“Washing of the Feet” by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel (c. 1305)

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals with whom we joke, work, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Lewis reflects here upon the dignity of the human person which we may not correctly understand. An incomplete view of human dignity bases it upon human rights, particularly freedom – we’re free to choose how we live our lives, whom we marry, what profession we enter, etc. This leads to the distortion of human freedom we have today whereby people create “rights” to this or that, as though they were absolute rights. However, many of these claimed “rights” conflict with the rights of others, which causes endless grief for others (e.g. the claim to be able to redefine marriage to be genderless conflicts with the right to religious freedom). The foundation of these “rights” must be re-evaluated.

The basis for human dignity lies in the threefold truth that we are created in the image of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and called to share in eternal life. This foundation is indestructible no matter how sinful we become, or how the quality of our lives deteriorates through illness, disability, unemployment, political turmoil, etc. Human rights and obligations spring from this threefold truth.

We often overlooked the fact that we must seek perfection in our dignity, which is fully manifest in eternal life. None of us is perfect. We all need to mature in our loving. If we fall short of perfection, we fall short of fully manifesting our true dignity. Often we complacently think, “God loves me; I am doing fine, despite my faults.” This partial truth obscures the fact that God loves us too much to leave us in the state we are in. God desires us to be “holy as he is holy,” to be mature sons and daughters in his Kingdom. He desires us to mature in human dignity.

Living in society – rubbing shoulders with people who aggravate us, and others with whom there is a mutual love – is the means to growth in human dignity. Both civil society and the society of the Church offers plenty of opportunities to have the “rough edges” of our character smoothed over making our dignity more manifest. God constantly offers his graces in our encounters with both saintly and difficult people. These graces enable us to mature in our faith, hope, and love, and enable us to act more justly toward our neighbour and God. We only need to be aware of the possibilities that are daily before us: we are daily becoming either “immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” Let’s all seek to become the latter through the grace of Christ.