All posts tagged: human dignity

Human Dignity Was a Rarity Before Christianity

In my theological writings over the past twenty years, I have often (some might say tediously often) returned to two episodes from the gospels that never quite lose their power to startle me: that of Peter weeping in the early light of dawn over the realization that, contrary to his fervent protestations of the night just past, he has denied Christ before the world; and that of Christ’s confrontation with Pilate (especially as recounted in John’s gospel). After so much time, one might reasonably expect that the fascination would wane, or at least cease to have the quality of surprise. But nothing of the sort. Recently, as I was preparing my own translation of the New Testament for Yale University Press, I found myself drawn to both episodes yet again, with the same old familiar feeling that they contain something at once momentous and uncanny, something somehow out of place and out of time. Something is happening in these passages, homely as they may seem, that never happened before. We speak today very easily, if …

A God Passionately Interested in Human Beings

Deus Caritas Est is in my opinion one of the greatest encyclicals ever written. It is both foundational and regulative for all of Benedict XVI’s encyclicals. This is no less true of Caritas in Veritate than it is of Spe Salvi.* If one had to summarize Deus Caritas Est, one would have to say at least the following. The God of Christian faith is the God witnessed to by Scripture and definitively disclosed in the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. This is God as the God of Love. This is the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies, and who mysteriously desires fellowship with us. In line with the Gospel of John, in terms of Love this is God of pure agape, that is, the God of purely disinterested love. God does not make a profit in and through his relations to the world and human being. Certainly, God does not become more God in and through relations that he establishes with the world and with us as the Idealists would imagine. At the …

Welcoming the Child: Foundations of the Hospitable Imagination

Bearing and bringing life into the world is the primordial act of hospitality, the universal experience of co-creating with God and welcoming the stranger, essentially the “first” work of mercy. Many will argue the political nuances of life issues and prioritizing who deserves the loudest voice in a world clamoring for one’s conscience and one’s action. But when we draw a collective breath and the dust settles, we must acknowledge the most basic reality of human life. We have all come into this world as tiny, vulnerable, powerless children dependent on our mother’s bodily hospitality and a warm and nourishing landing spot after birth. All of us. Without exception.   I definitely didn’t “get” this until I was pregnant with my first child and went through the miraculous, traumatic, transformative experience of pregnancy and birth. A lot of things came into focus after that pivotal moment in my life as a woman. I understood for the first time what it meant to literally give your life for another (though I did not actually die). I …

Artificial Wombs and the Intellectual Tasks of Building Cultures of Life

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI met with artists in the Sistine chapel in 2009, he noted that “an essential function of genuine beauty, as emphasized by Plato, is that it gives man a healthy ‘shock,’ it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum.”[1] Artists are often among the first social commentators, who like the saints, see the depths of reality with piercing acuity. In the shadow of the Industrial Revolution, surrealist artists perceived the “unintended consequence” of mass production: alienation and fragmentation. Artists, like Rene Magritte, intuited the coming dissolution of human intimacy. “The Lovers” (1934) depicts a man and woman turned toward one another in an intimate embrace, and against the grey background their faces are shrouded in cloth. They kiss but their lips never touch and their eyes never meet. The viewer is “shocked” so to speak. Their kiss is a non-kiss, their embrace a non-embrace. Their intimacy is a simulacrum of intimacy, set against the dark sky—or is it smoke? The same …

St. Teresa of Kolkata: Icon of Human Dignity

I first “met” Mother Teresa when I was about eight years old passing countless times by a small magazine clipping posted on our fridge. On it was one of those striking photographs of her holding a small child, the lines deep in her weathered, unmistakable face under her white and blue sari. The words “Another pro-life extremist…” graced the bottom of the picture. I don’t think I understood what that meant or who Mother Teresa was at the time. But I have seared into my mind that powerful image and those provocative words. As a Notre Dame college student, a decade later, I encountered her again in a class cross listed in theology and peace studies taught by Margie Pfeil called “Vocation and Leadership in Catholic Social Tradition.” Having been introduced to the Missionaries of Charity through service work in Rome the semester before, I decided to write one of the required papers on Mother Teresa. This brought me into contact not only with Mother Teresa’s life story (recounted beautifully by Lenny Delorenzo in a …

