On the Spot: What is a Person?

Authored by Amette Ley in Issue #34.3 of The Sower

'On the Spot' aims to highlight some of the complex positions, questions and comments experienced by Catechists, teachers and parents. It tries to outline the knowledge necessary to be faithful to Church teaching and which will best help those we teach who call us to account for the hope that is in us. [cf I Peter 3:15] Here we consider how we explain to those we teach what it means to be a human person and that this can only be built upon the understanding that we are made in the image and likeness of God.

‘Of all visible creatures only man is able to know and love his creator. He is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity.’ (CCC 356)

Catechising strongly, simply and clearly about the identity of the human person is crucial for the whole work of transmitting the faith. If this area of our teaching is shaky or insecure many areas of the faith are affected. And it is precisely in this area, of how we understand what it is to be a person, that we face some of the greatest challenges as catechists! Let me give an example. A friend, having successfully conceived a child through IVF, told me cheerfully that she had given permission for the remaining fertilised egg to be ‘used for research’. “After all,” she said, “it’s not a person.”

Our children are growing up in a world which feeds them a very inadequate notion of what it means to be human. At one level, they are certainly presented with a biological understanding of the human being; that which distinguishes us from other species and allows us to be categorised as human rather than canine, feline or bovine. It might appear that this should be our starting point for catechesis on the human person, for the physical, the biological, the visible is what we have most obviously in front of us to work with. Educational advice is to begin where the child (or adult learner) actually is, and so for learning to be experience-based.

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This article is from The Sower and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of Maryvale Institute. Contact sower@maryvale.ac.uk

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