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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Respect and Mercy

Life has a way of teaching me lessons.  Some people know stuff automatically (or at least that is how it seems to me) but not me - I always have to have some sort of experience, think about it for awhile and then have the light bulb go off like "OH that's what it means!".  There are times when it has to happen several times which has cost me friends and driven family members nuts but I have never claimed to be the genius of the group.

Sometimes those lessons happen over the years and suddenly, out of the blue, I have an entirely different way of looking at something.  I believe those are 'God Shots".  I go along, happily parroting what I have heard in a meeting or from a speaker or in a homily and then, one day, I think "Wait that doesn't make sense.  How long have I been saying that and how many other people have heard me say it and think it is true?".

Here's an example:  For the past almost 20 years or so I have often said that Respect is something one EARNS.  I have said it in meetings of my 12 step group and I have said it to people I am supervising at work.  I heard it once and it sounded true so I picked up this mantra an used it.

Respect is something one earns.

Sounds good - right?

Well, sure it does - I mean, why would you respect someone who does not behave well? It makes sense that respect should be earned....not just given away freely willy nilly....

Or is it?

The Catholic Church teaches:

1700 The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son1 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.

If I read this correctly, the respect due to a human being is due to them not because of themselves but because of their status as a creation of God.

If that is so, then no matter what the person does and not matter how the person debases themselves in the eyes of the world, that person is worthy of my respect simply because they ARE a person.

Of course, I still have a responsibility to behave as God would have me behave and to conform my conscious to the Will of God. But my failure to live a perfect life is not a reason to respect me or not respect me.  

As much as I would like to be the one who determines whether or not someone is respected, if I am going to try and walk this path the way God would have me walk it I have to be willing to see every person, even those I do not like, as a beautiful creature of God the Father - made in His image and His likeness and so worthy of my respect.

Maybe the problem many of us have is mixing up 'respect' with 'like'?

Maybe the sign of maturity in a human is being able to respect someone they don't like very much.

Either way, I need to let go of that phrase I used for so many years:  Respect is NOT earned.  

Respect is the birthright of any and all human persons.  Respect is given freely because Love is given freely.  Respect does not depend upon my particular affection for the human towards whom it is directed.

If I am going to try to be 'perfect' as my Heavenly Father is perfect then I am going to have to respect those I meet along the way for who and what they are - beautiful examples of creation.

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