What does it mean to be a person? Why ask the question, first of all? We ask because if we look at this question more closely, we might come to understand some important things about our existence and about our human dignity and lay claim to it more fully.
Karol Wojtyla can help us here. Long before he became Pope John Paul II, he wrote what would later be published in the book, Love and Responsibility,
Because a person possesses free will, he is his own master…. This characteristic feature of a person goes with another distinctive attribute: not capable of transmission: not transferable. The point here is not that a person is a unique and unrepeatable entity, for this can be said just as well of any other entity – of an animal, a plant, a stone. The incommunicable [aspect] in a person is intrinsic to that person’s inner self, to the power of self-determination, free will. No one else can want for me. No one can substitute his act of will for mine. It does sometimes happen that someone very much wants me to want what he wants. This is the moment when the impassable frontier between him and me, which is drawn by free will, becomes most obvious. I may not want that which he wants me to want – and in this precisely I am incommunicable. I am and I must be, independent in my actions.
So, we have returned to the idea of freedom, an idea looked at in previous posts, and which is at the heart of any discussion of the dignity of the human person. Wojtyla is not, it seems to me, talking about freedom in its cosmic breadth here, but in its personal depth. He is saying that we are “not capable of transmission” because located within us, in the centre of our interiority, is our free will, and this freedom is an aspect of our specific individuality. Granted, human freedom, in order to be fully realised, requires the grace of God, yet there is still a sense, as Wojtyla indicates here, that our freedom and individuality is something that just goes with the human package. It is part of our makeup, and gives us our very existence as persons.
Saint Therese lived freedom in its cosmic breadth in the convent at Liseux but at the same time in God’s company. WT, Picture Editor.