Does the soul exist? Is “divine” something truly other or a function of neural phenomenon? Is it possible for a human being to experience the divine in another person, in the environment? Are there elements of life that transcend realities shaped by neuroscience and research? Are human lives embedded in truth or ensconced in fantasy? Is science the new religion? Are research findings another name for God? Or is there a detectable divine presence in human life that drives, allures, and motivates persons towards genuine goodness? Is it possible that there is an equal force compelling or impelling persons towards the very opposite of goodness? Is all of it hidden by delusions? Is truth itself an illusion?
Questions are the true fodder of life and living, a function of who and how we are as beings. Questions are as unique as individuals, focused as each person on interests ans worries, wonders and concerns. And here, in the existential space that both unites and defines generations, those questions hover and haunt. The responses, chosen and scripted, will shape both the future and perceptions about the past. So both the questions and the responses make a real difference.
Within Catholicism, there is real latitude for questioning and discernment. History points out the multiple layers and dimensions of debate that characterize Catholic dialogue. It is equally undeniable that abuses, bigotry and cruelty emerged to squelch, divert and limit debate in misguided and epic movements like the Inquisition. The remarkable piece is that while the horror can be stemmed, and debates over celibacy, ordination of women and distribution of funds may be moved to a sidestage, those ideas simply do not die. Rigorous conversation and meaningful exchanges continue among the disaffected as well as the faithful. So it has always been. Catholicism, after all, is not about monolithic harmony.
It is about the celebration of real community in ordinary lives with a focus on the daily choices and personal responsibility of every being. That responsibility is rooted in the significance of each life, a sense drawn from the Gospel and rooted in the teachings of Jesus. Every life matters; every person matters. To live with a profound and abiding respect for one another is a demanding process.
Catholicism offers the tools for that journey: communal celebrations of Mass tell us in form and purpose that no one is alone, no one unaccompanied on the journey. Part of each one’s task is to travel with others. Practicing responsibility demands reflection; the sacraments offer mechanisms for support in striving to become a better person. There is an implicit understanding that none of us is perfect; all of us grow better together. Life in every age has a roller coaster element of victory and loss. Seasons and celebrations of the Church punctuate those periods; all are invited to moments which are simulataneously known and brand-new. Standing before the stable or sitting outside the tomb are human moments to be re-visited, to open new phases of life growth. They are moments of identity with those who have gone before and those who will come after.
In the real world. Catholicism exists as a comfort and context more than an insitutional structure. Catholicism itself is consigned not to the clergy, but to believers. It is an invitation to be fully human, to entertain questions and to discover what is the best of us as human and how we can become better.