Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Every Human Being is a Person

One thing that we tend to think we've made great progress on in our culture is our respect for handicapped people, for people with disabilities, for people who are afflicted with conditions that put (sometimes severe) limitations on their capacities and activity even as they continue to live in our midst. We have developed many ways in our society to accommodate these people, and make it possible for them to be as self-sufficient in many ways. We are even beginning to develop sensitivity and empathy for those who suffer from mental disabilities. Nevertheless, something is still missing. In a sense, the most important thing is missing.

We need to grow in our hearts so as to be able to accept people with these conditions as persons and to love them in such a way that we are truly willing to put ourselves at risk. We are far from being able to do this in a really humble way.

I am not talking about my own problems here, which are mostly invisible to others, and therefore do not pose quite such a vivid challenge to them when they encounter me. People who are quite obviously hindered, however, and who struggle openly with the constraints that life has imposed upon them have a difficult time finding acceptance.

Many of us make an effort to be very kind and helpful toward these people, but we tend to withdraw from them in many subtle ways, as if we need to draw lines of protection around ourselves and put them on their own private island, separate from the rest of the "normal" human race. I think it's natural for humans to feel fear and want to distance ourselves from a person who is not "fully equipped" as a human being, perhaps because it reminds us of our own radical lack of control over life–ultimately our own mortality.

The result, however, is that these people suffer from a terrible kind of loneliness and a sense of "I don't belong."

We need not condemn ourselves for what is a half-instinctive reflex of the natural tendency of self-preservation. But we must pray for the grace to overcome it. If we are to discover a faith in Christ that is going to penetrate our personal and social relationships, we need to find and live–on a level more profound than our society has yet seen–a reverence for the poor in our midst.

This is accomplished by that asceticism which looks at every human being, whatever their condition, and sees the person, primarily and decisively. Every human being is a person. The perception of this must be continually reaffirmed in our awareness, and we must look at every other aspect of the person’s condition as part of God’s particular plan for their destiny in His image and likeness, and focus our love on the service of this destiny–the service of the person.

We are all poor, we are all "disabled" in different ways. We need to look at each other and see the person who is made for God. We must help each other to live according to God's will, with humility.