The dignity of every human person

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” We have arrived at the midpoint of Lent, and the Gospel this Sunday reminds us of its endpoint, which is the resurrection of Christ at Easter. How has our Lent has been so far? Have we been praying more? Have we been fasting in a fruitful way? Have we given alms?

Two weeks ago, we learnt that almsgiving was more than just donating money; that the word “alms” comes from the Greek word eleos meaning mercy, and that being merciful included striving for the Common Good of others, so that every person, especially the vulnerable and marginalised, could reach their fullest potential. Today,

The wealthy and powerful are often put on a pedestal in the news with greater coverage and reporting on what they think or feel. We enjoy reading more about great and successful people, perhaps because we desire to be like them, or lead their kind of life.

Conversely, many of us are not interested in hearing about the poor. Why would we want to think about low-income workers and their families who are too poor to afford medicine or food for their children, about the many elderly persons living or dying alone and unwanted, despite their past contribution to the society? It is disheartening and distressing, and it is much easier to ignore than to accept that this reality is happening in our own backyard.

Yet, if we take the Church’s Catholic Social Teaching (CST) seriously, we are asked to do what may feel counter-intuitive to us. The Church affirms that every person is created in the image of God. This central teaching has far-reaching implications. It leads to the fundamental principle that every person inherently has great dignity, conferred by God, that nothing and no one can take away. Indeed, Christian writer and lay theologian C.S. Lewis declared, “There are no ordinary people… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” This is the CST Principle of Human Dignity.

Thus, the least in our society is not worth less to God than the greatest. So, should we not be equally interested in the poor as we are in the affairs of the successful? As Pope Francis lamented in his encyclical Evangelii gaudium, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Therefore, to be merciful as the Church understands mercy, we should first attempt to be interested in the lives of the poor. Perhaps we can do so in the way we choose which news reports to read daily. Perhaps we can be more attentive to our next-door neighbours who might be struggling to make ends meet. Perhaps we can learn, and call by name, the low-income workers that we encounter daily, such as the cleaning or security staff members at our workplaces. When we make visible those who have been invisible, we show them mercy in the way their God-given human dignity deserves.

There is no better time to begin showing mercy to our neighbours, and therefore to show our love for God, than in this Lenten season that leads to Easter Sunday. May our efforts transform our neighbours’ suffering into new lives lived in the fullness of their human dignity.

First published in Catholic News. Reprinted with permission.