The recent canonization of Saint Margaret of Castello is a time of hope and inspiration for people around the world, but it has local significance here in Columbus, where the parish of Saint Patrick has long housed the shrine of Saint Margaret visited. by people nearby and from all over the country.
Born with serious physical problems – including, but not limited to blindness and delayed growth and physical development – Margaret suffered terrible rejection from her own family, even to the point where her own parents left her to pray in a shrine in Castello, Italy, never to return. her.
Left alone in a cruel society, Margaret became a source of strength and hope for many in her vocation as a Dominican sister. His power to transform lives went far beyond what one would expect of his physical stature, especially in the 14th century.
Margaret, now Saint Margaret, teaches us that the core of human dignity is not based on family status, physical appearance or strength. It is not granted by any government or organization. Rather, it is granted to each of us by God who created us.
The first pages of Judeo-Christian scriptures plunge us into the heart of human dignity. “God created man in his own image; in the divine image he created it; male and female he created them ”(Genesis 1:27). What distinguishes the human person from all creation is being created in the very image and likeness of God.
Therefore, I need to look into the eyes of every individual I meet and see deep down into the image and likeness of God. You could call it the spark of divine fire. This is an extraordinary statement and as such informs all moral teaching, public witness and social service for the church in every age. Each person, created in the image and likeness of God, is invaluable and deserves deep respect. Such respect is deeper and more demanding than tolerance. It is rooted in truth and dignity.
This reality forms the foundation for the Church’s defense of human life at its most vulnerable stage, its very beginning. The Church witnesses to the inviolable dignity of human life at every stage, from its conception to its natural end. The church’s pro-life position forms a foundation that frames all other moral positions.
This approach to human dignity requires an absolute rejection of racism, anti-Semitism and any prejudice based on ethnicity or religion. I cannot speak of current theories on racial justice except to say that the Catholic approach will always be built on human dignity.
Likewise, the recognition of human dignity leaves no room for violence, oppression, human trafficking and other crimes against human life. It must inform the teaching of the Church on the human person, marriage and the family, immigration, violence in our community, capital punishment, care for the poor, the environment, respect for those who protect and serve us, the way we talk to and about each other, and now even our response to a global pandemic.
These are not isolated problems but rather applications of the truth of human dignity. This witnessing sometimes means going against the grain of thought systems that change with each generation, instead of rooting in eternal truths. It means a commitment to difficult truths. It means patiently walking with each person, meeting them where they are at a particular time while lovingly speaking the truth. Indeed, people of good will may not agree on tactics, but the principle of the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God must be at the core.
Granted, the sad reality is that we don’t always hit the mark, do we? Institutionally, the church, like any community and organization, often needs to examine its collective conscience, be honest about history, and press ahead with reform. It is not about rejecting the past but rather seeking mercy and learning from mistakes.
At the same time, as individuals, none of us are perfect. I must always admit my failures, confess my sins and seek mercy. Repentance and mercy involve new beginnings and the resolve to move forward in the truth and love of God.
I look forward to visiting St. Patrick’s Day in Columbus soon to celebrate our newly appointed saint and pray at the shrine. Saint Margaret teaches me – in fact she teaches us all – that God can accomplish important things through each of us and thus open our eyes with astonishment to the image of God all around us in what Pope Francis calls “The saints next door.”
Most Reverend Robert Brennan is the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus.
Keeping the Faith is a column presenting the perspectives of a variety of religious leaders in the Columbus area.