HOMILY for the 16th Sat (II)
Much is put forward in the name of human rights, and it would seem that we live in a world, which, as Blessed John Paul II says, has “a growing moral sensitivity, more alert to acknowledging the value and dignity of every individual as a human being, without any distinction of race, nationality, religion, political opinion or social class”. But while much is said and done about human rights and human dignity, some of the so-called rights being asserted in the name of humanity fail to take care of what is truly fundamental.
For the dignity due to Man, the reason individual human beings have inherent rights at all, is because of who Man is. Man is made in the image and likeness of God, and so he is capable of knowing and loving God, and by Christ’s grace, of being elevated to friendship with God. It is this relationship with the Creator that gives Man an inherent dignity, so that we human beings become temples of the Holy Spirit. Man is a “temple of the Lord”. So, when there is so much talk of human rights these days, it is as if one were saying: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer 7:4).
But, as Jeremiah says, these words become “deceptive” if we do not behave accordingly; if we do not act and put forward laws that underline the dignity of every human person, especially the weakest and voiceless in society. Jeremiah’s words challenge us to consider: is our society just to the stranger and refugee, to those so-called “aliens” at our borders? Do we respect our elderly – the “fatherless and the widow” – and love and care for them with real compassion and dignity until their natural death? Is ours a society that condones the shedding of “innocent blood”, the most innocent of all being the unborn child?
For among the good seed of genuine human rights are so many other contradictory positions, so many weeds, that have also been sown. As John Paul II says, this situation “is still more distressing, indeed more scandalous, precisely because it is occurring in a society which makes the affirmation and protection of human rights its primary objective and its boast”. But without protecting the most fundamental of all human rights, which is the right to life, then all other rights are endangered because rights are no longer due to Man because of his inherent dignity as a child of God. Rather, they are granted by the will of the State. Thus governments today are increasingly caught up in social trends that masquerade as human rights. But these are less the rights of common humanity, as such, and more just the political muscle of some sectors of humanity: the powerful, influential, and politically savvy.
The result is that, as Jeremiah says, “you trust in deceptive words to no avail”, for we are made to believe we are building a more just society, but in fact we can’t really progress as a civilization because the most fundamental human right to life, justice to our most vulnerable, has been trodden underfoot. If so, then, as John Paul II says: “rather than societies of “people living together”, our cities risk becoming societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted and oppressed”. For such is the harvest that injustice reaps.
But until that time of harvest, it seems the Lord will not intervene to uproot this injustice. Rather, he leaves it to us, in co-operation with his grace, to bring order and justice to our world. So, let us pray and work for the common good so that we may reap a harvest of true justice and lasting peace for the genuine flourishing of all human persons.