“The Glory of God is man fully alive”

Saint Irenaeus, a great theologian of the Church in the second century, wrote, “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” This idea captures the essence of God who is not a distant impersonal God while also describing the dignity of the human person and God’s wish that each one of us lives our life to its fullest capacity.

God is a personal God, a God of knowledge and love who is eternal, entirely distinct from all he chose to make. He created freely, out of love. In his generosity God freely willed that what had not been should be, and thereby taste the blessing of existence. Some creatures – human beings – he made to share even in the glory of being free and called as persons to share the boundless richness of his own life. In this way, every human is made in the image and likeness of God and endowed with an inherent dignity that can never be lost.

Last month at the Synod of Bishops in Rome, we talked about the importance of Christian families as the protectors and defenders of human dignity. We talked about the family as a “school of love” that prepares our young to embrace life in all of its diversity. Now this weekend in the archdiocese we have two events that call us to an ever deeper appreciation of the dignity of every person and the voice the Church can have in promoting a culture of encounter and inclusion.

Today, catechists from around the archdiocese will join me for Catechetical Day, which this year is focusing on the many ways we are called to safeguard the dignity of every human life. In dozens of workshops at this bilingual gathering, participants will learn more about initiatives to protect the unborn and elderly, support marriage and family, encourage chastity and address the growing problem of pornography, better include those with cognitive and physical limitations in the life of faith, promote Catholic social doctrine in the community, and build up a culture of mercy and solidarity.

These issues – some of our culture’s most challenging – are an opportunity for us to be messengers of God’s love and compassion. In raising our voices together we become a voice for the most vulnerable and, in the Church, a place of welcome for all who seek to be fully alive in the embrace of God’s love.

Tomorrow morning at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, the embrace of God’s love will be reflected in our archdiocesan celebration of the White Mass, an outreach of our Department of Special Needs Ministry. This annual Eucharist bears witness that we are each a sign of the glory of God, whatever our personal abilities or inabilities. Specially highlighting how those of us who are cognitively or physically challenged, deaf or blind are called to live and share with others the love of the Gospel, the liturgy is a beautiful expression of that culture of inclusion that values everyone in the life of the Church and society, at home and the parish, at school and work.

The White Mass also highlights how adaptations can be made to foster fuller participation in sacramental life by, for example, utilizing American Sign Language during the liturgy, making accommodations so that a person using a wheelchair is able to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, or creating easier access to aisles for families with children who need extra space for movement. Beyond the celebration of the Mass, we want to celebrate the dignity of all our sisters and brothers across the whole of parish life.

The promotion and protection of the dignity of the human person is at the heart of the Church’s teachings and ministry. Exalted or lowly, God our Creator looks at each of us, the work of his hands, and proclaims us to be “very good” (cf. Genesis 1:31). Thus, whether it is at the Synod of Bishops or the White Mass, in our parishes or in our homes, in our workplaces or communities, we want to lift up for all every woman and man, boy and girl as the great gift that each of us are.