“The Dignity of Life in this Year of Faith” – By Jim Ennis
On Oct. 11, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI ushered in a new year for the Catholic Church throughout the world. This “Year of Faith” is to mark a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”1 The invitation is for us all to reflect upon where we are with our faith in God, our faith in the Church, and what difference this faith makes in our personal and public lives. One of the reasons Pope Benedict called for a Year of Faith is because there is a “profound crisis of faith that has affected many people” in our society.
There are many reasons for this “crisis of faith.” Topping the list is the secularization of our culture in the United States with its hostility toward God and the resulting spiritual indifference among many Christians. Another way to understand faith in God is to see it as a relationship, such as one between a husband and wife. When spouses stop believing in each other, loving each other, and dialoging with each other, the relationship withers and becomes weak, vulnerable to outside influences. Spouses then become indifferent to each other. God has created human beings to be in relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus. He has pursued us as a lover pursues his betrothed. Our dignity comes from the fact that God created us in His image and loves us unfailingly, with an everlasting love. But we must respond to God.
Faith is both simple and complex. It can be as simple as the childlike faith Jesus refers to in Holy Scriptures: “Unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”2 Faith is also complex with many social implications: how do I apply it in my daily life and how do I communicate it to others with joy and vigor? Our faith is often tested as well, in the midst of much pain and suffering in the world.
For example, the terrible tragedy of Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first graders and six staff and faculty members were brutally gunned down, will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of millions across our nation. Over 30 states, along with national religious leaders, recognized a moment of silence the week after the tragedy. The dignity and sacredness of every human life was brought into sharp focus as our nation mourned the loss of these loved ones and prayed for their souls and for their grieving families. The idea of taking the lives of innocent human beings is abhorrent to us all. We are outraged! A National Public Radio interviewer asked a pastor, “Does this type of tragedy make you question your faith in God?” – as if God is responsible for the evil acts of human beings, or that God is powerless to protect innocent human beings.
No, God is not responsible for evil in the world, but we do have to ask ourselves some very difficult questions. What is happening in our culture where such violent behavior can even be conceived? What kind of culture can allow millions of unborn babies to be murdered every year? What kind of culture can become blind to people who are poor? What kind of culture can ignore the abuses that still occur among agricultural workers who farm our fields and process the foods we eat? What kind of culture can allow for the contamination and degradation of our rich soil and water resources? Faith and dignity are linked. When we lose faith in God, we often lose our appreciation of our own dignity and the dignity of others, as well as the dignity of all creation. How do we respond?
The renewal of our culture begins with the renewal of the church, and the renewal of the church begins with the renewal of believers. We are the believers who need to be renewed. This renewal requires reflecting upon truth and allowing the truth to change us, to set us free. The dignity of life is one of the most powerful truths the church proposes to our modern society. Every human being “exists as a unique and unrepeatable being.”3 Every human being has a purpose in this life. Each of us is called to a living and vital relationship with our Creator. Our lives are not meaningless or random. “The renewal of the church is achieved through the witness of the lives of believers: by their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.”4
We must allow these truths to transform the way we view life, the way we view others, and the way we view ourselves. Do we truly believe that we are created by God and for God, to be in relationship with the Holy Trinity? Do we take our dignity seriously? Do we take the dignity of all creation seriously? If we say “yes,” then we can begin to change the way we live. Only then can we live courageously. Back in the fifth century, Pope Leo the Great stated, “Recognize, O Christian, your dignity, and being made a sharer of the divine nature go not back to your former worthlessness along the way of unseemly conduct.”5
This view of faith and dignity is needed in rural communities as well as urban communities. In my travels throughout rural United States, I sometimes find there is a sense of “second class citizenship” among some living in rural communities. There is a feeling of inferiority compared to their urban counterparts. In other cases, rural pastors are challenged to address tensions between new immigrants in the community and existing parish members. Others are feeling marginalized and invisible because of their struggles with poverty, unemployment, or depression.
“What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”6
In the Winter 2013 issue of Catholic Rural Life, we examine the links between faith and the dignity of life, and the implications in rural communities. We also reflect upon the lives of our brothers and sisters from other cultures, new immigrants in our communities, and their contributions to our faith. May your faith be renewed and strengthened in this Year of Faith.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Catholic Rural Life.
1Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio Data, paragraph 6b.
2Matthew 18:3 Revised Standard Version.
3Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, pg. 58, paragraph 131a.
4Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio Data, paragraph 6a.
5Sermon., XXI, 3:Migne, P.L., LIV, 192-193.
6Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio Data, paragraph 15b.