The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.
Prayer of Reflection
Eternal God, creator and sustainer of life, bless us with the courage to protect all life from conception to natural death. Bless us with the strength to respect all peoples from east to west, from north to south, so that we may truly follow the call of Jesus to be neighbor. We ask this in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit.
Read from the Bible
- 27 God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
- 13 You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. 15 My bones are not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.
Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all…have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity” (CCC, no. 1934)
- “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of…existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life” (71) (CCC, no. 2270)
Read from the Letters from the Popes
- 144. “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34; cf. Rom 2:11; Gal 2:6; Eph 6:9), since all people have the same dignity as creatures made in his image and likeness. The Incarnation of the Son of God shows the equality of all people with regard to dignity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28; cf. Rom 10:12; 1 Cor 12:13, Col 3:11).
Since something of the glory of God shines on the face of every person, the dignity of every person before God is the basis of the dignity of man before other men. Moreover, this is the ultimate foundation of the radical equality and brotherhood among all people, regardless of their race, nation, sex, origin, culture, or class.
- 145. Only the recognition of human dignity can make possible the common and personal growth of everyone (cf. Jas 2:1-9). To stimulate this kind of growth it is necessary in particular to help the least, effectively ensuring conditions of equal opportunity for men and women and guaranteeing an objective equality between the different social classes before the law.
Reflections from the Poor Handmaids and Saint Katharina Kasper
LIFE and DIGNITY of the HUMAN PERSON
Even as a child in the 1820’s in Dernbach, Germany, our Foundress Saint Katharina intuitively recognized that all persons are equally beloved by God, calling her to respect and value each person without exception. She tangibly manifested this in her response to a schoolmate shunned by the other children because of her neglected appearance and open sores. Young Katharina included this unfortunate child in the circle of respect by her loving attention of sharing both her companionship and her lunch with the classmate rejected by others.
This conviction of the value of each person followed Katharina throughout her life and was engrained in the spirituality of the congregation. She realized that in her time there were people denied respect by their very being: the disabled, the foreigner especially the Jewish, the mentally unstable, the persons with black skin. St. Katharina saw each as beloved by God, a valuable creation of God. She taught her sisters to value the dignity of anyone entrusted to their care, be they child or elder, by respecting each person as beloved of God and deserving of service and care.
Following this example of dignity and respect for all without bias, Poor Handmaids in the United States did not segregate Black patients from Caucasian patients at a time when this division was a common practice in American hospitals. Also Jewish and African American doctors were employed at Poor Handmaid hospitals during an era of discrimination.
in the 1990’s Sr. Germaine Hustedde, PHJC exemplified the same when she invited homeless throw-aways, the street boys in Kenya, to the safety of shelter and the means for an education, resulting in the ministry of Caring Place flourishing yet today.
Examples from the Foundation’s Work
“Dignity and Respect for all” is one of four core values of our sponsor, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. We have promoted our belief in the unique beauty and dignity of each person and the importance of respecting them by:
- Supported operating budgets of health clinics that serve low-income individuals to ensure all people can access quality medical care
- Sponsored and provided scholarships for medical interpreter training to enable local agencies to serve non-English speaking clients with dignity and quality communication
- Assisted local farmers and businesses in learning how to accept SNAP and WIC government subsidies so that people of all incomes can access these markets and have more choices of nutritious food
- Shared stories and images that shine light on the beauty and strength of at-risk individuals, avoiding reducing people to facts and statistics.
- How does dignity impact our work?
- What community partners and initiatives from the past and present exemplify the promotion of human dignity?
- What are indicators that an organization upholds the dignity of every person?
- What are the biggest threats to human dignity in our community today?
The information above was compiled by Meg Distler, Mary Tyndall, and Mark Burkholder as a student capstone project for the Catholic Social Tradition and Philanthropy course offered by the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, and the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) in the Summer of 2023.