When Christ came to save and redeem mankind, He did not do so by halves: He loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the end, we are told in the thirteenth chapter of St John’s Gospel. He desired to give everything He had and everything He was for our sake, for the entirety of our being: Christ came not to save our souls only, but our bodies as well. He ministered not only to broken limbs but to broken minds. He healed those possessed by demons but also those possessed with loneliness and despair. By becoming like us, by assuming our human nature while remaining fully God, Jesus Christ redeemed – and offers to redeem – the entirety of our being as human persons.
In today’s world, however, the message of Christ’s redemption can often be misunderstood or misrepresented in many ways. More than almost anything else, a foundational reason why the message of the Gospel is ignored, diluted, or distorted is due in part to an incomplete or erroneous understanding of the human person. In order to not only know ourselves, but also to truly evangelize, it is imperative to understand who and how God has made us as human persons – and the totality of this personhood. The human person, in his totality, is comprised of the spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and communal dimensions. These dimensions, or aspects, are revealed by Christ’s own life, by Divine Revelation, and by Natural Law. In each of these dimensions does Christ desire us to know Him and the life to the full He promises to us. In each of these does He desire us to flourish. By coming to know and understand how God has made in this way as human beings, we can better know and understand the mission and destiny He calls us to.
A major error of the modern world is the reduction of man to any less than the totality of the being God has made him. So often, there is either an overemphasis on one dimension to the detriment of the others, or else a blatant disregard of one or more combined with an idolization of another. We see this in the modern world’s overemphasis on the physicality of the human person to the detriment of the spiritual, which seeks pleasure, fitness, or glory for their own sakes. We see it conversely in various forms of Gnosticism which treat the soul as preeminent and the body as an afterthought, with which anything can be done. We can even see it in the search for human knowledge that elevates “science” to a near-divine status and puts it upon God’s throne.
In a myriad of ways, though, it has been the implicit teaching of Scripture and of the Church for thousands of years that man cannot be reduced to any less than the totality of his being. When this reduction occurs, we dehumanize the person and place something or someone else in the place of God. Only by recognizing God as our Creator, and by seeing Jesus as the model of a truly human life, can we come to know who we are and live the life to the full that the Lord came to give us (cf. John 10:10). The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in their declaration Gaudium et spes, affirm – and are later echoed by St John Paul the Great – that Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear” and that “only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light”. It is Christ, then, to Whom we must look to discover the totality of what it means to be a human being, for:
“He Who is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”
Christ then has given us a roadmap to live out, by His grace, the five major dimensions of the human person. In this way, He teaches us, through His example, Revelation, and Natural Law, the way to true human flourishing in this world. In each aspect of our human nature – spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and communal – we can learn from Jesus how to live them out in a healthy, balanced, and holy way.