Catholics usually begin our prayers with the Sign of the Cross. Many of us do this automatically that we think about the deep reality it signifies: our belief that God is a life-giving family. We believe that God is one yet three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our first glimpse into that mystery is found at the beginning of the book of Genesis, when God creates humanity, saying: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26-27). That verse doesn’t just teach us about God, it also teaches us about what it means to be human: “Since man is God’s ‘image,’ in a certain way he reflects God, who in His depths is not alone but triune (and thus life, love, dialogue, and exchange)” (YouCat 321).
We are made to be in community. We experience this from the earliest moments of our lives, as we are born into a family of some sort. As we grow, our community grows to include others in our neighborhoods, schools, and parishes who help us discover the world around us. The relationships we forge are something to be treasured: “There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his excellence” (Sirach 6:15).
But the human community in which we live goes beyond those for whom we feel love and affection. We also have a duty to care for those outside of our friends and our family: “All men are equal in God’s sight insofar as all have the same Creator, all were created in the same image of God with a rational soul, and all have the same redeemer” (YouCat 330). Jesus couldn’t be clearer on this point. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is meant to stretch our definition of neighbor beyond those we find it easy to love. When He teaches on the last judgment, Jesus places our care for others as one of the criteria by which we are to be judged: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
To put it simply, to care for the needs of others is not an optional part of the Christian life. If we have a relationship with Jesus, we are also called to do something to better the world around us. Bishop Robert Barron says that “No one in the Bible is ever given an experience of God without being sent on a mission to do the work of God.” This can be as simple to the contributions people make to worthy causes like cancer research or Goodwill, taking time to donate blood, or volunteering with some community group. It can include efforts to promote and support laws which defend those who are most at risk. St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) took this challenge to heart and dedicated her life to loving the poorest of the poor. Her mission began in one of the poorest cities in the world, Calcutta, India, and has grown today to include more than 4500 women serving the poor 133 countries around the world.
Whether it’s something simple or something great, the point is that we need to do something. I once heard a story of a well-meaning Christian who walked by a homeless person, and then lamented to God that such a tragic situation could be allowed. He complained, “how could a loving God not do something about this!” God’s answer to this complaint is telling, “I did do something. I made you.” It is for this reason that the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) is explained to us in two parts – to love God and to love neighbour.
Being made in God’s image and likeness means that you and I have great value. So too does every other person we encounter: “All men are equal in God’s sight insofar as all have the same Creator, all were created in the same image of God with a rational soul, and all have the same redeemer” (YouCat 330). We have a responsibility to care for the others in our community whether they friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, or even enemies. St. John Paul II put it simply: “No one can claim, as Cain did, that he is not responsible for the fate of his brother.”
-This is part of a series on the Youth Catechism. Mike Landry is Catholic Youth Camps director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is also chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.