The Dignity of the Human Person
Every human person is seen as equal as he/she is lovingly and beautifully made in God’s image and likeness. The other principles flow from this.
The basis for the theme of Human Dignity, the bedrock of Catholic Social Teaching, is that humans were created in the image and likeness of God. Regardless of any factors or reasons we can think of, individuals have an inherent and immeasurable worth and dignity. Each person is unique and special. Human life is considered sacred. This theme is about our radical equality before God that leads us to think no less of somebody because they are from a different place or culture, because they believe something different to you, or because of their work or employment situation.
The principle of Human Dignity means that Catholic Social Teaching takes a strong position on issues around the start and end of life (like the death penalty and abortion) but it also has big consequences for everything in-between. For example it can affect how we think about how our society supports those with disabilities, how we address global inequality and the approach we take to civil rights issues. It is from this idea that all people have inherent dignity that other themes develop within Catholic Social Teaching.
The idea that each life has value is not something Catholic Social Teaching has a monopoly on; it shares a lot in common with Universal Declaration of Human Rights which are also universal, inviolable and inalienable. But Catholic Social Teaching differs because of its basis. It grounds Human Dignity in the firm foundations of the Catholic Church’s traditions thought about the sanctity of creation as told in the story of our creation (Genesis) and God’s incarnation (Gospels). Sons and daughters sharing a common present and future.
“Dear friends, it is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry – this is an act of justice. But there is also a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy, the hunger for dignity. There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation; integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for purposes of generating profit; health, which must seek the integral well-being of the person, including the spiritual dimension, essential for human balance and healthy coexistence; security, in the conviction that violence can be overcome only by changing human hearts.”
The Christ We Share: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPOb-IM-UNY
Genesis 1:26-31 God created man and woman in his image.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 God loves the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. You should too.
Luke 10:25-37 The good Samaritan recognised the dignity in the other and cared for his life.
John 4:1-42 Jesus broke with societal and religious customs to honour the dignity of the Samaritan woman.
1 John 3: 1-2 See what love the Father has for us, that we should be called Children of God.
1 John 4:7-12 Let us love one another because love is from God.
Key Church documents
Veritatis Splendor-The Splendour of Truth: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html
Caritas in Veritate-Charity in Truth: http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html
World Day of the Sick: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/sick.index.html
(NB – This last link will only take you to Pope Francis’ messages. If however you click the tab called (Holy Father) on the top you can access other Popes’ messages.)
Link to a particular Saint whose charism is linked to this particular principle
St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta
‘If you give the world the best you have, you may get kicked in the teeth but give the world the best you have anyway’. Mother Teresa highlights the importance of striving to do good despite not always seeing direct results.
- ‘Jesus Christ, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, became fully human so that we might know God. In his life and death on the cross he embraced the human condition. He knows our suffering. In rising again he saved us, restoring us to new life so that we might once enter into full and eternal communion with the Father. On the cross, Jesus said “I am thirsty”. Did the vinegar he was given quench his thirst. Or was he thirsty for something else. Or someone?’
- St Mother Teresa of Calcutta teaches us that Our Lord Jesus Christ is thirsty for love and for souls. She recognised the immense dignity of every single human being she encountered as created in the image and likeness of God.
- Listen to this meditation from her teachings “I thirst for you” How do we respond? What does it mean for how we view ourselves and other people?
St. Josephine Bakhita https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=5601
Link to local/national groups associated with this principle
Leeds Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission: https://www.leedsjp.org.uk/
Catholic Care: http://www.catholic-care.org.uk/
Good Counsel Network 40 Days for Life
Medaille Trust: http://www.medaille-trust.org.uk/ Working with victims of trafficking to support them in their rehabilitation
Cenacle Community: https://cenacolouk.org/ Working with people living with addiction
Alcoholics Anonymous: https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/
Catholic Association for Racial Justice: https://www.carj.org.uk/
Could you volunteer with the Samaritans to provide a listening ear to those people thinking about suicide? Or could you attend free SafeTALK training provided by Community Links to learn how to recognise and assist somebody who is contemplating suicide?
