A Sermon on Human Dignity by Cardinal Gibbons, 1908

IN this epistle St. Paul briefly points out to us our exalted dignity as Christians. He tells us that in being incorporated in the Christian family we become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and joint heirs with Him in the eternal kingdom. To form some idea of what we are, let us reflect for a moment on what we were. To appreciate the lofty heights of dignity we have reached, let us consider the depths of degradation from which we have been rescued. The mark of Cain was stamped on our guilty foreheads; we groaned under the malediction denounced against our first parents. We were without God in this world, and without the hope of Him in the world to come. We were outlawed from our Father s kingdom. Our crimes had made slaves of us. We groaned under worse than Egyptian bondage, because the chains were riveted to our souls. Such was our condition, or rather such would have been our condition had no Redeemer come to ransom us. But “when the fulness of time was come, God sent His Son, made of woman, that He might re deem us, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Thus, by one stroke of Divine clemency, a threefold blessing is conferred upon us ; our guilt is removed; the chains of slavery are stricken from our feet ; and we are adopted into the family of God, to enjoy the glorious liberty of children of God. “Behold,” cries out St. John, “what manner of charity the Father hath for us, that we should be, and should be called the children of God. Dearly beloved,” he continues, “we are now the children of God, and when He will appear, we shall be like unto Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”

St. Augustine in his “City of God,” says that many rulers and heroes of Pagan antiquity desired to impress upon their subjects, as well as upon themselves, the conviction that they were descended from the gods, so that they might command the esteem and admiration of the people, and that the consciousness of their divine origin might stimulate them to heroic deeds. Thus Alexander the Great, Scipio, Romulus and Caesar were popularly regarded as the offspring of the gods.
But while their titles were false, we can, with truth and justice, lay claim to the title of children, not indeed of heathen gods, but of the one, true and living God. When the world tempts us, when passions assail us, let us spurn the tempter, and say: I am a son of God. I was born for greater things. I am destined for Heaven. I will not be the slave of sin. Let this thought inspire us to heroic deeds.

But to crown your dignity and glory, Jesus is gone to prepare a place for you in Heaven. Imagine the joy of the sons of Jacob when, after they were threatened with famine in their own country, they went to Egypt, and there found their brother Joseph, second in rank in the king dom. They had sold their brother; they had sought to kill him, but he forgave them; he received them with open arms, and invited them to come and share in his riches and power.
Ah ! my brethren, like Judas we have sold Jesus, not for thirty pieces of silver, but for the gratification of some base passion. Nay, we have crucified Him by our infidelity. He not only forgives us, but He invites us to His kingdom in Heaven, to share those blessings of which He is the Dispenser: “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you also may be.” 1 I. John ii.

What dignity can be compared to this? You will hear persons boasting of their ancestry. They will glory in being the descendants of kings, and emperors, and illustrious men. But how much more honorable is it for you to claim as your kindred and brethren the Patriarchs and Prophets, the Apostles and martyrs, the confessors and virgins of the Church ! How much more glorious for you to have, with the Saints, one common Father who is God, one mother, the Church, the same Brother, Jesus Christ, to have with them one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all! To sum up: In being worthy Christians, you become children of God, brothers of Christ, temples of the Holy Ghost. Our Lord is your advocate in Heaven. He is the Herald that will usher you into His kingdom, and you claim as your spiritual kindred those illustrious men and women who have reflected honor on our common humanity.

James Cardinal Gibbons, Discourses and Sermons for Every Sunday and the Principal Festivals of the Year (Baltimore: John Murphy Company, 1908), 367-370. 

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