Review: “Beyond the Abortion Wars” by Charles Camosy

There may be nothing quite as divisive and seemingly stuck in a political quagmire than abortion in twenty-first century America. This is exactly why Charlie Camosy’s book Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation is so timely and so needed in the conversation, one he proposes Millennials are ready to abandon in favor of a new political and social binary. Instead of simply entrenching his arguments deeper in the familiar, worn paths of pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric, Camosy explores the real, varied history of each side as well as the true nature of the arguments that keep each side fueled passionately against one another. He doesn’t shy away from the deeply problematic moral question of human life and its protection, while at the same time recognizing the intricate moral tangle of the woman’s body and agency in both sex and pregnancy. It is this careful approach to both the child and the mother at a moral, philosophical level as well as practically and judicially that is refreshing and needed if society is …

The “New” Evangelization in the Americas: On the Catholic Origins of Human Rights

The introduction of human rights language into the social mission of the Catholic Church evident in Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in terris (1963) is often seen as a delayed response to the modern world. From this perspective, Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom rode on the back of America’s centuries-old first freedom. Even the magna carta of the modern social encyclicals, Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum (1891), has been characterized by some as a Catholic redaction of liberal theories of individual rights to property. But the Catholic vision of human rights, in fact, is neither “liberal” nor “American” nor “modern” for that matter. The plausibility of this rather unconventional claim rests on whether or not it can be shown that the commitment to human rights so essential to the social doctrine of the Church today has its roots in a debate internal to the Catholic tradition, rather than developing as a delayed response to a modern political order external to it. A turn to the evangelization of the Americas in the sixteenth century provides …

Syria, Human Dignity, and the Responsibility to Protect

Human Dignity vs. the Throwaway Culture Human dignity is innate by virtue of each human person being made in the image of God. It is independent of a person’s role in society, talents and weaknesses, and demographic profile. Each person is entirely unique and irreplaceable. The persecuted, the degraded, the humiliated person has dignity. No one can strip a person of his or her dignity, even if they choose to ignore or violate it. A person does not lose their dignity if they become more dependent on others, as the dignity of the person can be neither forfeited nor stolen. This mentality could not be more at odds with what Pope Francis has deemed the “throwaway culture”—a culture in which human beings are treated like consumer goods, used, and then summarily discarded. With this utilitarian mindset, the human person is debased, stripped of his or her humanity and personhood in the mind of the one who is objectifying them. And this utilitarian mindset is all too prevalent in today’s world. We see it in the …

A Culture of Encounter: Root and Fruit of Human Dignity

It happened on November 6, 2013. At the end of his weekly general audience with approximately 50,000 attendees, Pope Francis caught sight of a man in his fifties. He was sitting in a wheelchair and accompanied by his aunt Lotto who recalled: “We didn’t think we would be so close to the Pope, but the Swiss Guard kept ushering us forward until we were in a corner in the front row. When he came close to us,” she said, “I thought he would give me his hand. Instead he went straight to Vinicio and embraced him tightly. I thought he wouldn’t give him back to me he held him so tightly. . . . We said nothing but he looked at me as if he was digging deep inside, a beautiful look that I would never have expected.” Vinicio, accustomed to stares of shock and fear because of a disfiguring disease, was initially confused by the Pontiff’s lack of hesitation. “He didn’t have any fear of my illness,” he said. “He embraced me without speaking …

The Dignity of a Human Person: A Catholic Doctrine

If perchance there might be a person in this audience from Wisconsin, Missouri, or New York, whom I had the honor of confirming, be patient with me, please, for, odds are that I used this same story during my sermon that day. In July 2002, I led a group of about three hundred young people from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where I was then serving as auxiliary bishop, to Toronto for World Youth Day. These events originated twenty-five years ago with the genius of Blessed John Paul II, who, every two or three years, would invite young people from all over the planet to join him for five days of prayer, catechesis, faith sharing, and friendship at different locations throughout the globe. So, there I was in Canada with a million young folks. And it was my happy task to offer a catechesis on three different days to about three hundred young people from Canada, Ireland, England, Australia, India, and the United States at a parish setting in the suburbs of Toronto. Hundreds of …