February 16, 2018


Finding healing, hope in the person of Jesus Christ

There’s a lot of brokenness in our world. Many people are frightened or disillusioned by events on the world stage—and even closer, by the serious problems facing our nation, our state and our local communities.

The list is long: abortion and end‑of‑life issues, racism, poverty, sexual abuse, inadequate (or non‑existent) health care, drug addiction, gun violence, irrational fear of immigrants (nativism), intolerance in many different forms, and more.

All are offenses against human dignity and basic civil rights. All demand that Christians, and all people of good will, stand up and respond to the injustice and inequality experienced by far too many of our sisters and brothers throughout the world and here at home.

All of these issues—and the demand for meaningful responses—confronted the American bishops during their annual fall meeting in Baltimore last November. As the bishops discussed each issue, it became increasingly clear that the Church’s view of all these challenging problems is shaped by its understanding of the human person (Christian anthropology), and of the role that society should play in ensuring human rights and dignity (Catholic social teaching).

Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson listened carefully to the presentations and discussions on all these issues. He took notes and began to organize his thinking on these challenging matters. During the meeting, even as the discussions were taking place, he conceived the idea of some form of pastoral letter which would allow him to share his thoughts with the people of central and southern Indiana.

In the weeks and months following the bishops’ meeting, this message took shape, undergoing several different drafts. The archbishop asked several other Church leaders to review his message and offer suggestions. Adjustments were made, and in just two months, Archbishop Thompson’s message was ready to be shared.

The result is: We Are One in Christ: A Pastoral Letter To the Clergy, Religious and Faithful People of Central and Southern Indiana On Fundamentals of Christian Anthropology. It’s a powerful message that makes the Church’s teaching perfectly clear.

“I take this opportunity to share some fundamental principles of Christian anthropology and Catholic social teaching that should be taken into consideration when responding to critical social issues,” Archbishop Thompson writes. Using the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Indiana bishops’ 2015 pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana,” as his primary references, the archbishop briefly explains how all of the critical social issues we face today can be addressed by an appreciation for the dignity of the human person as revealed by Jesus Christ and by a reverence for all God’s creation.

According to “We Are One in Christ”: The first key principle of Catholic social teaching is respect for the dignity of each and every human person—regardless of race, sex, nationality, economic or social status, educational background, political affiliation or sexual orientation—as created in the image and likeness of God. All are equal in dignity. No one is “better” than anyone else. All deserve respect. All share basic human rights. No one is exempt from the responsibility to support and assist fellow human beings—whether they are from the same family/community or they are strangers who are foreign to us in some way. Every human person, as created in the image of God, is a member of God’s family. For Christians, this also means that we are sisters and brothers of Christ and each other.

Archbishop Thompson’s letter concludes that all offenses against individuals and peoples stem from the same fundamental misunderstanding. Once again, “No one is ‘better’ than anyone else. All deserve respect. All share basic human rights.” In fact, as the pastoral letter makes clear:

All sins against the dignity of persons, including the taking of a human life, rape, racism, sexism, nativism and homophobia, are violations of this fundamental principle. We can (and sometimes must) disapprove of the behavior of others, but we may never belittle, disrespect or abuse others simply because of our differences, no matter how serious.

Intolerance and the abuse of persons and their God-given rights are manifestations of evil, including the sins of individuals and of society. All are the work of the Evil One, who strives to scatter what God has gathered and to divide what God has united through the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Lent, let’s take the opportunity to read, discuss and pray about the issues that Archbishop Thompson raises in “We Are One in Christ.”

Let’s also keep in mind the advice given recently by Pope Francis to all who long for peace in our world. “While prayer is always an effective resolution, more can be done,” he said, explaining that each person “can concretely say no to violence to the extent that it depends on him or herself. Because victories obtained with violence are false victories, while working for peace does good for all!”

—Daniel Conway

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