By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton


This picture shows one of the panels on the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I have always loved it, and it speaks beautifully of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save the lost. That's the reason for hope.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Willed, Loved, Necessary

These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI when, in his first homily as Pope, he spoke of the wondrous truth of each and every human being. When I first heard them I realized that this is the message that needs to be affirmed again and again for the people of our day. The full citation is: “Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” When we encounter the truth of God in Christ we realize the truth of ourselves.

This becomes clear when we ponder the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. In the Sunday Mass of yesterday, we bowed down in wonder and awe before the mystery of God, Who, though One, is a communion of three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know this on the basis of God’s own self-revelation, which He accomplished by sending to the world His Son and Holy Spirit, and so we accept it in faith. God, as Triune, is a perfect communion in love, sufficient unto Himself and in need of nothing. From this it follows that, if God created the world and, and the human being as the summit of creation, it was not because God needed to do so. It was his sovereign free choice, moved solely by love. Out of this love, God chose to create and then to save the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Here we see the original purpose for which we were created and for which Christ came to save us: to participate in God’s own life forever!

Herein we discover the ground of human dignity: freedom. God has made us “in his image and likeness” (cf. Genesis 1:26-27); He has fashioned us for Himself, for an eternal covenant of love. That we might respond fully to His offer of love, God endowed every human being with the gift of freedom. Only when I give myself freely in love to another is my self-gift authentic. God has freely chosen to create us and call us to Himself, and endowed us from the beginning with the gift of freedom that we might truly love Him in return. When our freedom was abused through sin and we became captive to our sinfulness, He sent His Son to liberate our freedom (cf. Galatians 5:5), that we might live freely as His children (cf. Romans 8:21). Our dignity lies in the wondrous fact of our God-given freedom to respond in love to God who has loved us first, a free response that expresses itself in love for our brothers and sisters. (cf. 1John 4:19-21).

How different this message is from that of our secularized society! In this context the basis of human dignity is not freedom but success. If one is “successful” as judged according to such standards as wealth, achievement, influence, fame or beauty, then one thereby earns the esteem of others. Notice the difference. In the secularized world, human dignity is not inherent to the person but something earned. This leads necessarily to competition and thus inevitably to a sense of counting for little or nothing if I do not measure up to the standards of success imposed by others. The root of the difference is our approach to the question of God. Recall the citation above wherein the Holy Father teaches that we come to know the truth of life and the ground of our dignity only when we encounter the truth of God in Jesus Christ. When God is eclipsed, as in our secularized environment, we necessarily fall back upon ourselves. As a result, dignity is no longer a God-given gift but a human construct; no more an inherent and inalienable given of every human being but an externally assigned assessment based on illusory standards. In consequence, the fundamental equality of every human being in the heart of God is forgotten and replaced by the fantasy of inequality in the judgment of men and women. Is it any wonder, then, that we have fractured homes and societies, and that countless men and women feel not willed but discounted, not loved but judged, not necessary but dispensable?

“God so loved the world....” When we allow ourselves to be embraced by this love we discover our dignity as free human beings and are set free to love others. Have you ever thought of yourself as “the result of a thought of God”? Well, you are. You are willed, loved and necessary. This is the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Embrace it, and be set free.