The Objective Dignity of the Human Person

Good parents not only teach their children the house rules and laws, they teach them the reason behind the rules. God does the same with us.

The Natural Law is based on the great dignity of the human person, as made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). The web of relationships and interdependence into which we are born images the Blessed Trinity itself, with its eternal web of relationships: paternity, filiation, and the communion of love.

“All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love” (CCC 1878)

Eternal life consists in our entering that web of divine relationships through Christ who reveals them to us: “no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). God grants us freedom and the ability to know and love him and others, giving us the capacity to fulfill our dignity.

While our great dignity of imaging the Holy Trinity and entering life with God—through divine filiation, intimacy with Christ, and the new life of the Spirit dwelling in us—original and personal sin has tainted and obscured it. Sin makes it very difficult for us to discern what is good for our being and happiness, as well as what is good and just in our relationships with others. For this reason God, in his loving mercy for his children, chose to reveal the essential aspects of the Natural Law in the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes, which help us rediscover our great dignity. By his passion, death, and resurrection Christ reveals how much God loves us—how great our dignity is—offering us a life with him again through faith and love.

The first Commandments teach us that our great dignity consists in an exclusive relationship with God, which we express and maintain through our respect for his sacred name and the day of our covenant with him. The rest of the Ten Commandments protect the dignity of each person and helps each respect the dignity and rights of another from conception to natural death. The human body shares in the dignity of the human person because it is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Our dignity includes God’s call for us to live in human society by living fraternity—we are all brothers and sisters of every human being. This is key to God’s image and likeness in us. Through our different gifts, talents, and needs God calls us to self-giving: “On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others” (CCC 1936). Our particular needs correspond to someone else’s gifts and talents; our particular gifts or talents correspond to another’s needs. This is part of God’s plan for us to get us out of ourselves so as to enter into a relationship with others:

“These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular ‘talents’ share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment” (CCC 1937).

Christ reveals the fullness of man’s dignity—“Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et Spes 22). Since God has entrusted the Church with safeguarding this revelation, he makes the Church the proper interpreter of the Natural Law as revealed in the Son of Man.

Fr. John R. Waiss


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