Because “soul” means the life-giving principle of a living thing, we must hold that God…
How to explain the soul to a nonbeliever
Question: I have great difficulty explaining what the soul and the afterlife are to a nonbeliever. Would you please explain these concepts to me so that I can have a better understanding when I am asked this question?
— Joyce Mostowy, Pittsburgh
Answer: Start with proper definitions. The “soul” is the animating principle of a living thing; it is what gives that thing life. When the soul of a living thing departs, the organized energy we call life departs, and the physical dimensions of that being fall into the disorganization and decay we call death. Even a nonbeliever can grasp the difference between a living tree and a dead one, a living animal and a dead one, a living human being and one who is dead. Simply put, the soul, the animating principle of a living thing, is what gives life, and the absence of it signifies death.
This definition of “soul” surprises many modern English speakers who associate the soul only with human beings. But all living things have a soul (understood as the life-giving principle of a thing). This includes animals and even plants. Of course humans have human souls, animals have varying kinds of animal souls, and plants have plant souls.
What makes the human soul unique is that we have rational souls. This aspect of our soul is sometimes called the “spirit.”
Some object to the notion that animals do not have rational souls. But it doesn’t take long to demonstrate that we are decidedly different from even the highest of the animals. While all mammals may have similar aspects to their bodies — for example, lungs, eyes, etc. — the similarities end there. If animals have rational souls, show the evidence. Where is their progress due to growing knowledge? Animal species are no different than they were thousands of years ago. Where is their technology, literature, music or collected art? Where are their museums, libraries, universities and technical schools? Where are their bicameral legislatures where they debate ideas and pass laws? Where are their courts where they hold each other accountable? Where are their churches where they seek God? Where is their medicine, and where are their hospitals and medical technology? Where are their great cities, buildings, bridges and roads? So it is clear that we have rational souls whereas animals do not. You will know something by its fruit. It seems that anyone giving an honest assessment, even a nonbeliever, can accept this. Otherwise, ask them to account for the vast differences just described and why animals have not progressed, whereas humans have progressed in every sort of way.
Another aspect of the human soul is that God reveals to us that it is immortal. Though our bodies will die and temporarily be lost, the soul will live on. And, because it is the nature of a human soul to form a body, one day our bodies will rise, gloriously perfected and be reunited with our soul. Here, a nonbeliever will not so easily assent. However, ask him or her to consider that there is an infinite longing in the heart. But, since nothing can give what it does not have, how can a finite world bestow an infinite longing? Here then is evidence that someone or something that is infinite must have given this, and this one we call God. Further, how can a finite world bestow a notion of eternity? And yet every human heart can conceive of an eternal afterlife. Where could such a conception come from it were not given by God and was not real. Even if certain individuals have denied an eternal afterlife, it remains true that no culture in history has widely denied it, and it is thus a nearly universal human concept. While one cannot prove the afterlife, one can demonstrate it in this way by appealing to the universal sense of it in the human heart and asking your friend to account for this. Put the burden of the argument back in his court by asking him to account for this.
Question: How can we be sure that transubstantiation actually occurs when we hear the bells rung at Mass?
— Keven B., Toledo, Ohio
Answer: As long as a validly ordained priest says the proper words of consecration over valid bread and wine in the Mass one can be assured the consecration has taken place. The bells really have nothing to do with it other than to signal the congregation to an important moment.