The first Principle of Catholic Social Teaching is the Principle of Human Dignity which states that Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. The description of this principle is from an article by William J. Byron, (Ten Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching) which he culled from “Reflections of the U.S. Catholic Bishops.”
When we consider this principle and how poverty affects this most basic human right, it is important to look at the effect poverty has on a person’s human dignity and self respect. If we look at the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, the very first goal is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. The U.N. states that poverty is more than lack of income and resources. It also includes social discrimination and exclusion. How often do we see and experience how poverty can deny, either directly or indirectly, so many basic opportunities for an individual or family to enjoy and participate in what to most of us is normal everyday living?
Human Dignity is not something a person has to earn or deserve but rather it is a gift from God to everyone. If God felt human dignity should be shared with all human beings equally and was given freely with no requirement to pass a test, fill out a form or attain a certain level of education or financial standing, who are we to decide if anyone should be denied this right? All too often the lack of income and resources can lead to social discrimination and exclusion. If we believe in the human dignity of all, then as Catholics, should we not advocate for actions and systemic change that can lead to results which allow every human being to feel such dignity and self respect? Homelessness is the most obvious way to deny a person their entitlement to human dignity. Why then are our leaders in government and church not doing more? Why are we as Vincentian not doing more?
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.