A Shared Desire for Dignity

The Church dedicates this 27th Sunday as Life and Dignity Sunday. However, the readings of this Sunday seem to be focused on marriage rather than dignity and life. The book of Genesis, in the first reading, talked about the union of a man and a woman as one flesh.  In the gospel, Jesus reiterated this union is meant to be permanent. However, Mark, putting the encounter between Jesus and the children episode at the end of this Sunday’s gospel, seemed to be yet another distraction from this Sunday’s theme. Actually, it gives us a good start to talk about life and dignity.

Children and widows at Jesus’ time ranked the lowest in society. They were just a level higher than the so-called sinners. Jesus wants to remind us through the children that even the lower caste in the society has its worth. In fact, their worth is as much as the qualifications of entering the kingdom of heaven. The worth Jesus gave to the children is what we called dignity. We all have dignity because we were created in the image of God. In each human being, there is the reflection of God’s love and liveliness. Whether it is the unborn child or an autistic child, they have human dignity. The most common response people offer is that dignity is about respect. To the contrary, dignity is not the same as respect. Dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings and as creatures of God, everyone is born with it. Respect, on the other hand, is earned through one’s actions. In the gospel, Jesus makes it clear that the societal way of valuing a human being is counterproductive to the will of God. If we follow the way society dictates human dignity, we will not survive as human beings for the long run.

According to John Shea, the renowned spiritual writer, “Every living thing wants to persist and expand in being. In plants and animals, this drive stays on the biological level. But in humans, it becomes more complex and wide-ranging. Besides wanting to biologically survive, we want to be important and esteemed.” In other words, we want to have a sense of worth and respect. Unfortunately, the hierarchical structure of society becomes the norm of how we look at our worth and the worth of others. John Shea continues to say that, “If we are aligned with the powerful, wealthy and famous, or if we are respected and admired, the inner drive is satisfied. But if we are poor and unknown, the inner drive is frustrated. If upward comparison frustrates the drive to be worth something, downward comparison gives it a boost.” These kinds of ideas will create a “dog eat dog” society. Only the rich and the elites have a say about other less fortunate human beings.

In a marriage, or in any other relationship, if we look at each other’s dignity, the basic worth God has given us, we might find it easier to resolve conflict. “Before diving into any conflict,” a psychologist said, “I would sit with both sides and teach them lessons in dignity. When people truly understood what they were discussing, it shattered limitations on healing their emotional wounds. After people learn about dignity, a remarkable thing happens, everyone recognizes we all have a deep, human desire to be treated as someone of value. I believe it is our highest common denominator. This shared desire for dignity transcends all of our differences, putting our common human identity above all else.” Perhaps, if a married couple recognizes each other’s dignity, it would reduce the frequency of conflict, and hopefully, the divorce rate would be diminished.

Father Francis

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