The Objective Dignity of Human Persons

Good parents not only teach their children the house rules and laws, they teach them the reason behind them. God does the same with us by teaching us our great dignity as human persons made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). The web of relationships and interdependence into which we are born images the Blessed Trinity itself, with its eternal web of relationships: paternity, filiation, and communion of love.

“All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love.” (CCC 1878)

Eternal life means entering into the web of divine relationships — becoming God’s children through friendship with Christ who reveals the Father to us: “No one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). God grants us freedom and the ability to know and love him and others, enabling us to fulfill our dignity.

Yet original and personal sin has tainted and obscured our great dignity of imaging God and entering life with each person of the Holy Trinity: divine filiation, intimacy with Christ, and the new life of the Spirit dwelling in us. Sin makes it very difficult for us to discern what is good for those relationships as well as for our being and happiness. For this reason God, in his loving mercy for us, his children, chose to reveal the essential aspects of the Natural Law in the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes, and then by Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection he reveals God’s great love for us—and our great our human dignity—offering us a life with him again through our response of faith and love.

The first Commandments teach us that our dignity consists in an exclusive relationship with God, which we express and maintain through our respect for his sacred name and the day of our covenant with him. The rest of the Ten Commandments protect the dignity and rights of each person from conception to natural death. The human body shares in the dignity of the human person because it is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Our dignity includes God’s call for us to live in human society by living fraternity—we are all brothers and sisters of every human being, each made in God’s image and likeness. Through our different gifts, talents, and needs God calls each to self-giving: “On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others” (CCC 1936). Our particular needs correspond to someone else’s gifts and talents; our particular gifts or talents correspond to another’s needs. This is part of God’s plan for us to get us out of ourselves so as to enter into a relationship with others:

“These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular ‘talents’ share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment” (CCC 1937).

Christ reveals the fullness of man’s dignity — “Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et Spes 22). Since God has entrusted the Church with safeguarding this revelation, he makes the Church the proper interpreter of the Natural Law as revealed in the Son of Man.

Happy Independence Day!

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Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.