As I had grown up with a perspective that my humanity was the result of chance occurrences, that resulted in seeing myself more as the excrement of the cosmos then anything else, God broke into my despair and revealed to me the wonder of my being. This movement in my soul drew me back to my faith, and I signed up for Confirmation. However, this movement was so enthralling, that I found myself staying up all night researching the traditions of the Church.
I came across various public addresses and reflections of Pope John Paul II, and was astounded at how frequently the term ‘human dignity’ was evoked. I found the term echoed throughout the catechism and church documents. Yet, whereas I used to reluctantly believe that strength, aggression, and domination were the basis of earning human dignity, I came to see that our dignity was innately and intrinsically tied to our very self by being sacred in the divine image. It was as if I thought I was meant to be a savage beast, but soon I began to see myself alongside angels for the first time. Somehow, this gave me a solid place in which to rest my existential angst over my identity. Yet, since our dignity was only dependent upon God’s goodness, this was a very dangerous idea. I was shocked at how solid this was, and how inviting and all-inclusive it was.
Human Indignity was an observable phenomenon, whether because there were social sins and injustice, or because I wanted to alleviate my own personal responsibility. Understanding who I am, and where God’s image resides, challenged me to a greater genuineness and goodness then I allowed for myself previously acting as if being a Beast was my intrinsic nature. I could not act solely for survival, comfort, or pleasure; there was something bigger then my little concerns. Further, as I have grown older, I can see how some people sin as a way of reacting to the consequences of their own sin, as if it is genetic or that sin multiplies itself. Original Sin makes a lot of sense, even if it is difficult to precisely define it. Yet, knowing the complicated nature of sin, alongside God’s mercy, a compassionate response makes sense.
I do believe that when we can hold Darwinism accountable to our belief of the dignity of the human person, we will have achieved something. The principle of the dignity of the human person has become important in our own language and doctrine, also because it becomes a common ground for all people who hold an intrinsic value to the human person independent of their capacity for strength, aggression, and domination. That is why I feel it is important for us to be a positive witness to the revelation of Genesis, that we are created in the divine image, and to stand in direct opposition to what disfigures that image. That requires us to take the side of the immigrant, the victim of sex abuse, the unborn child, or the prisoner.
I have also found that one of the strongest areas of need in youth ministry has been the way that teenagers struggle with their self-image, and especially how young girls struggle with their body image. In 2009 I studied the American Psychological Association Report on the Sexualization of Teenage Girls. Although I had frequently encountered adolescent girls who struggled with body image, and consequently had eating disorders, or resorted to self-harm and cutting, this report shocked me into a deeper awareness. Even though they grow up hearing things like “Beauty is on the inside,” somehow it is never enough. I think we as a Church have a responsibility to assure them that their worth rests solidly in their intrinsic value in God’s creation, rather than feeling it must be merited by an appearance so altered beyond humane recognition to become a plastic sex object. In other words, authentic divine beauty manifests itself in God’s creation precisely in the body of a woman.
In addition, I think it is important for people to begin to approach the natural order with a bit of wonder and awe. Unfortunately, being perpetually linked to our iphones, we may further be in danger of viewing the world as something to be manipulated, downloaded, categorized, and instantaneously consumed for our need to purge ourselves of boredom while endlessly entertaining and stimulating ourselves. We are hard wiring our young to be consumers of instead of ‘communers’ with creation, this imprisoning ourselves in a self-destructive cycle that the earth will pay for. Personally, I know something profound happens, when you observe nature in silence.
As Pope Benedict insists that Genesis reveals that Creation was instituted for Sabbath Worship, it got me thinking deeper on this issue. Sometimes I wonder to what effect it would have if our liturgical worship was not inconsequential to creation, instead of always making our worship convenient. Whereas churches today are invariably created to be comfortable with little thought and consideration to how the church relates to God’s creation and Cosmos. An example that would perhaps be startling would be to orient facing east as in times past, which could potentially orient our hearts toward fulfilling our own sacramental communion with the orientation of the earth. As Churches in ancient times always oriented east, it would not be far fetched in our tradition, but it might add a new dimension in our theological eco-consciousness. Although Masses held outdoors on exceptional occasions will add this, it would be far fetched to propose this as normative.