Accepting the Dignity of the Human Person
Friday December 19, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a) Gospel (St. Luke 1:5-25)
In both of the readings today, we hear about the angel of the Lord coming to appear to people, to the wife of Manoah in the first reading, and to Zechariah in the second reading. The angel tells both of these parents similar things: both are to bear a son; both are to be consecrated to God from the womb; both are, in essence, to be Nazorites, that is, they are not to drink wine or strong drink. But the important thing also for us in our day is to recognize that both of these babies are consecrated to God even in the wombs of their mothers.
And so in our society – which wants to suggest that a baby is not a human being – we have to ask some very simple questions. How would one explain what the angel of God said with regard to Samson, with regard to John the Baptist? Beyond that, what would we say about Jesus? Are we going to suggest, as some non-Catholics would, that Jesus was not God until after He was born? That is heresy, flat-rank heresy. Jesus is God from all eternity. He cannot change. He did not become God at some point, but rather the Person Whom Mary conceived in her womb is God; and from the very first moment of His conception, the fullness of the Godhead dwelled within Him. He is God Who took on our human nature, not the other way around. He is not a human being who became God (that is the heresy of adoptionism), but rather from the very first moment of his human existence the fullness of the deity dwelled within Him. He is a divine person. John the Baptist, before he was even conceived, it was told of him that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, because Original Sin was removed from his soul at the moment that Our Lady came to visit Elizabeth and John the Baptist leapt in the womb of his mother. Yet, in our society, we would say that he is not yet human and therefore it would be okay to destroy his life. The same was told of Samson, that he was consecrated to God from his mother’s womb and that he would begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. Yet our society would say that it would not be for another nine or ten months before we would even recognize that he is human.
So we need to see the difference of our skewed and sinful way of looking at things. Our society is given over to Satan and therefore is doing the work of Satan, and part of the work of Satan is to deny the dignity of the human person; it is to deny the dignity of the person from the beginning of life and it is to destroy the dignity of the person even from the womb so that when a person is born they do not recognize their dignity, they do not accept their dignity, and they live their life in such a way that they refuse to believe the dignity that God has given to them – because if a baby is not a person in the womb then we also, each one of us, is stripped of our personhood outside of the womb. If it is okay to kill babies and if it is okay to kill old people and if it is okay to kill crippled and handicapped people because somehow they are less than human, then so are we because all of us are equal in the sight of God. In fact, the ones who are most loved by God, I suspect, are going to be the babies, the elderly, and the handicapped. If that is the case, then their lives have in a certain way a greater dignity in the sight of God than even ours would. Yet the devil has twisted it around to say that somehow these are the less dignified human beings, and they are stripped of personhood so that they can be destroyed. What does that say of ourselves?
When we look at the way that we treat our own selves in this society, it is in a way that violates human dignity on a regular basis, one sin heaped upon another that we do to our own selves. All of the rampant impurity, the contraception, the drugs, the drunkenness, the mutilation, body piercing, tattoos, we could go on and on and on, all of these are attacks that the devil has leveled against us as human persons. And when we stop to think about what that really means, we realize that in our society the devil does not really even have to try. He has succeeded so entirely in convincing us that we do not have dignity, that we are not consecrated to God somehow, that we are the devil’s trash and we are not persons with dignity before God, that we do his work for him. If we are going to go out and attack our own selves by doing these willfully sinful things, the devil does not even have to try! He is sitting back with his feet up on his desk enjoying every minute of it because he does not even have to work to drag souls down to hell in our society – we are willfully choosing it – and we are running as fast as we can, for some odd reason, to join Satan in eternity. It makes no sense.
So what we need to do is, first of all, begin by looking at the truth as God has presented it, which is the fullness of truth, that truth which is guarded and presented to us by the Church; and we need to apply it to ourselves, to little babies in the womb, to the elderly lying in bed, to the sick, to the handicapped, to any person in any situation. We need to recognize the dignity of the human person. If we do not, then by logic we have to then deny the dignity of Jesus Christ, we have to deny the humanity of Christ, and we have also to deny the divinity of Christ, because we would have to say that He was not a person from the womb. And if He was not a person in the womb then He is not a person outside of the womb because Jesus is not and never was a human person, but He is a divine person. And since it is heresy to say that He was born as a human person and became a divine person then we would have to say that He never was a person. We would have to say the same of John the Baptist, the same of Samson, and the same of every other baby who has ever been born, including each one of us. That, of course, is what Satan has succeeded in doing.
We need, on the other hand, to recognize the truth and to begin to live the truth, and not to be compromising in any way, shape, or form; not to play the Planned Parenthood game of saying, “You don’t force your opinion on me, and I won’t force my opinion on you,” because the truth is not an opinion. An opinion is when you just have a certain position on something that may or may not be true. When it is not an objective truth but rather just your subjective position then that is one opinion pitted against another. This is an objective truth which is true for everyone in every culture, in every time, in every society throughout human history. It will not and it cannot change. It is not an opinion – it is objective truth. It is time that we stop playing games with Satan and with his minions who do not want to accept the truth and have caused confusion and chaos, not only in the minds and the hearts of the people, but flowing from there into all of society. The effects of it are painfully evident in the lives of each and every one of us because none of us is immune from what has happened.
The only hope is, first of all, to go before the Lord and recognize Who He is. After we recognize Who He is then we have to recognize who we are individually as persons made in the image and likeness of God. And when we can recognize that, then, and only then, can we recognize the dignity of every other person because each of us is created equal in the image and likeness of God. Then it does not matter what a person looks like, what the color of their skin might be, what condition their body is in, or anything else that we might want to place upon them. Each of us is equal. If they are not persons then we are not persons. If they do not have dignity then we do not have dignity. And if we reject all of those things, then we have to reject Jesus Christ because it is in His image and likeness that we are created.
You see where the logic all works together. We have to see where the lie of Satan is and reject it, and we need to accept and embrace the truth. That truth again, as we pointed out a couple of days ago, is a Person. To reject the truth is to reject Jesus Christ, and the effect of that is painfully obvious. So as we see what the angel revealed to the wife of Manoah, what he revealed to Zechariah, what he revealed to Mary and to Joseph, by extension he is revealing the truth about each one of us to our own selves. It is time that we accept and embrace the fullness of God’s truth.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.