When I watch penguins on video, I always find them to be awkward, yet debonair. A penguin walking on land is definitely awkward, but a penguin in the water is a sight to behold. The penguin's wings make it look like it’s meant for flight in the air, like other birds, but the wings are actually meant for flight in the water (watch a video of a penguin in the water; it looks like it’s flying).
People are actually a lot like penguins. Yes, us. I mean you and me. We are a lot like penguins, and yet, we’re also very different.
Penguins Compared To Humans
Consider our physical and spiritual aspects. In the physical aspect, we have similar qualities and characteristics to penguins, just as we do to other animals. For example, we both possess an estimative sense, which allows us to navigate potentially hostile environments (fight or flight).
Yet, unlike penguins, we can do things such as painting, drawing, and writing poetry. These activities all require a spirit. The spiritual aspect of our personhood includes the possession of an intellect. Have you ever seen a penguin with an intellect? No penguin (or other animal) possesses an intellect. This faculty—the intellect—is a great differentiator between penguins and us, because it is a completely immaterial faculty—a spiritual faculty. It is because of this spiritual faculty that we are able to have faith.
Penguins don’t have faith. Does a penguin have faith when it dives into the water to swim for some food or go elsewhere? Certainly not. The penguin has seen other penguins swim, and through instinct, it knows that it can swim. You never see a penguin look at its wings and say, "Hey, I have these wings that I see other birds using to fly, but I cannot fly. What’s the purpose of my wings? I’ve been waddling around here while the other penguins go swimming. They tell me a whole new world exists inside that water. I’ve never seen it, but I believe them, so I’m going to dive in and explore."
Penguins don’t have that sort of reflective thought because they don’t have an intellect. We, on the other hand, do have reflective thought (though not about our wings, of course), because we exist in the spiritual order.
The Nature Of The Human Person
As human persons, who operate in both the material and spiritual orders, we see only partially into the spiritual order when we see intelligibility in things and understand concepts through reason. We cannot see things like angels or God in the spiritual order yet. We live neither solely in the spiritual order nor solely in the material order. Our whole person, material and spiritual (body and soul), is meant to behold something, or someone, beyond what can be beheld in this life.
In order to behold what is beyond this life, we must use our will to choose to pursue the good that we are called to behold. Penguins cannot behold what is beyond this life because they have no will to choose, but we were given a will by God's design, and that will comes with a great responsibility.
Like penguins, we are meant to dive in and swim, constantly exploring our beautiful faith, but our swimming does not happen through instinct. We use our intellect and will. God calls us to have faith and enter into the waters of Baptism, and to explore our faith every day through prayer, our vocation, and the sacraments and teachings of the Church, and especially through love.
When we love, through faith, we come closer to God by using our wills to choose to pursue what we know we ought to. Each time we explore the faith we experience differences in intensity and duration, and we discover new fruits, but we are called to dive in and swim nonetheless.
When we swim where God wants us, our intellects and our wills operate much better. And someday, we will make that final dive in which we will rise to the highest state, which is Heaven, and see our beloved Lord.