Promoting Catholic Identity, Part 3: A Respect for Human Life

young people on service day collecting plastic bottles - © Leland BobbÈ/Corbis All rights reserved.

This is the third article in a series on the five characteristics of Catholic identity and how we can nurture those in our children.

We teach children to love and serve others, but do we ever explain why? Service is not just something nice to do; it is an important piece of our Catholic identity. We believe that every human life is sacred, because each person is created and loved by God. Therefore we are committed to upholding the dignity of every person, without distinction. This love of neighbor manifests itself in many different ways in our Catholic tradition.

Our relationship with God is the basis of our relationships with others. The Ten Commandments are not rules to avoid punishment; they are guides for preserving and strengthening our relationships. The first three commandments help us to grow in relationship with God; the last seven help us to grow in our relationships with others.

Within each of our relationships we practice virtues. The Theological Virtues (faith, hope, and charity) and the Cardinal Virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) direct our actions in a way that respects ourselves and others. If we follow the path of virtue, whenever we are faced with a decision or with a person in need, we will respond with love.

The Corporal Works of Mercy are a tradition based on Scripture, which guides us to put those virtues into concrete action. Because we recognize the dignity of the human person, we must care for our neighbors’ physical needs. We must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

However, actions that meet people’s immediate physical needs are not enough. Catholic Social Teaching helps us to look at unjust structures and attitudes that create the needs and suffering of others. We are committed to creating a just society in which the dignity of each person is respected. Catholic Social Teaching is organized into seven themes: Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; Solidarity; and Care for God’s Creation.

Here are some ideas to help the children in your program develop a sense of respect for all life based in Catholic tradition:

  • Look for service projects that benefit your local community. Help children understand that there are people in their own neighborhood and school who need their love and compassion.
  • When you are doing a service project, focus on the person: discuss who will benefit from the service project, how they may have ended up in their situation, and how we can encounter God in each person.
  • Do each of the Corporal Works of Mercy. For example, make sandwiches for those who are hungry; donate or make blankets for homeless shelters; hold a clothing drive or tie-dye clothing to donate; create care packages to send to the homebound of your parish; send rosaries, Bibles, or books to prisoners; walk through a nearby cemetery to pray for the dead.
  • Incorporate the virtues as part of your class, especially when dealing with behavioral issues or when setting up classroom rules. Point out opportunities to practice a particular virtue.
  • Encourage children to reflect upon the Ten Commandments as a way to prepare for Reconciliation.

How does your program teach children to respect life?

Read the first two articles in the series:
Promoting Catholic Identity, Part 1: A Sense of Sacramentality
Promoting Catholic Identity, Part 2: A Commitment to Community

About Darcy Osby 40 Articles
Darcy Osby is Director of Faith Formation at St. Aidan Parish in Pittsburgh, PA. She has been involved in a variety of parish catechetical programs for over 15 years and loves working in ministry professionally. Darcy holds bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and theology from Carlow University in Pittsburgh, as well as a Master of Divinity from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She and her husband enjoy exploring God’s creation through hiking, canoeing, and kayaking.

1 Comment on Promoting Catholic Identity, Part 3: A Respect for Human Life

  1. Darcy, you hit the key when you suggested that, when we do service, we should focus on the person and ask how we can encounter God in that person. Unless we do that, we are no different than public schools that require service of their students. They do it to form better citizens (which is, of course, a good thing). We do it to encounter Christ.

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