Like Jesus, recognize dignity of every person


With all the to-do surrounding the April 8 total eclipse of the sun, what went unnoticed by most people was two other occurrences from that day.

The first was the Church’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord – the day on which the angel Gabriel informed our Blessed Mother that she was to be the mother of Jesus. Normally this feast is celebrated on March 25, but when that date falls during Holy Week, as it did this year, it is transferred to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter.

The second occurrence was the release of Pope Francis’ “Declaration on Human Dignity” which was prepared by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Our Holy Father approved publication of the document on March 25.

We have this beautiful coincidence of heavenly bodies – the moon eclipsing the sun, and the commemoration of a most important event in salvation history when “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1) learns she is to be the mother of our Lord.

In each, we see God’s work. The eclipse, a phenomenon studied, analyzed and explained by the scientific community, is possible only because of the God who created the sun, moon, heaven and Earth. He also created each of us in his image (Gen 1:27). In observing the Solemnity of the Annunciation, we celebrate our Lord taking on flesh. His Incarnation is tangible evidence of the infinite dignity of human life that God has given us.

Referencing the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution in the Modern World” (“Gaudium et Spes”), Pope Francis stated, “By uniting himself with every human being through his Incarnation, Jesus Christ confirmed that each person possesses an immeasurable dignity simply by belonging to the human community [Emphasis added]; moreover, he affirmed that this dignity can never be lost.”

Our Holy Father continued, “By proclaiming that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the humble, the despised, and those who suffer in body and spirit; by healing all sorts of illnesses and infirmities, even the most dramatic ones, such as leprosy; by affirming that whatever is done to these individuals is also done to him because he is present in them: in all these ways, Jesus brought the great novelty of recognizing the dignity of every person, especially those who were considered ‘unworthy.’”

In noting what he terms “grave violations of human dignity,” Pope Francis reiterates fundamentals of Catholic Social Teaching, i.e., addressing poverty and war, as well as highlighting several that are relatively new among the social concerns that occupy our attention in the present age, e.g., challenges for migrants, human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence against women, surrogacy, euthanasia and assisted suicide, marginalization of those with disabilities, gender theory, sex change and digital violence.

Singular events like an eclipse of the sun are times to pause, marvel at, experience and celebrate another part of God’s creation, but they are fleeting. However, the presence of the human person and the dignity God has bestowed upon each of us is not. Sadly, as the “Declaration on Human Dignity” notes, our understanding of human dignity is “not without shadows and risks of regression.”

During this month devoted to our Blessed Mother, let us ask for her help in what Pope Francis terms “the arduous journey of advancing human dignity.” Let us renew our commitment to respect and nurture the lives of all.


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