Dear Loving Father,
We give you unending thanks and praise for the immense dignity you have given us in creating us in your image and likeness, out of pure and perfect love.
May we always respond to you by recognising and respecting this dignity in the way we treat ourselves and other people.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may seek new and creative ways to uphold this dignity.
We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Questions for personal /group reflection
- Watch the video ‘Imago Dei’
- Am I aware of my dignity as a beloved child of God, uniquely created in His likeness, out of pure love?
- Do I live in a relationship with Jesus Christ in response to this dignity? How do I live in relation to others? Can other people see this living relationship in me?
- Do I see this equal dignity in other people – the person begging on the street, the person who cuts me up in rush hour traffic, the person who hurts me or mine, the refugee, the person in position of leadership that I dislike? Do I treat them accordingly? Do I try to bring the light of Christ to them? Do I see Jesus Christ in them? Are there any other people I do not view in this way? Why?
- Where/how as an individual can I do more to promote and protect this dignity?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate where He is already working in your community in respect of human dignity. How can we co-operate with the invitation He is extending to us? What obstacles are preventing a response? How can these be broken down?
- What skills and gifts do I/we have that could be offered in service of human dignity as created male and female in the image and likeness of God?
- Where is action needed?
- How do I /we understand the principle of human dignity?
- What can I/we learn from the above reading about human dignity?
- What obstacles are there that might limit my/our scope in fully understanding this concept?
- How can the review of this concept help me/us in enhancing my/our spiritual growth?
Reflection/Action – Refugees and asylum seekers
- Imagine this scenario – the town where you have lived happily with your family for many years is under attack. There is war, political unrest, famine and disease. You’ve stuck it out as long as you can but there is no end in sight. You and your family are suffering from lack of food, healthcare, drinking water, shelter. It is a miracle that you’ve all survived this long – many others haven’t. You are never free from fear of attack or injury or death. Many of your neighbours have decided to flee – going to catch one of the many boats that will take you to a safer country and a new life.
- Should you move your family to one of these safer countries? What do you consider as you talk about this with your spouse? The children’s’ education and prospects? Whether or not your elderly mother could manage the journey? Should we leave her behind? Who will care for her? Will we be able to physically carry her to the boat? Is the destination country really as safe and wonderful as everyone makes out? Will we be welcomed there? What about the journey – the boat trip – will the boat be safe? Will there be adequate food and water and sanitation on the boat? What if there are storms at sea? What if we die whilst making the journey to the boat? I wonder what happens when we first arrive there. Surely there will be some support in place to help us? How much will it cost? Where will we even get that money from? After all we’ve had no income since the conflict started. Our daughters and I have been promised work by that man in the recruitment agency that has set up near the boats if we travel – it would be a relief to know we’ve got work sorted, but can we trust him? Is it a real job opportunity? Our language skills aren’t that great after all, but he says it doesn’t matter. At least we know the situation here – what if we get there and it is worse? What difficulties would we face there? We don’t know anyone there. Maybe we should stay? We’ve survived this long. Surely the conflict will end soon and then we can look forward to rebuilding our lives here, building our home and business again – we would have made that dangerous journey for nothing. Can we manage for a bit longer until the war ends? There is nothing here for us anymore but we’re too frightened to decide to go.
- What else would you consider? Would you stay or would you go if you were in that situation? How do we respond to these questions from our fellow human beings (who share the same dignity as us, as created in the image and likeness of God) who are considering coming to our country? Is it safe and welcoming? Will they be met with support when they arrive here after an arduous and dangerous journey after a period of prolonged suffering? Is that job offer real, or are they vulnerable to being recruited by people traffickers into modern day slavery – maybe forced labour or the sex industry? What can we do to protect, promote, welcome and integrate people who ask for our help when they are desperate?
Possible actions to consider
- Help settle an asylum seeker family by joining the community sponsorship scheme
- Writing to your local MP to express your views
- Financial support to various charities
- Educating yourself on Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking. Freedom United videos are a good way to start.
- Visiting the sick or elderly or lonely people in your community
- Work with existing asylum seekers and refugees support schemes.