When Was the Last Time You Showed Respect Toward the ‘Least’ Among Us?

The faithful can never overlook the importance of human dignity

God created every soul on the planet today. They were all created in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), and He loves all of them with paternal and even maternal love.

Would a mom and dad ever say that one of their children has more inherent “dignity” than any other, regardless of their accomplishments? Unfortunately, many people in the world today judge others by zip code, financial status, popularity or prestige, physical beauty, color of skin or religion, and so much more.

The focus is not so much on their deepest identity, on “who they are,” but rather on “what they do” or “what they look like.”

Let’s start with the homeless. St. Mother Teresa reminds us, “I will never tire of repeating this: What the poor need the most is not pity but love. They need to feel respect for their human dignity, which is neither less nor different from the dignity of any other human being.”

So many help in soup kitchens, offer food and money and clothing to those on the streets — all really good things, to be sure. But how many people ask for their name, look them in the eye with a caring heart, offer to pray for them, and remind them how much God loves them?

When one reads the Gospels, it is beautiful to see the extreme tenderness of Christ Himself toward the lepers (Matthew 10:8), the man born blind (John 9: 1-12), Mary Magdalene, a prostitute (John 20: 11-18), the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5: 1-20), the Samaritan woman by the well (John 4: 4-26), and so many more examples, most of which are not even recorded in Scripture.

He came to show us the way to holiness — and most of His life was spent reaching out to those who were most in need of His love and healing.

God is counting on us to make this fundamental truth known and respected, mostly by the way we treat each individual who comes into our lives.

Favoritism within a family is always a risk, and it can happen in subtle and almost unperceivable ways.

The report card that is hung up on the refrigerator, the Facebook post of a son scoring a touchdown or getting into an Ivy League university, offhand comments about how pretty or handsome one of the children is, a focused glance of admiration or pleasure at the dinner table toward one child but not others — all of this can and does happen in families.

In and of itself, none of the above-mentioned actions or situations is sinful; it’s more about how the unmentioned siblings feel when a brother or sister is often lavished with praise and adulation.

Then you have the service community: janitors, waiters, busboys, valet parkers, shoe shiners, dishwashers, fast-food employees, caddies at golf courses, construction workers, street cleaners, receptionists and more. How often does this hidden army of helpers get a shout-out or a kind word from the millions of people who benefit from their services?

It is always impressive to be with a member of a country club who knows the caddies’ names, who has a kind word for the person who cleans the shoes in the locker room, who knows something about the waitress or waiters in the grill, and shows he or she cares by asking how the family is doing or how a particular issue is coming along.

These members are successful and accomplished people, by the world’s standards, who go out of their way to lift up and remind those serving them that they, too, are important and worthy of respect and consideration.

St. John Paul II reminds us, “Human persons are willed by God; they are imprinted with God’s image. Their dignity does not come from the work they do, but from the persons they are.”

God is counting on us to make this fundamental truth known and respected, mostly by the way we treat each individual who comes into our lives.

People notice, and this is how culture begins to change.

Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in the New York City area and an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group.