In a smart city church porch, a bearded man stood with a string tied around his thick coat and an array of bulging plastic bags beside him. He was begging and was accustomed to people passing him by; seemingly they were concentrating on something ahead of them and never looked at him. One of our Sisters often met some members of the Board of Management in which she worked, in the porch and gave them an effusive hug. Then one day this bearded man said to her "Why can’t I have a hug too? She was initially shocked and taken aback. She experienced repulsion and confusion. This troubled her all the week. By the time Sunday came around, she was ready to respond to his challenge and moved towards him with open arms. It was the beginning of an important relationship which changed them both. They taught one another the true meaning of dignity.
Remember something which triggers some important learning for you about the dignity of the person. Savour that experience and stay with it for as long as you wish.
Our Human Dignity
What is the source of our dignity? The basis of our dignity is that each human being is uniquely created in the image and likeness of God. We know that the meaning conveyed in the Genesis narrative of creation tells us that God created us as human persons in God’s likeness. God endowed us with freedom; the capacity for self-
St. Mary Euphrasia talked of loving with a "love of appreciation" i.e. respecting the uniqueness of each person and focussing on her potential for growth. "Have great esteem for each other… never belittle each other’s good points."
Reflect quietly on the following Scripture quotations:
"You are precious to me and honoured and I love you." Isaiah 43: 4
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you." Jer 1:5
"We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning God has meant us to live it." Eph 2:10
What arises in your heart as you listen to the Lord addressing these words to you?
Bring these feelings/desires/questions to the Lord in prayer.
A Wider Perspective on Dignity
The right to life, autonomy and equal respect are among the basic theological concepts of human dignity.
The basis of our dignity still holds strong when viewed from the perspective of the story of the evolution of the universe. We see this as the continual work of an ever loving Creator, who respects and works through the evolutionary process.
Reflectively read Job 38
Enter into God’s way of helping Job come to an attitude of "cosmic humility" when faced with the vastness of God’s creation.
In this reading from Job, we discover that the animals and the birds have their own special dignity. Their relationship with God stands in its own right and is not only mediated through human beings. God rejoices in them in their own integrity and in their distinctive otherness from the human. We humans are part of the community of creation, not the centre of creation, but rather fellow creatures with others.
Go out in nature and make friends with a "fellow creature" or plant. You may like to look intensely at this creature/plant, feel it…
Develop a sense of companionship with this ‘other-
What does this process reveal to you of your shared dignity?
"Suffer with dignity or without …
Even in humiliating and derisive situations we can still hold a sense of dignity. In some difficult situations, one is often moved to ponder the immense dignity of the poor. If we do not give it away, no person, event or situation can take our dignity from us.
Being a stranger, being one who is not like others, often gives rise to experiences of being treated with less dignity. Immigrants talk of feeling they are being treated as "less than equal", by the way the receiving group looks at them. St. Mary Euphrasia would be saying to us today, as she did in the past "it is not enough to say you love them; they must feel your love."
Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jew who died in Auschwitz in 1943 kept a diary describing the deportations and increased terror for her life. She says that through suffering … "we must share our love with the whole of creation". Suffering is an art. We can suffer with dignity or without. She learned the art of suffering which gave rise to compassion. She refuses to join her fellow countrymen in despising the enemy, and refuses to adopt a victim stance.
St. Mary Euphrasia gives us an example of suffering with dignity in refusing to allow others to criticize Bishop Angebault, with whom she had difficult relationships over a period of twenty six years. Like Etty, she would want to preserve dignity in all circumstances.
Where in your heart do you feel robbed of your dignity?
Can you talk to your God about these areas?
Conclude by thanking God for your sense of dignity.
If you wish, you can go into Supplementary Tools to deepen your reflection with photos, videos etc.