Respect Life Program: ‘Be Not Afraid’ To Proclaim Human Dignity

Friday, 29 September 2017 - 

Every October, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities issues a new theme for the Respect Life Program. The purpose of the Respect Life Program is to “help Catholics understand, value, and become engaged with supporting the God-given dignity of every person—which naturally leads to protecting the gift of every person’s life.” The 2017-2018 Respect Life Program theme is “Be Not Afraid.”

My October (Respect Life Month) columns will be dedicated to various “Respect Life” topics. This column will discuss the indispensable fact of our God-given human dignity, the importance of getting human dignity right, and the critical need to fearlessly proclaim the truth of our human dignity.



Indispensable Fact of Our God-Given Dignity. I recently gave retreat talks about human dignity to high school students. I began by asking the students to consider the meaning of ‘human dignity’. While not the most rigorous definition, I proposed that ‘human dignity’ pertains to the value of human life and how (by who or by what) we measure the value of our human life or the human life of others. I also discussed two differing ways of understanding human dignity: the ways of the world and the way of Jesus Christ.

For the world, our human dignity is reduced finite measurements, such as money, fame, sex, and power. When human dignity is measured by money, the value of life tends to be determined by material considerations like financial earning power, future inheritance, various forms of property, etc. When human dignity is determined by power, the value of life depends upon a person’s ability to control the course of life, dominate a relationship, dispose of that which is deemed “useless,” etc.

But these worldly measures never satisfy the fundamental yearning of the human heart for infinite value. In other words, when human dignity is measured by the ways of the world (money, fame, sex, power), the truth of Ecclesiastes is realized: “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But again, this also was vanity.”

Through Jesus Christ, our human dignity and its infinite value is revealed. Christ alone answers the question of the human heart that we find in Psalms 8: “What is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him?”

Christ looks upon our fallen humanity, in all its sinfulness, and restores us to our original greatness. Christ uncovers the “image and likeness” of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—living within each one of us. By this light, we come to see ourselves as worthy of receiving unconditional love, and capable of returning unconditional love.

Getting Human Dignity Right. When we misunderstand human dignity, we distort reality. The way we understand human dignity directs every subsequent action of our lives, whether the act is religious, cultural, or political.

For example, if human life has no inherent worth, but is valuable only to the extent it has monetary value, any number of political consequences follow. The poor are seen as unproductive contributors to the economy and are not given proper assistance (e.g., housing, food, and employment assistance). The unborn are discarded as a burden to future career and financial gain and not protected in their absolute vulnerability. The sick and the elderly are viewed as substantial healthcare costs and subjected to immoral medical care and lack of attention.

Fearlessly Proclaim Human Dignity. As Saint Pope John Paul II reminds us in Evangelium Vitae: “To be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these truths constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all educational activity.” By doing so, “we can also help everyone discover in the light of reason and of personal experience how the Christian message fully reveals what man is and the meaning of his being and existence.” This brings about “the consequences of the Gospel” which stand in radical opposition to the dreadful consequences of the ways of the world.

Never fear in proclaiming the Gospel of Life, for Christ is with us until the end of time!