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Chapter 5: The Goods Which Fulfill Persons

Appendix 2: The reflexive or existential goods explained more fully

All people experience tensions within themselves. Their concern with getting-it-all-together points to the fact that people generally sense that they are not able to get it all together. Various aspects of the given self seem to be at odds with one another. There is a need to struggle for inner harmony. The objective sought is the integration of the competing components of the self. This good is quite appropriately referred to as “self-integration,” in its basic meaning of order within the self.

St. Paul refers to the relevant sort of conflict; he calls it a war between the law of the body’s members and the law of the mind. Only Christ liberates one from this conflict (see Rom 7.15–25). Gifts such as chastity, mildness, patience, courage, and self-control are aspects of this single existential good (see Gal 5.22–23). These aspects are distinguished by different areas of activity in which the well-integrated Christian functions in a characteristic way.

Tension also exists between the moral reflection of individuals, their free choices, and the behavior by which they carry out their choices. It is true that an action always is the act of a person who does it, yet the action is somehow other than the actor. Conflict is possible here, and it is expressed in comments such as “I could kick myself for having been such a fool as to have done that.” The harmony which is disrupted by this sort of conflict can be called “practical reasonableness and authenticity.” This good is manifested in the life of a person such as Mother Teresa, who chooses in accord with her convictions and expresses her commitments clearly in all she says and does. This good is part of what Scripture means by “wisdom” (see Ps 14.1–3; Sir 1.22–25). A person who lacks this good is double-minded (see Jas 1.8).

Looking beyond the individual, it is obvious that we experience tensions in our relationships with others. We seek in many ways to overcome these tensions and to establish harmony between ourselves and other people. Justice and friendship between individuals and groups are aspects of this good. In Scripture, words such as “justice” and “peace” often are used in such a broad sense that they refer to all the levels of existential fulfillment, and even to the whole of human well-being. However, there can be no doubt that interpersonal harmony, just cooperation, and fraternal communion are great goods of persons, celebrated throughout Scripture and the Christian tradition: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps 133.1).

In the existential domain there is, finally, the level of harmony with which all religion is concerned: peace and friendship between humankind and God. We tend to think of friendship with God as something too elevated to list alongside other human goods, and of sin as if it were an injury to God rather than a deprivation of human fulfillment. Thinking this way, we tend to draw the conclusion that what we suffer as a consequence of sin is a punishment arbitrarily imposed on the sinner by God.

But although communing with God in Christ does go beyond a merely human good, human fulfillment also is sought and found in the human relationship of peace with God.13 Sin does deprive the sinner of this fulfillment; separation from God is logically entailed by sin, not an imposed harm (see S.t., 1–2, q. 71, a. 2; 2–2, q. 24, a. 12).

As the account of sin in Genesis already suggests, the various levels of human fulfillment in the existential domain are closely interrelated. This partly explains the tendency to use expressions such as “peace” and “justice” in a wide sense to cover all or many aspects of these personal goods. The various levels of existential fulfillment can be distinguished from one another, but in reality they are not separable. All are realized or damaged together. We know this well by experience; for example, when we are angry with someone else we are troubled within ourselves, we do things we do not approve of, and we cannot pray with a good heart. The scriptural teaching about the inseparability of love of God and neighbor emphasizes one important aspect of this same point (see 1 Jn 2.10; 3.11–18; 4.20–21).

13. See Mariasusai Dhavamony, Phenomenology of Religion (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1973), 291–316, for evidence on this point from comparative religion.