4 November 2007. 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11, 22 – 12, 2 Our Innate dignity
We have many illusions in our lives. And we have lived with these illusions that we have turned them into truths. We think that apart from God we can forge our dignity. We fancy ourselves rich when we know our treasures come from inheritance or our relatives abroad and not from ourselves. We think we become more beautiful after a face lift when we actually looked like stretched photos on Photoshop. We deceive ourselves when we expect others to respect us by the sheer political position we occupy, knowing however that respect is earned. We think we are intellectual giants because our education has been given by top universities, only to prove that in real life we are emotional midgets and our househelps prove to be smarter in their relationships.
The first reading brings us to earth when it says that ‘before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.’ In other words, without God, we are insignificant. We are but a speck in the greater design of life. And each of us cannot claim greatness by the titles attached to our names: PhDs, Engr, Dr., Mayor, Congressman, etc. Our real dignity and honor lies in the truth that the very Creator of the universe preferred us among all other creatures, that God who does not need us, made us the centerpiece of His creation.
But every single thing contains some form of dignity because God loves all He created. The reading continues, “for you love all things that are, and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.” And that the very existence of these things proves God’s love for everything in the universe: “And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?… for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” To recognize that each creature and element in the universe contains God’s imprint is to be aware of its dignity and its sacredness. In the spirituality of St. Ignatius, this is the sacramental worldview: everything is imbued with the Spirit of God. Because of this, when we protect the environment, we acknowledge the Creator. When we teach people to segregate our wastes, we perform the role proper to every dignified creature of God.
Dignity therefore is a gift: it is a grace given to all created things. And its source is the truth that someone else loves us. That is what happened to Zacchaeus in the Gospel: he regained his worth when Jesus accepted his invitation and everything about himself. We feel our dignity when someone loves us, and we in turn make others feel their worth when we love them. You become a respected doctor when in your practice you recognize the dignity of your patient. You become an honorable public servant or Church leader if people see the effect of your leadership concretely alleviating their lives. You become a praiseworthy teacher if your PhD contributed to intellectual progress — or at least, your students get to learn from you, not out of fear, but for the love of learning. Or, when we find ourselves at fault, sinful, and imperfect to the point of not liking ourselves anymore, we abandon our true worth. We forget that even in our imperfections, our dignity is not diminished. Because there is always reason why we are worthy of love.