Last night I gave a talk at St. Thomas More Catholic Church here in the Twin Cities on Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. I wondered whether the bitter cold would keep many people from venturing out (had I not been the speaker, I know I would have been tempted to stay home), but we had a great turnout
My talk was divided into two parts. First, I highlighted certain aspects of the document that are a reflection of Pope Francis’ Ignatian Spirituality (particularly appropriate for this audience, since ST. Thomas More is a Jesuit parish). Second, I focused on ways in which the document builds on some of the fundamental principles of Catholic Social Thought. After each segment, I gave the audience time to reflect on several questions I gave them. After the second reflection period, I gave some time for some small group sharing about insights a challenges after which I opened it up for question and answer and discussion.
When I talked about how the Exhortation expounds on some of the central principles of the Church’s social teachings, I began with a discussion of the principle of human dignity – hardly surprising, since the entirety of the Church’s social doctrine begins with the recognition of the inviolable dignity of the human person.
It is generally stated that the basis for asserting the dignity of the human person is the belief that each human being is created in the image of God and that in every person there exists “the living image of God.” Pope Francis expresses that in an even more basic and clear way, saying, effectively, that one cannot say one believes in the Father or the Son without accepting the dignity of the human person. He writes:
To believe in a Father who loves all men and women with an infinite love means realizing that “he thereby confers upon them an infinite dignity.” To believe that the Son of God assumed our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God. To believe that Jesus shed his blood for us removes any doubt about the boundless love which ennobles each human being.
“No one,” he tells us, “can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love.
I think this is something we need to deeply appreciate. We often treat “I believe in God,” as no more than a simple factual assertion of God’s existence. But Pope Francis reminds us that saying “I believe in God” is an acknowledgment of something having to do with God and each other. When we say “I believe in God,” we are not just mouthing words about the existence of a God, but professing belief in something that has real consequences for how we live our lives.
Update: My talk has now been uploaded on youtube. Here it is: