Applying a Catholic Perspective to a Secular World
This blog post was written by Abby Kowitz, a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling student at Divine Mercy University. She is also a regular contributor for Mind & Spirit.
As I continue the journey in my pursuit of a career in mental health at Divine Mercy University (DMU), each class has been permeated by the Catholic-Christian Meta-Model of the Human Person (CCMMP). This premise document states that are universally applicable to the human person: We are created good and seek what we believe to be the good; we also have free will, rational inclinations and emotions. We each have vocations to work, life, and leisure. And, we are all tempted towards evil, especially when it presents itself as good.
To be honest, the CCMMP frustrated me for a long time. It seemed to fuel the fire behind the argument that DMU is “too Catholic” and will limit my future client-base to Catholics only. But even more than that, in my pride, I didn’t think that it was telling me anything new that I didn’t already know (I mean, of course humans have emotions), and simultaneously I felt I was pulling straws in an attempt to actually make it applicable to individuals who aren’t Catholic (the word Catholic is in the title for crying out loud!). Yet it remained, and has been a thorn in my side in every single class I’ve been a part of for the past two years.
A few months ago, in an attempt to reduce financial burden during my upcoming unpaid internship, I got a job at a restaurant. At this point, I exited the Catholic environment and entered into the world – as a majority of the population experiences it. Though I’ve worked in a secular setting before, the restaurant business is its own animal. You encounter people from all walks of life, and there is no such thing as a typical server. Ages range from 18 to mid-50s, single, divorced, cohabiting, married, widowed, students, second-jobs, natives and immigrants … the list goes on. What has struck me the most is that I get to know each one of my co-workers the more I learn their innate goodness. Their language might not be something you’d want your small child overhearing, and by no means are they each living what the Church would deem a moral life, but they have good hearts, have their own share of suffering, are working hard to make ends meet for whatever phase of life they are in, and ultimately are seeking purpose in their lives and striving to know their place in the world. Just like me. I’ve been amazed at how relatable my coworkers are, perhaps even more so than my familiar Catholic friends, because we’re journeying on this raw and real road of life; and the authenticity of that experience is what unites us.
The CCMMP premise document has taken on a new meaning in that I’m no longer looking at it as a piece of paper that contains a checklist of items that constitute the human person. Rather, it’s a real-time guide that helps to give context to the here and now of the human experience. Whether she articulates it this way or not, the fact that my co-worker is a single mom working to provide for her daughter speaks to her vocation as a mother and the virtue she is naturally living. My other co-worker’s ability to pull me aside and ask how I’m doing when I’m clearly having a rough day shows his orientation to relationship. Philosophical conversations that happen in the back amongst a few of us while we’re stacking dishes points to the fact that each person has existential thoughts and seeks to know their purpose in life. Hearing about how another co-worker seeks to pull the good from his greatest regret in life showed me that he too grapples with not doing the good he wishes he could do and his need to make sense of suffering. The CCMMP encompasses all of this and more. I don’t need to use the language of virtue, sin, redemption, or God, yet the truths that each of these words imply remains the same. What a gift to have an applicable and universal context to rely on.
Not only is the CCMMP relative to Catholics, I’d argue that it’s just as if not even more relative to non-Catholics. Why? The CCMMP speaks to the truths written on the human heart and the blue-print with which God designed each one of us, and sometimes, our ignorance of things makes them clearer from an objective standpoint. While it can’t explain or solve every problem, it can place the problem in context, but even more so, provides an understanding of the person, their particular struggles, and how to respond to that real-life encounter. What a gift!