“For, by his incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man.”
– Vatican II
I don’t know if you can remember the first time you struggled with or recognized sin in your own life, but I know I can. Even as a young child, I was often filled with undue pride and arrogance at my self-perceived properness and heightened dignity. Simply, I thought I was better than almost everyone else.
See, I was born into a life that so many would literally kill for. I was raised in home with married parents who were nurturing and supportive. My brother and I get along splendidly and have never one time had an argument or disagreement. By the time I was 18, I traveled to all 50 states with my parents and to the Holy Land with my mother. The little town I grew up in, though insulated, was perfect for raising up children who retained their innocence a little longer than most. In most ways, I lived a healthy, idyllic life.
The Dangers of Privilege
Unfortunately, an idyllic childhood does come with drawbacks, though it’s few and far between. For me, that drawback was the failure to recognize the dignity in every person I came into contact with. For example, if I scored higher on a test than most of my classmates (which was often), I pondered my own outstanding intellect. If someone participated in hobbies that I found banal (watching and playing sports, not reading voraciously), I determined that person was uncouth and in need of culture. Oh, and people who went to the beach every year for vacation? Get up on my level and go somewhere educational and exotic.
For years, I harbored this belief that I was somehow better than everyone else by the virtue of my family, my behaviors, and my hobbies. I prided myself as someone who would have followed Jesus had I lived during His time on Earth. In reality, I probably would have turned up my nose at the sight of the Holy Family.
Love One Another
One of the most commonly quoted bits of Holy Scripture is from Jesus when He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). What is originally a profound and deeply influential command is often twisted by our society. It’s turned into a kitschy saying that we decorate our homes with and quip on social media.
But, have you thought to ponder what it means to truly love one another? Jesus does not instruct us to only love those whom it is easy to love. While we are to love those who are the closest to us, it’s also an imperative that we love those who cause our hearts to clamp up in dread. After all, Jesus said that even the pagans love those who are lovable (Matthew 5:47). The simple, yet sacrificial act, of loving those we struggle to see the dignity in is what can change the world.
Love for Beginners
I am convinced that none of us will ever become experts in loving our neighbors, at least on this side of eternity. We have all sorts of hangups: baggage, presumptions, and the scourge of original sin. All of these things distort how we view and love our neighbor. Sin causes us to discard the lowly and to place a preference on our own selves. We fail to see the inherent God-given dignity of those, especially those we don’t like, around us.
Since my conversion to Catholicism, I have grappled more with my own sin of arrogance and judging others. I think this is primarily because, once I converted, my faith became my own and was no longer something I doing just to avoid hell. Often, I thought about Church teachings on the dignity of the human person . Through my journey, I discovered little ways we can learn to value those around us.
Recognizing the Dignity in Others
A few ways to do this are:
- Realize that God created each and every person, and knows them intimately (Psalm 139).
- Know that Jesus wildly loves each person you encounter. According to Church teaching, every person is assigned a guardian angel. Just think: God loved you and everyone else enough to appoint a supernatural being to protect and watch over you. Knowing that each person has a guardian angel has greatly influenced how I view those around me.
- Pray for those you don’t like. This is tough: Easily said but not easily done. Whether you start out with a simple Our Father or Hail Mary for that person, it’s a start. As you progress, watch how God will slowly chip away the barriers in your heart.
- Give of yourself. Volunteer for those who are less-fortunate. It’s easy to pity the poor, but the real change is found in working to improve the conditions of those who are the most vulnerable. This very act takes you outside of yourself, and while humbling, it can help you recognize the dignity in others.
Seeing the dignity in others is hard and arduous. It often requires that we step down from our own high places and come face-to-face with the reality of our littleness. Let me know below if there are other ways you recognize the dignity of others. I always love to hear from my readers. May God bless you, always.