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The RSHM Legacy: The Human Person as an Embodied Spirit

by Catherine Vincie, RSHMCategory: Updates

I am convinced that what ties the past and the present and what foreshadows a future filled with hope in the schools and ministries which RSHM have founded is rooted in a particular set of values and our belief system.

Our values are based on our commitment to a particular understanding of the human person as both body and spirit – an anthropology. Our belief system is rooted in a loving God who calls us into an infinite future and to whom we have committed our lives.

An embodied spirit

A dancer in a flowy dress performing a twirl
Photo by Scott Eaton

The religious tradition that we come out of, Roman Catholic Christianity, is convinced that the human person is both body and spirit. To put it in more contemporary anthropological language, we would now say that the human person is an “embodied spirit;” a body so tied to its spirit that there is no separating it in this lifetime.

I can hear you saying, “what’s the big deal?” This conviction really is a big deal because it functions! We know that our self-understanding determines our treatment of ourselves and others; it determines where we will channel our life’s energies; it determines what we will study, where we will take a job, what our philanthropic commitments will be. It determines where we place our ultimate hope.

Our body

We are called to value our body. This means to love it, respect its abilities, limitations and challenges, to engage in good nutritional habits and exercise, and to clothe it with the dignity it deserves.

At this moment of history, it means a rejection of any discrimination against women’s bodies and a rejection of violence on any level toward any of us—women or men. The reality of the drug culture, widespread misogyny, human trafficking, modern day slavery, war and vilifying refugees is a discouraging sign that far too many do not believe in the dignity of the human person – even at the bodily dimension.

Our spirit

Attention to the spirit is a little more difficult since it is an invisible dimension of the human person. Not everyone shares our conviction of the existence of a spiritual life or that a transcendent Spirit has created us, sustains us and calls us into the future even beyond death.

Our culture here in the US sometimes so values our bodies, that one wonders if the spirit has any role to play in our lives. We have the reality that many persons who have lost connection with their religious affiliation have also lost touch with their “spirituality.” However, we hear many people saying, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” They have come alive to the notion that there is a world of spirit and that there is a spiritual dimension to their lives.

The common good

Besides being embodied spirits, there is also the reality that there are many of us. To be conscious of the value of our individual lives only goes so far. We are intrinsically communal persons and bound together in a relationship of care and concern. We are community with humanity spread all over this globe and in community with every element of the cosmos.

I want to reinforce here that each one of us alone and all of us together have obligations to the common good. The ecological crisis we face has everything to do with not taking our obligations to others (human and non-human alike) seriously.

What legacy do we want to leave behind us?

We want to contribute to the vitality of all with whom we minister as healthy embodied persons of spirit and committed to the common good.

We want to leave behind a belief that commitment especially to the spiritual dimension of life gives meaning, dynamism and dignity to one’s whole life and is an invaluable human project.

We want to witness to the fact that the transcendent Spirit, creator of the universe, is also a personal presence to whom one can entrust one’s whole life.

We would also like to leave a tradition:

  • of being rooted in a faith community even in the midst of significant disenchantment with religious institutions
  • of asking questions of ultimate concern about the human person and the cosmos
  • of raising questions about religious beliefs and commitments

The motto of the RSHM is “That all may have life and have it to the full.” T here is a vitality in this community that I believe comes out of this scriptural mandate and that we hope is contagious. If we have in any way contributed to these values, we will have fulfilled our purpose of bringing fullness of life to all as the Christian scriptures call us to do.

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