You can take any member from a class of animals and truthfully claim it is representative of the whole class. For example, you can take any cat and say that this cat is representative of the whole species of cats. Sure, there are differences in physiology (i.e. fur patterns, color) and behavior, but in general any cat is representative of all cats.
Not so with humans. I cannot pick out a person and say that that person is representative of all humans. Of course, there are commonalities: (again) physiology, biology, behavior, psychology. What makes a person unique is his or her interior life.
…the person is simply an individual of a rational nature (individua substantia rationalis naturae). This distinguishes the person in the whole world of objective beings; this constitutes the person’s distinctiveness.
…the person as a subject differs from even the most perfect animals by his interiority and a specific life, which is concentrated in… an interior life. One cannot speak about this life in the case of animals, even though bio-physiological processes, which are similar to man’s and which are related to the constitution that is more or less similar to that of man, take place inside their organisms. (Pope John Paul II, Love and Responsibility, Chapter 1)
Earlier in the chapter, Pope John Paul II writes, “The interior life is the spiritual life.” I reflect on this and realize that because every human person has a unique interior life, an interior life that can lead to God, then every human person is a gateway to God, a universe unto himself or herself. That is so amazing!
I almost floated out of my chair on the shuttle bus to work this morning. I looked around, there were nine people on the shuttle to the Chancery. Unlike a box of cats, every single person on that bus was quietly immersed in his or her interior world. Nine universes sitting on the bus. Nine gateways to God in various stages of opening up to Him. When I smile and greet another person, it is like two universes about to connect. Is this why small group Bible studies are so profoundly nourishing to the soul? It is an opportunity for a handful of interior worlds to open up to one another, finding unity in one reality, One God.
This is why the Church is so adamantly against the loss of any single human life. This is because each person is a universe, a gateway to God. This is why, when Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was asked by the journalist Peter Seewald “how many ways are there to God” (expecting the Cardinal’s answer to be “one, the Catholic Church”), instead said “as many ways as there are people.” Awareness of this new reality changes how I see other people. They are no longer objects. Each person has an interior life that is a deep mystery.
This is why friends are so beautiful; why being married is so beautiful; why having children is so beautiful. They are opportunities for two universes to connect, to watch a door to God open, to see a universe expand, for the God in me to say “hello” to the God in you. I look at my daughters, Maya and Hana, and am aware that their interior lives are growing with each interaction with the world around them. The experiences my wife and I afford them will either help their interior lives grow or prevent it.
What an interesting point in my spiritual development!