Love for Beginners: Recognizing the Dignity in Everyone

“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:

  1. Realize that God created each and every person, and knows them intimately (Psalm 139).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

 

 

 

A Very Good Body: Romans 12 and Weight Loss

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

Since this summer, I have dropped a significant amount of weight with the assistance of bariatric surgery. The decision to undergo a major, body-altering operation came after years of frustration: multiple stints at Weight Watchers, a round with inner ear staple acupuncture, visiting nutritionists, flip-flopping between gyms, and simply abstaining from food for a set period of time.  I was tired, and I knew something had to be done. I couldn’t climb the steps at my office without losing my breath. My body and my mind couldn’t take it anymore.

From my surgery date, I’ve dropped nearly 60 pounds. I’m at my lowest weight in nearly 15 years. In 40 more pounds, I’ll be at my ideal weight for my height. This is very, very good news for my mental and physical health.

In today’s second reading in the Mass, we read a small part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As seen in the quote above, Paul exhorts the Romans to offer their bodies as “living sacrifices” to God. This also ties into today’s Gospel reading where Jesus tells his disciples that in order to follow Him, they must die to themselves first. However, in our culture, sacrifices and giving up anything is a foreign concept. Our culture promotes self-preservation and the promise of unlimited happiness if you buy enough of the right products.

Sacrifice is not a cultural value. Yet, over and over again we hear Jesus, and later Paul, admonish readers to die to self and to transform their minds and physical bodies for the sake of holy living. Upon hearing these parts of Holy Scripture, I ponder how the Physiotherapy, Weight Training, Dumbbellalteration of my body has led me to become more dependent on God for my daily nourishment.

Before the surgery, food was my primary coping mechanism. Not in times of doubt and negativity, but also in times of happiness and celebration. Food is everywhere, and unlike drugs and alcohol, is not illegal and can be found almost anywhere. Therefore, I relied heavily on food for my emotional and mental support. I would, of course, pray and read my Bible, but food was a much more pleasant and sensory experience.

Immediately after surgery, this all changed. I now have a stomach that can hold anywhere between two and five ounces of food when I eat a meal. As I am still in the recovery mode for the next week or so, my intake is still restricted. I eat soft foods in portions that would better suit a toddler. I can no longer binge eat because one, my stomach can’t hold it and two, my stomach can’t handle it.

Yet, I still struggle with the infamous “head hunger” that haunts many patients of weight loss surgery. You may know the feeling: You’re full, but due to some external force, your brain still says you’re hungry. So, more often-than-not, you eat to satisfy the mental urge. This was me for many, many years. Now, with my surgery, while I could still cave in to the head hunger, I know it will provide physical side-effects that can be unpleasant or even painful. Ultimately, this has forced me to rely on God rather than food.

This switch, while beneficial, has sometimes wreaked a small amount of havoc in my life. For years, I knew food would be there for me. All I had to do was go through the drive-thru at a local fast food restaurant or stop by a gas station for my emotional fix. Now, I have to deliberately tell myself that I am not hungry and my body doesn’t need what I want to put in it. I also have to say “You’ve just eaten, you don’t want another thing. You’re at capacity. What you want is bad for you.”

Instead, I will find my first instinct after avoiding the urge to eat is to simply pray. Or, if I’m at home, I will read my Bible or other inspirational readings. Sometimes I will close my eyes and just think. Anything to reorient my body towards Christ, to live as a living sacrifice. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, this is hard. It’s hard to be a living sacrifice in an imperfect body that’s trying to shed old, detrimental eating habits. Sometimes, I fail. And I remember, that there’s always tomorrow. And unlike the days of old when the tomorrow of new eating habits never came, I have many new tomorrows to reset my dietary routine.

Dying to self, living as a sacrifice is against our own nature. Refusing temptations such as abusing food, alcohol, and drugs (or illicit sex, lying, theft, and poor treatment of our neighbors, to name a few) is a difficult to overcome due to our original sin. Yet, in Christ, there is mercy, grace, and forgiveness. When we drop the ball as living sacrifices, when we abuse ourselves and others: Christ is there, time after time. Sometimes, we may have to rearrange our bodies physically (as I did) to understand this grace. And in our darkest instances, when we believe there is no other way to rearrange our lives and bodies, Christ shows up to teach us again how to walk and live in His blessed way.