The Lessons We Chose To Relearn
As a revert to the Catholic Church, I noticed that many of the important lessons around self-awareness, self love, loving others, operating in society and others that are coming to the surface as research uncovers new data regarding human flourishing, are already addressed by Jesus, the scriptures, the saints and the Church - and in a more profound way than what is offered apart from religion. This makes sense from both a religious and non-religious perspective.
from a non religious perspective, cultures have always desired human flourishing. Parents wanted their children to flourish, good leaders wanted the best for their subjects and followers. Time improved on previous generations.
From a religious perspective, God, being complete in himself, created humankind to share the goodness of existence. And not wanting them to be left as orphans, God gave them commandments and a pattern of living so that they could flourish.
This is my list of such lessons (in an embryonic state).
1. You have immeasurable value and need to know it deeply.
2. You were meant for happiness and not accept unhappiness.
I was 19 years old and burdened with a level of consciousness uncommon among most of my peers. My hormones were raging and Jesus' words that everyone who looks with lust at a woman has committed adultery in their heart were creating a huge internal crisis. Though I couldn't provide a working definition of the word 'lust' (definitions matter), I was pretty sure that it was lust that was driving the bus that was rocketing off a cliff every time I saw a pretty woman. Where was my peace? Where was the certainty of purpose I had just a few short seconds ago? This conflict left me feeling like my life was hopelessly caught between my Christian values and my very human reality.
Though my understanding of Christianity was that of a nineteen year old, I possessed a certainty that God wanted good for me. Those words of Jesus in John 10 rang loud and true in my being.
"I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly."
I had never heard something so hopeful and orienting in all my short life. God, the creator of all that exists, the One who has no dictates imposed on Him, the source of all energy and designer of the cosmos had acted toward me. The One who had orchestrated the seminal act of the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the world had done so in order to bestow life, AND life in abundance, in me. It totally blew up my whole understanding of human existence. I wasn't meant to be a cog, I was meant to be a spark - but more than a spark - some sort of yet undiscovered dynamo.
You may ask, "Doesn't Christianity and especially Catholicism promote the idea of embracing suffering?"
Everything needs to be understood in context. Catholicism has been around for 2000 years. While there have been times of relative peace and prosperity, for the most part, most people on the planet have experienced a fair amount of hardship and suffering. Even today, in what is often considered the most prosperous time the world has ever known, suffering is present in various degrees in every single life. Any good religion would guide the individual through how to successfully manage suffering.
While various religions and philosophical perspectives offer a variety of perspectives on dealing with suffering, from denial of its existence to a reactionary view requiring an acceptance that all suffering is the result of personal failures.
The Catholic/Christian position is one that considers a range of possibilities for the cause of suffering. For example, consider when Jesus responded in Luke 13 to those who were proposing the common position that horrible things happen to people because they we guilty of some hidden sin.
He responded, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?"
There are other similar examples but the point is that while in the Jude's-Christian worldview, the brokenness of creation is tied to human disobedience, suffering is now in the system, and doing good and not making things worse is the path to life.
So you may say, "okay, maybe Christianity isn't a big sufferfest, how can you say that it promotes the idea that suffering should not be accepted.
To this I simply say that it is universally inferred. All of the New and Old (Hebrew) Testaments of Christian assumes that the individual wants a life full of good things like health, prosperity, peace, joy, and justice, but it also acknowledges that while the human soul is created by God to enjoy these things, many of these are out of reach, based on uncontrollable circumstances and one can know that the one who struggles to do good in the midst of this deprivation will enjoy and eternity of these good things. And like many of the promises of God, the rewards are seen in this world too.
The Christian moral ethos seems to be summed up in something like, "Do good and avoid evil because while you can short-circuit your own suffering through imposing suffering on others, it is short lived and the God who sees everything will exact a price for every evil done in this life and the next."
Now this statement is not revolutionary, at least in our times. And if you were to take out the references to God and eternity, I'm sure many atheists and agnostics would agree with it as a personal moral code. But in far less egalitarian times, the challenge to recognize and truly believe that the powerful who often abused the powerless, also had a judge who would reward or punish the acts of men, was not only a source of sanity but prevented additional needless suffering.