The vocation of every human person
By Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB
There is an original dignity of every man and woman that cannot be suppressed, that cannot be touched by any power or ideology. Unfortunately, in our epoch, so rich in many accomplishments and hopes, there is no lack of powers and forces that end up producing a throwaway culture and this threatens to become the dominant mentality.
The victims of such a culture are precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings – the unborn, the poorest people, sick elderly people, gravely disabled people… who are in danger of being “thrown out”, expelled from a machine that must be efficient at all costs.
This false model of man and society embodies a practical atheism, de facto negating the Word of God that says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” (cf. Genesis 1:26).
In these remarks, made by Pope Francis to a delegation from the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in 2013, the Holy Father shines a light on what might well be called the fundamental moral and social issue of our time. It is the prevalence of a “practical atheism” which denies the most basic truth about human beings: that we are created in the image of God.
It is from this foundational principle that all Catholic moral/social teaching flows. The vocation of every human person, both individually and in communities, is to be the living image of God, the creator and sustainer of life. Every decision we take will either be in harmony with or in contradiction of this basic principle.
Pope Francis, in the address referred to above, speaks of it as our “compass”. If we follow it we will be heading in the right direction, the direction ultimately indicated to us by Jesus who on one occasion said: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10) and who on another occasion stated quite plainly, “I am the Life” (cf John 14:6)
If instead we are guided by a different “compass”, a different world view, which in practice ignores or sidelines the Word of God, found for us as Catholics in the Scriptures as they are lived and preached in the Church, then we will, perhaps slowly but certainly inevitably, compromise our commitment to the culture of life.
We will begin to find expedient reasons for denying the right of this particular unborn child to life, or that particular elderly person to quality palliative care, or a certain class of refugees to asylum, or a certain group of people with a disability to appropriate assistance and support.
Pope Francis insists that “if we let ourselves be interrogated by this Word of God, if we let it question our personal and social conscience, if we let it shake up our discussions, our ways of thinking and acting, the criteria, the priorities and choices, then things can change”.
Saint Paul makes the same point in an even more forceful way when, in his Letter to the Romans, he instructs his listeners to “adapt yourselves no longer to the patterns of this present world but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed. Then you will be able to discern the will of God and know what is good, acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
As Christians we are called to embrace the world in which we live, recognising it as a precious gift from God but one which has been badly disfigured by sin. We embrace this world with gratitude and love knowing that we are called to transform it with love.
This is equally true of our own individual, family and community lives: these are precious gifts from God but also badly disfigured by sin. It is the love of God, reshaping our minds and hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, which will enable the beauty of God’s gifts to us to shine brightly.
If we are to have in us “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), if we are to truly be living images of the God of life and love, if we are to be apostles of the Culture of Life, then we must find the courage to allow the compass of Gods’ word, shared with us in the teachings and tradition of the Church, to be our guide. Then, as Pope Francis says, “things can change”.