The Personalist Project

Suppose you're a doctor and you diagnose sickness in a patient, explaining that it is a genetic disease; his children should all be tested.

What would you think if he responded by saying, "Compared to Jesus, we're all sick."

Wouldn't you want to say, "Well, okay. True. But how is that to the point?" Wouldn't you be concerned about his lack of due seriousness about his health and the health of his children? If his disease were communicable, his dismissiveness would be even more alarming.

Yet, this is exactly what I experience on a regular basis when I point to the problem of dysfunction in interpersonal relationships. "We're all sinners, so everyone's dysfunctional." 

Right. Compared to the Communion of Saints in heaven, all our relationships are dysfunctional. Does that mean we shouldn't concern ourselves with dysfunction?

The other day I quoted some lines from Love and Responsibility that are of such vital, seminal, urgent importance that they bear repeating often and everywhere, especially as we, the People of God, respond to Pope Francis' call to prayer reflection about the Synod on the Family.

I am, and I must be, independent in my actions.  All human relationships are posited on this fact.  All true conceptions about education and culture begin from and return to this point.

There are many defective conceptions in the realms of education and culture about in the world. Some of them are conscious and some not. Many, if not all of us, are operating from habits and dynamics that belie this fundamental truth of the human person. We are unaware of how unfree we are, and how much manipulation we employ in our way of dealing with others.

If we want to help heal the family and renew the culture, we would do well to start by facing that painful reality.

Comments (7)

Sam Roeble

#1, May 5, 2015 10:53am

What I think Wojtyla is communicating from that quote in L&R is that every "I" is free to say "yes" or "no" to others--free from coercion. Is coercion the dysfunction you're referring to? the type in which individuals are afraid to say "no" (to either good or harm)?

Katie van Schaijik

#2, May 5, 2015 11:05am

I wouldn't identify coercion and dysfunction, since coercion is a way of proceeding, while dysfunction is a state of affairs.

Rather, I would say with Wojtyla that in order for relationships to be fully functioning and wholesome (i.e. worthy of the dignity of persons), they have to be free of all coercion, including, for instance, psychological pressure (which we might describe as coercion from within), intimidation, etc. 

They also have to be "in truth". That is to say, I have to see and know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. If I choose something without due understanding, there may be no coercion involved, but it wouldn't be described as independent in Wojtyla's sense.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, May 5, 2015 11:13am

So, for instance, someone who is too much under the influence of another person (his parents, say, or his wife) is not fully independent in his actions. And it's not only a question of being able to say "no" to others, but of being able to take initiative, according to his own sense of things. This is what I think; this is what I hold; this is what I choose; this is what I am responsible for; and so forth.

My kids have sometimes chided me for talking as if I'm leaving them free to choose, while making them feel guilty unless they choose according to my will.

This is a very common form of discrete coercion. 

Sam Roeble

#4, May 5, 2015 11:22am

Then due to the reality of original sin, even if only present in the baptized as 'concupiscence', there is no way to definitively erase dysfunction among persons this side of heaven. JPII's theory that life in the Spirit can overcome concupiscence is ideal, but until death there is still this ongoing battle in every human heart.

Katie van Schaijik

#5, May 5, 2015 11:37am

Well yes, of course that's true. Similarly, there is no way to definitively erase disease or poverty. They are part of the human condition. 

So do we stop trying? Do we say, well since the poor will always be with us, there's no need to do anything about feeding the hungry? Since disease will always be with us, medicine is a waste of time and money? Since there will always be a tyrannical tendency in worldly power, what's the point in trying to establish good government?...

If we want to renew the culture and build a civilization of love—which our incarnational Faith obliges us to work toward—then we have to address the problem of dysfunctional relationships, especially in family life, which the foundational unit of society.

Sam Roeble

#6, May 5, 2015 11:40am

The sickness metaphor is a good one because Christ brought about the "remission" of sin, and so we're all "in recovery" so to speak. Nevertheless, people "relapse" or experience "symptoms" of the sickness frequently--and other people (just like family members of alcoholics) must continue to live intersubjectively (whether closely or distantly) with them.

Sam Roeble

#7, May 5, 2015 11:44am

Right, that's why JPII's Ethos of Redemption and civilation of love are so critical. Alongside the reality of original sin is, even more efficaciously, the reality of our Redeemer's victory--we can never lose sight of the "Transformation in Christ"--to use Hildebrand, nor can we forget the awful tragedy of the fall.

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