When the Church talks about human dignity today, the conversation often centers around the beginning and end of human life. These two timeframes of life are when each of us are most vulnerable, unable to defend ourselves physically, intellectually, or politically in the public square. Because of this, we as Christians spend our time and resources caring for those who are vulnerable through ministries of healthcare and other life-affirming efforts. But, what is the source of this human dignity? The idea of human dignity has certainly not been a universal concept throughout human history. Our human minds can see the goodness of humanity to a certain extent, but it is only through God’s revelation that we can understand our dignity to the fullest extent.
Understanding our own dignity and goodness is essential to living a moral life. Part Three of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is entitled “Life in Christ.” This section contains a summary of the moral teaching of the Church, and without an understanding of our dignity, it may seem like an arbitrary set of rules. This section of the Catechism begins with laying out how good God has made us to be. The opening paragraph of this section is a quote from St. Leo the Great: “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God” (CCC 1691). Our reason for seeking virtue and avoiding sin should be out of love for the God who made us, and out of a healthy love for ourselves, because we are made in the image of God.
Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Even more than this, we have been purchased at the price of the blood of Jesus Christ. God calls us to a lofty, eternal vocation of living with him forever in heaven. Sin distracts us and leads us away from our eternal vocation, while acts of love and virtue lead us closer to heaven.
In the lives of the saints, it is easy to see the goodness of God at work. I love reading Fr. Rankin’s saint articles in our Weekly, because the saints are like a walking catechesis. It can be a challenge to apply the teachings of Jesus to our own lives, but seeing the example of the saints makes it easier for us all to imagine becoming saints ourselves. Conversely, we all probably know people whose lives have been seriously damaged by sin. Thanks be to God, Jesus offers us forgiveness through the sacraments. Like the prodigal son, our loving Father wants to restore the dignity of those who have sold it through sin.
In the next year, we will be writing about some ways in which we can grow closer to God through following his laws. Let us keep in mind the reason for doing what is right – because God made us in his image, and by saying yes to God’s law, we say yes to love.