Tag Archives: dignity

29 May: On the receiving end.

Christina Rossetti reminded us that we do not always know leaf from leaf; there are often stinging nettles and prickly brambles behind the pretty flowers. A careless hand could be stung or scratched if it reached in to pick a pink campion or a head of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Saint Augustine, as we heard the other day, was insensitive to the dignity of the Welsh bishops who came to visit him. This was hurtful. I imagine this set back Christian unity in these Islands when mutual respect would have healed many rifts. And Augustine was a saint; we lesser mortals need to be vigilant not to be careless in dealing with each other.

Nationality and race are not the only stumbling blocks to the unity of Christians or the unity of all people, but they matter. If they are not respected, especially by those in authority or power, people will feel hurt and insulted and will be disinclined to co-operate. Here is an eloquent example from 19th Century India. Tagore was by no means intemperate, unlike the man he describes.

Let us pray for the grace to see other people as fellow-children of God, brothers and sisters to be respected and loved as equals.

CUTTACK, 10th February 1893. He was a fully developed John Bull of the outrageous type—with a huge beak of a nose, cunning eyes, and a yard-long chin.

The curtailment of our right to be tried by jury is now under consideration by the Government. The fellow dragged in the subject by the ears and insisted on arguing it out with our host, poor B—— Babu. He said the moral standard of the people of this country was low; that they had no real belief in the sacredness of life; so that they were unfit to serve on juries. The utter contempt with which we are regarded by these people was brought home to me when I saw how they can accept a Bengali’s hospitality and talk thus, seated at his table, without a quiver of compunction.

As I sat in a corner of the drawing-room after dinner, everything round me looked blurred to my eyes. I seemed to be seated by the head of my great, insulted Motherland, who lay there in the dust before me, disconsolate, shorn of her glory. I cannot tell what a profound distress overpowered my heart. How incongruous seemed the mem-sahibs there, in their evening-dresses, the hum of English conversation, and the ripples of laughter! How richly true for us is our India of the ages; how cheap and false the hollow courtesies of an English dinner-party!”

From Glimpses of Bengal, Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore“.

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2 April: Recognising dignity is the first act of care!

Saint Josephine Bakhita

This is the conclusion of Pope Francis’s message for the eighth World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking. this is marked on Saint Bakhita’s day, 8th February. All our posts for the month were in place awaiting publication when this message was issued, but Francis’s call to be conscious of, to recognise the dignity of each person accords with our Lenten theme.

Saint Bakhita shows us the way of transformation. Her life tells us that change is possible when one lets oneself be transformed by God’s care for each one of us. It is the care of mercy – it is the care of love that changes us deeply and makes us able to welcome others as brothers and sisters. Recognising the dignity of each person is the first act of care, it is the first act of care! Recognising dignity. And taking care of others is good for all, for those who give and those who receive, because it is not a unidirectional action, but rather it generates reciprocity. God took care of Josephine Bakhita; he accompanied her in the process of healing the wounds caused by slavery, until her heart, mind and inner self became capable of reconciliation, freedom and tenderness.

I encourage every woman and every girl who is committed to transformation and care, in school, in the family, and in society. And I encourage every man and every boy not to be left out of this process of transformation, recalling the example of the Good Samaritan: a man who is not ashamed to tend to his brother and to take care of him. Taking care is God’s action in history, in our personal history and in our history as a community. God has taken care ‘of’, and takes care ‘for’ us continually.

Caring together, men and women, is the appeal of this World Day of Prayer and reflection against human trafficking: together we can encourage the growth of an economy of care, opposing with all our might every form of exploitation in human trafficking.

Dear sisters and dear brothers, I know that many of you are participating in this Day of prayer and reflection, from various countries and different religious traditions. I wish to express my gratitude and encouragement to all of you: let us go forward in the struggle against human trafficking and every form of slavery and exploitation. I invite you all to keep your indignation alive – keep your indignation alive! – and to find, every day, the strength to engage with determination on this front. Do not be afraid of the arrogance of violence, no! Do not surrender to the corruption of money and power.

Thank you all, and keep going, do not be discouraged! May God bless you and your work. Thank you.

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4 March 2022, Praying with Pope Francis: bioethical challenges.

Maize is a crop that has received many genetic modifications to make it resistant to problems such as insect attack, drought or weedkiller chemicals, but at what cost?

This month Pope Francis asks us to pray for a Christian response to bioethical challenges.

We pray for Christians facing new bioethical challenges; may they continue to defend the dignity of all human life with prayer and action.

