Theoretical and practical

- Fr. Roy Cimagala - The Freeman

We are all familiar with this pair. Given our dual nature of being at the same time spiritual and material, temporal and eternal, local and global, individual and social, etc., we should not be surprised that we also have to take care of both the theoretical and practical aspects of our life.

That is simply how the cookie crumbles, a natural consequence of our human condition. That is why we are endowed with intelligence and will, the mind and the heart, on the one hand, and hands and feet, on the other. We are meant to pursue till death the theoretical and practical aspects of our life.

Theoretical, because knowing the truth, and the intricacies, implications and consequences it produces, will be a never-ending process. We have to apprehend the nature and essences of things, make judgments and develop ideas to make newer conclusions and discoveries.

We can always know more, both in scope and in depth. Given our spiritual nature and the reference point from which it comes and to which it should go - that is, God - the possibilities of being theoretical are objectively infinite though subjectively limited.

Let us hope that we can develop the proper attitude and disposition to pursue the theoretical path without let up. We know that current rapid developments somehow challenge us to make the matching pace as well as to integrate the multiplying and branching disciplines they are producing.

Thus, we need to study, and more importantly, to pray, since praying is relating things to God who is the Creator of all things. Our theoretical knowledge of things would be questionable if it is related to the author of everything. We need to realize the indispensable role of faith in tackling the theoretical dimension of our life.

Remember that Christ himself said: "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?" (Mt 16,26) It is clear that, in effect, we should not only be practical, but first of all we should be theoretical.

And we also have to be practical, because we are not meant to live on ideas alone. We have to act, because whatever knowledge we acquire through the theoretical path needs to be translated into deeds if it has to truly serve the human needs and the common good.

St. James, in his letter, articulates this point well when he said: "What shall it profit if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Shall faith be able to save him?" (2,14) It is clear that, in effect, we should not only be theoretical, but also practical.

We need to realize more deeply that to be both theoretical and practical is a necessity for us. We should not separate them or, worse, put them into conflict. Obviously, given our human condition, we can also say that without separating them, a person can be found to be more theoretical than practical, and vice-versa.

Let us try to avoid being overly theoretical at the expense of being practical. This anomaly can happen when we fall into what is known as intellectualism, spiritualism, pietism, etc., that tend to detach us from the practical needs of the concrete world we live in.

In these situations, we get unduly engrossed with ideas, intangible concepts and religious feelings that hardly have anything to do with the prevailing conditions of the here and now, nor are helpful to anticipate future needs.

Let us also try to avoid the opposite, that is, to be overly practical at the expense of being theoretical. This irregularity can occur when we fall into what is known as activism and "professionalitis," a kind of disease that makes us so workaholic that we can even forget to eat, and worse, to study, reflect and pray.

I believe that to be properly theoretical and practical, we need to have a functioning relationship both with God and with everyone else. This should be the context and the parameters.

Without them, we would be out on a limb, unable to cope with all the trials in life, and we would end up exaggerating one at the expense of the other. In short, we would not be living our life properly. Our life would lose unity, consistency, broadness.

It is good that we check ourselves from time to time in this regard, since all of us have the tendency to precisely go one way and neglect the other. Toward this end, let us hope that we develop a certain awareness of this need and relevant programs that can effectively attend to it.


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