Catholic Values Column: Dignified Accidents


“I’ve got news for you: you were all accidents.”

Can you imagine the effect this would have on the room full of 13-year-old students, listening to the teacher they respected and trying to figure out how they fit into the world? Probably many of you can, because you’ve had a similar experience. I can certainly imagine, considering I was one of those 13-year-olds listening to my teacher’s every word.

Ironically, this wasn’t even in a science class. This was in my Georgia history class, and I could not tell you how it related to Georgia or history. I don’t remember anything else she said that day, but those words have stuck in my memory like syrup stuck in hair, and it was just about as unpleasant, too.

Accidents. Byproducts. Our parents didn’t really want us. But then why do they love us? Is it all an act, just a natural byproduct of the nudging of responsibility? But Mom always said she wanted kids. Was she lying to me?

My heart screamed in rejection to the lies of this world that were being proclaimed casually by that history teacher, but my ears listened still. I was too young then to have words to combat those lies, so I sat dejected and conflicted in silence. I did not say a word to anyone about the confusion I felt that day.

Now looking back from a safe distance, I have the words: human dignity. That was the concept that my teacher and the rest of the world so often missed. “Gaudium et spes,” the encyclical from the second Vatican Council, explains that man’s dignity comes from the fact that he is created in his own Creator’s image and is called to communion with Him from the moment he first exists. How things would have been different had I been taught this in school instead.

I went to hear Daniel Mattson’s talk in the Gift of Human Sexuality Symposium, titled “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay.” In the question-and-answer session afterwards, he expanded on this, saying that titling himself “gay” is too limiting. We are sons and daughters of God, and any title less than that does not do justice to God’s creation. God doesn’t care what the world calls you; He is calling us to Himself. That is what He sees, not some title created by the world but the title created by the great Creator Himself.

I liked how Graham Greene discussed human dignity in his novel, “The Power and the Glory.” The main character was a nameless priest with many sins in his past. While he struggled with his own unworthiness, he still had hope for the people he met, and he often titled them “God’s image.”

This is how we, the Catholic community, ought to look at people, because if we can’t do this, we cannot expect anyone outside of the Church to do it for us. How many times have you looked at someone and thought, “That is the image of God right there”? My guess is not many times. I’ve had this thought once in my life, when I saw a baby in Church that had to be only a couple weeks old. But aside from that, I don’t look at people as the image of God. I see my friend, my classmate, my cousin, my mentor-figure and so many others, but I never think of them as God’s image.

When I pass someone I do not like, does my mind turn to the image of God? No, it goes to a memory of why I don’t like that person or how he or she hurt me. Maybe you all reading this have never had this happen. If so, all power to you. As for me, I am very bad about judging people based on my pre-conceived opinions of them.

This is something that I need to work on, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s all about changing the way we think. If we start seeing people as God’s image, everything changes. This does not mean we have to like everyone because that probably won’t happen. But if you start seeing just an ounce of God in a person, it will be hard not to have compassion for them.

If we change the way we think about people, it will ultimately change the way we act, even if only in small measures, like meeting the eyes of people who have hurt us without feeling resentment. Once we understand that in ourselves, we can spread that change to the rest of the world.