Of course it’s not as straightforward as pronouncing on the ethics of medical or cosmetic procedures. I had chosen the photo before I absorbed the words ‘ the dignity of all human life’, then wondered whether it was appropriate. I decided that it was. All human life includes the subsistence farmers who find themselves choosing between traditional crops and modern ones that are resistant to disease or insect attack. These are expensive to buy and need their fields to be sprayed with the expensive pesticide they can resist but the pests cannot.

And what of the long-term effects on the land and its ability to produce crops?

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11 March: Going Viral: Friendship and a shared table

A multinational shared meal at the former Franciscan International Study Centre, Canterbury. CD.

This letter from Dean Adrian of Lichfield Cathedral is about friendship and suggests what we may be missing, almost without realising it, and how Jesus made friends with all sorts of people, with ‘sinners’.

The Gospels are full of instances where Jesus is “moved with compassion”.  No translation in English quite conveys the force of the original: a deep and visceral movement from the bowels, the entrails, the depth of the heart where the strongest emotions originate.  For Jesus this feeling of compassion often extended itself into acts of healing and the restoration of the inherent dignity of people on the margins, often in things as simple and straightforward as a conversation or sharing a meal.

Albert Nolan OP in his splendid book “Jesus before Christianity” says: “It would be impossible to overestimate the impact these meals must have had upon the poor and the sinners.  By accepting them as friends and equals Jesus had taken away their shame, humiliation, and guilt.  By showing them that they mattered to him as people he gave them a sense of dignity … The physical contact which he must have had with them when reclining at table … must have made them feel clean and acceptable”.

The point Nolan drives home is that Jesus isn’t a friendly social worker or dispenser of charity “doing good to someone” but is rather participating in a person’s experience. He stands in solidarity and makes community with people in their woundedness; he is deeply affected by the pain of others, and he can do nothing other than to alleviate pain and suffering.  This was received as healing and salvation with relief, joy, gratitude, and love.

Thank you, Dean Adrian.

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3 February: ‘Choose the World You Want Festival’.

The Fairtrade festival is coming up this month:

Fairtrade, climate and you

Join our free virtual festival to hear why winning a fairer deal for farmers and workers is critical in tackling the climate crisis.

Throughout Fairtrade Fortnight (22 February to 7 March), the festival will feature:

  • • Farmers and workers from around the world explaining why they need to earn more to survive a climate crisis that is already hurting their communities
  • • Discussions between farmers, other experts and famous faces about what we need to do to choose a better future
  • • Music, art and entertainment, from all corner of our passionate and talented global Fairtrade community
  • • Fun interactive workshops on sustainable living here in the UK.

This Festival will be an exciting part of our Fairtrade Fortnight (22 February – 7 March) celebrations this year.

Sign-up for free today to get all the festival details

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3 March. Desert VI: praying and working together.

abbey Xt desert

Life for the Benedictine monks of Christ in the Desert is based on prayer – ‘Opus Dei’ or God’s work – and the work that earns their daily bread. This article by Jonathan Malesic  explores how these two activities can sit well together or clash and so undermine community life. When does work become too demanding for the good of the community or its members?

Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy reading this long essay slowly: it challenges our view of the work we do, efficiency and all. It was published by Commonweal magazine on 2nd February 2019.

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20 February. What is Theology saying, XLVI: Renounce or change the world?

john xxiii

Good Pope John XXIII called the Council

Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris1 emphasized that relationships between nations must be based on the same values that guide those of communities and individuals: truth, justice, active solidarity and freedom. Catholic social teaching stresses that peace is not simply the absence of war, but is based on the dignity of the person, thus requiring a political order based on justice and charity. The right of conscientious objection is affirmed when civil authorities mandate actions which are contrary to the fundamental rights of the person and the teachings of the Gospel.

But Vatican II also emphasized the crucial role of the laity in the Church, and these past fifty years have seen a growth and flourishing of lay leadership all around the world. Many Catholics are eager to learn more about their faith, but not all parishes offer opportunities to do so. Therefore, lay Catholics need to evangelize their priests and parishes in social justice terms as well as the other way around. Catholics don’t need to wait for the go-ahead from their pastors to engage in works of peace and social justice. That way, the Church’s social teachings won’t be a secret any more.

To the majority of people in the world, Jesus is an honoured historical figure who was the founder of Christianity—but that is about as far as it goes. Many have no idea that his most wonderful life had an unsurpassed effect on the history of humankind. In fact, without the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, life on planet earth would be incomprehensibly different from what it is today.

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19 February. What is Theology saying, XLV: moral law draws believers into relationship

Other than in instances of dogmatically defined doctrine, the individual conscience holds sway.

