By fully taking on our human nature and uniting it to His divine life, the Lord definitively shows us that our human nature is, by nature, good. By working with human hands, thinking with a human mind, acting by human choice, and loving with a human heart, He entered into the drama of human life and redeemed each aspect of it. These aspects can be summed up as the spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and communal dimensions of the human person. By seeking to understand these – and the ways in which Christ calls us to live them out – we can become more capable of responding to His call to be His witnesses in this world (cf. Acts 1:8). We’ll explore below how we can flourish in each of these dimensions and give glory to the One who created us and calls us His own.
Flourishing in the Spiritual Dimension
As has been the constant teaching of the Church for two thousand years, man is by nature a unity of body and soul. However, because the soul will outlast the body after it succumbs to this fallen world, great care must be given to the health of the soul. As Christ teaches us: “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matt. 10:28).
Just as our bodies need nourishment, so too do our souls. For this reason Scripture time and time again uses the analogy of water to guide us, as our Lord does in John 7: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” In order to truly have spiritual health, we must drink from this River of Life that is God Himself. For this reason we are called to prayer, to the Sacraments, and to a deep, abiding personal relationship with Jesus. By delving into the Gospels, the teachings of the Church, and the writings of the great spiritual teachers of our Faith, we can come to know God more and more deeply. Each time we pray, read Scripture, receive the Eucharist, or sing a song of worship to God, we drink deeply from the rivers of living water that flow from the heart of Jesus. Our souls are nourished, our hope rekindled, and our hearts united to the very heart of God.
Flourishing In The Physical Dimension
While it is true that the soul does outlast the body in this world, we know from Divine Revelation that the Lord will reunite our souls and bodies together when all is said and done. However, it is against the teachings of that same Divine Revelation to neglect the body or to treat it as unimportant, for the Apostle Paul commands Christians very explicitly that we must “glorify God in our bodies”, for we have been “purchased with a price” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20). The fact that that price was Christ’s own body, broken for us upon the Cross, should spur in us a care for the gift of our bodily nature bestowed on us by the Lord. It is important not to fall into the temptation to neglect the body or see it as bad or impure, as this has been a trap that Christians have fallen into time and time again over the past two millennia. For example, in the early Church, Manichaeism saw the body as essentially evil, part of an impure physical world. Though this was a dangerous view – the complete opposite of the Christan view of the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit – it has unfortunately misled Christians in our own time. Have we ever seen people take fasting too far? Or eating an unhealthy diet because the soul matters more than the body? Or in response to the secular worship of the body moving so far to the opposite end of the spectrum that they forget that God calls them to care for the temple of the Holy Spirit that they are? Our response as Christians to both the Manichaeist heresy as well as the over-glorification and sexualization of the body must be truly based around St. Paul’s call to glorify God within it.
What does all this mean, then? Does it mean there is no place for fasting? No, but what it does mean is that everything done within our bodies must be done in order to glorify God. Everything we do within our bodies is to be done with the goal of glorifying him and living our vocation in life with heroic virtue – in other words, to become saints. This is why the Christian is called to put importance on eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. Perhaps we can ask ourselves the following questions: If staying up all night in adoration will make a father of five exhausted and irritable with his wife and kids, does Christ really call him to give up sleep? If neglecting good nutrition will make a religious sister’s health decline and affect her mission work, wouldn’t Christ then call her to eat healthier? If a police officer is unable to catch a criminal on foot, shouldn’t he then work hard to improve his fitness? What can I do in order to better take care of the temple of the Holy Spirit that God has made me? How can this help me to better live out the mission He has entrusted me with?
Flourishing In The Emotional Dimension
The shortest verse in all of Scripture is, by some counts, John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” Surrounded by not only His close disciples, but also other onlookers and followers, the King of the Universe cried after coming to the tomb of His close friend Lazarus. Let us allow that to sink in for a moment – the God who created everything, who is powerful beyond measure, who has existed for all eternity – experienced the internal devastation of losing one of His close friends. Even Jesus did not spare Himself the gamut of human emotion, neither at the grave of His friend nor in the Garden of Gethsemane. At the tomb of Lazarus He experienced sadness and grief, yet at Gethsemane was hit full on with what a modern psychiatrist would likely call a panic attack. All of this is to say that through Christ having experienced the full range of human emotion, He wills to redeem the emotional dimension of our human nature.
As Christians, we can look to Jesus to see how He dealt with emotional difficulties – by prayer and by surrounding Himself with those closest to Him. Can these be two weapons in our arsenal if we struggle with self-doubt, anxiety, or depression? If so, we will be strengthened by God’s grace and the presence of those who love us to take the steps needed to overcome these crosses. We can go with courage and patience to speak openly with our doctors or counselors to address these struggles. And as the Divine Physician, Jesus will walk with us on this road.
Flourishing In The Intellectual Dimension
Father Robert Spitzer, in his work on the Five Transcendental Desires, points out that the desire for perfect knowledge and truth is written on the heart of every human being. Due to our being made in the image of the God Who is Reason itself, we have an innate pull to know and discover the mysteries of the universe and of God more and more. This is why we can call this dimension of the human person the intellectual one, rather than simply the mental dimension. All animals think, but humans have the unique capacity to think on an intellectual level, in which we use logic to delve into the reasons behind the way things are and to discover new ways to improve how we live in this world.
Never before has so much knowledge been accessible to so many people, as we can now access an entire bachelor’s degree worth of content for free on YouTube. This does of course call for a reasonable and discerning use of this available knowledge, yet it also means that we can grow in our intellectual dimension in ways not available to previous generations. When we seek to discover knowledge and truth in order to glorify God and serve our fellow man, we grow both as human beings and as Christians. When we “take each thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) in our intellectual endeavors, each human person is offered the chance to encounter—face to face —the Truth which gives meaning and depth to every intellectual pursuit of ours. By delving into the millions of words on millions of pages of the world’s wealth of knowledge, each person can come to better know The Word, who is Christ Himself, the Reason that underpins the very fabric of the universe. We don’t all have to obtain a PhD, but we can all find an intellectual interest to help us grow as persons and come to better understand God’s creation.
Flourishing In The Communal Dimension
In the first chapter of the book of Genesis, we read that the God Who is an eternal communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created man in His image and likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). This means that by our very nature, we are called to communion. Now, calling this the “communal” dimension, rather than the “societal” dimension, is a key feature of Christian anthropology. To say that we are simply societal could remove God entirely from the equation, as has been seen time and time again in communist countries. In the Soviet Union, we certainly saw a very structured society, with transportation, stores, sports, schools, music, and currency. However, the very fact that by its nature this Marxist society rejected God means that it robbed its people of the chance to more fully understand their nature and mission.
Communion is a much deeper and enduring concept than is society, for even animals create societies. What makes us different (and called to so much more) is our nature as made in the image of the Triune God, who wills to save all and wills for every human person to enjoy eternity in His embrace (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). How can this knowledge impact the way we see our friends, family members, classmates, coworkers, and even strangers? How can we begin to love our family with this knowledge in mind? How can we seek to create friendships that are centered around the call to lead each other to Heaven? How can we see our parishes as small microcosms of the eternal destiny God calls us to?