All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
–Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
At the heart of our very nature as human beings is a dignity unparalleled; a dignity that is equal and inalienable. And yet, on personal, social and systemic levels, again and again, we degrade, attack and appropriate the dignity of others, often to bolster our own sense of humanness with a false sense of how powerful we are.
The season of Lent is a season of reflection. This year, we hope to come together around our collective sins against human dignity. In order to flourish as an entire human community, we must truly, deeply, and personally seek to protect and honor the dignity of each and everyone, especially the most vulnerable. This is value is at the heart of our Jesuit tradition, and we hope at the heart of our life here on this campus.
Just like any journey, the journey towards a completely just world, where all people are afforded the same human rights, where all people have a sense of self and purpose that allows them to flourish in community, where the first, the last and everyone in between know the same dignity, the journey towards this world, starts with a small step. Rung by rung, we climb towards practicing these ideals, each step depending on the last.
All round us, we are asked, step by step, to climb—towards greater social standing, towards a career of distinction, towards wealth and prosperity for ourselves—but what good is derived from these journeys? Can we replace the ladders that require us to step on the backs of others with ladders that lift all of us up at the same time? Can we seek a different way of climbing, perhaps one that even requires us to descend before we can ascend? How will our climb honor the spirit of the dignity of the entire human race? Jacob’s ladder gave him access to the Divine; perhaps our ladder can allow us to access the Divine by building up the dignity of each and every one in our communities.
We hope, this Lent, to take some small steps up that ladder—to reflect on our social sins and the structures that suppress human dignity together, to encourage advocacy and movements that promote the human rights of all, to change the way we see the world so that we can change the world itself.
Image of Jacob’s Ladder from the St. John’s Bible, a Heritage edition including this image is currently on loan to the Xavier libraries.
Abby King-Kaiser works in the CFJ on Ecumenical and Multi-faith ministry. She is thrilled that Mumford & Sons won a Grammy. For a long time, she has had an outsider complex that made her think she only liked unpopular music. She is also inordinately fascinated with the St. John’s Bible and had to be careful not the drool on Xavier’s loaner volume.