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Like all Christians, Catholics see the Ten Commandments found in the Hebrew Scriptures as the basic groundwork for moral action, which together with the life of Jesus provide a deep and abiding understanding for how to act with love and justice in the world. The Gospel of Matthew relates that upon being asked which commandment was most important, Jesus replied that all of the law is contained in the commandments to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40).

Catholics see this as going beyond the injunctions of moral law by drawing believers into a relationship with others as well as with God, and it is the foundation of the Church’s teaching on issues of social justice.

leo XIII

Leo XIII

From the earliest days of the Church, Catholics have performed works of mercy to help those who most need it, but the Church’s current involvement in social justice issues really took form in 1891 with the promulgation of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum. In it, Pope Leo XIII called for workers to be treated with dignity and respect, protected by the state from exploitation, and allowed to form unions.

It touched off a flowering of social encyclicals that have become central to the Church’s work in the world. Catholic social teaching focuses on the dignity of the person as the linchpin for all discussions of ethics, politics, and justice. It is central to Catholic calls for the fair treatment of workers, for political systems that recognize individual rights, for responsible scientific research, for an end to attacks on human life in the form of abortion and the death penalty, and many other teachings as well.

AMcC

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8 February: Saint Josephine Bakhita

wed-feb-8-bakhita

Saint Josephine Bakhita

Saint Josephine was born in Sudan in 1869 where she was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child. She was a modern slave: in servitude despite laws forbidding it. After changing hands many times, she was sold to an Italian diplomat and taken to Italy, where slavery was indeed illegal, but it was only through the help of some sisters, the Canossian Daughters of Charity, that she gained her freedom from his family. She learned about God from the sisters and entered the congregation where she lived a life of love and service until her death in 1947.

Josephine Bakhita was canonised by John Paul II on October 1, 2000. He spoke of Josephine Bakhita as ‘a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights’.

Let us pray for all people caught up in modern slavery and those working to release them, often in grave personal danger to themselves.

You may also like to return to the Littlehampton Sisters’ reflection from last year.

 

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January 11: Temperance V: The Gift of Shame

phonecall..j (409x583)

The virtue of temperance does not require the stoic abstention from all physical pleasures. Temperance is the virtue by which we are strengthened in the ability to decide how much is good for us, and to follow through on that decision on the level of behaviour. What helps us in our decision?

St. Thomas teaches that the spontaneous reaction of shame that surfaces when we have over-indulged in the physical pleasures is both healthy and helpful to us. At first this might be hard to believe: shame is such a miserable, intensely uncomfortable feeling. We don’t like it, and often try to suppress it, or to defend against it by laughing it off and telling ourselves not to be so morbid. Yet, it is better for us to face our feeling of shame. It is a useful reaction whereby we recoil psychologically from the disgrace that comes from intemperance.

Excesses on the level of our physical appetites give us a feeling shame that is usually more intense than the shame we feel over our other moral failings and sins. St Thomas explains that this is because our bodily appetites are what we share with animals, and when we over-indulge them we feel deep down that we have lost something of our innate dignity as human beings.

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007JohannesPaul2-portrait

Shame, again, surfaces spontaneously. In the masterful book Love and Responsibility, written by Karol Wojtyla*1 in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shame is one of the topics he studies in depth. Here is a brief passage from his book:

Shame is a tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of the person as such. The purposes of this tendency is self-defence of the person, which does not wish to be an object to be used by another… but does wish to be an object of love (Chapter III).

Perhaps this requires some unpacking. First Wojtyla affirms that shame is part of our in-built moral equipment, as it were – uniquely characteristic of the human person. As such, it is a gift, and it has an importance and a purpose in our spiritual and human lives. Then, he speaks of ‘sexual values.’ Again, an important notion. We see here that he is not trying to say that our sexuality is bad. Then why does he talk about ‘concealing’ this value? Simply because this value has a tendency to loom larger than it should, so much so that it can ‘obscure the value of the person.’ There is a hierarchy of values here, he is saying: the person is of greater value than sexual values. Through shame we actually protect ourselves as persons, so that we do not become an object of “use”. According to Wojtyla, then, shame is not the result of prudish conditioning by repressive religious teachings, or over-strict authority figures. It is inherent in our nature, and surfaces spontaneously with a message for us. That message is that we are created to be loved and to give love in a manner that always affirms the unique beauty and dignity of the person – both our own person and that of the beloved.

This beautiful insight by Karol Wojtyla shows us something that helps us to moderate our physical appetites, by reminding us that we were created to love and be loved. This is the fulfilment we crave most deeply. But we must love and be loved rightly, with great respect for ourselves as persons and for the unique personhood of our loved one.

1 Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, and was known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy lasted until his death, twenty-five years later.

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