that hides, defaces and mars its beauty. In the terms of the story of the prodigal son, it is a time to ‘come home’ from a distant country, and to be embraced with joy and delight by God.

Conversion, needless to say, is not just for the time of lent—the fig tree was given the whole year long to begin to bear fruit, and so are we called to continue on our journey through all the seasons of the year.

—Barry Brundell MSC, Editor