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ii. The Uniqueness and Mystery of the Human Condition

The joy and anguish of human life spring out of the unique gift of consciousness. 

Alone among living creatures each one of us can relive the best and worst moments of our childhood, remembering a mother’s embrace and a father’s wrath. 

Despite huge advances in neuroscience, there is no explanation how a brain, none of whose childhood cells still survive, can retain such memories. 

In fact we still cannot say where in our brains such memories have their home. The vast inflation of knowledge that is the fruit of computers and social communication, still cannot open the door to the inner awareness of even the one person we most love and treasure.

With consciousness also comes conscience. From the very dawn of human history men and women have been sure that some actions are right and some are wrong. 

They have not always heeded that inner conviction but it is only the very rare sociopath who has not felt the sting of guilt from betraying a friend or lying to a parent. 

Despite cultural differences and priorities there has been a remarkable consistency across the generations, regardless of religious faith or lack of it. Even when we try to disregard its promptings, the pull of conscience shows itself in the justifications we offer for our failures to follow it. Catholic faith particularly has delved into the human capacity to embrace such failure (‘sin’) but also offers an unceasing source of compassion and forgiveness in the God in whom it believes.

With humanity comes also the gift and burden of freedom. Despite many attempts to explain away human freedom as an illusion we have all experienced moments of being torn to and fro as to what is the right course of action, especially when we have responsibility for the life and well-being of another; every parent will recall such dilemmas. 

This reflection opens up for us the other unique facet of our lives: the need to give and receive love.

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