Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Honor the Dignity of the Other

by Fr. Adrian Burke, OSB

benedict and bruce.jpg

Do not grumble or speak ill of others.

Rule of St. Benedict 4:39-40

There is a lot in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict about honoring the dignity of the other. An important way to do that is to respect the other's name. As I've written many times before, Benedict's intention in writing his Rule for monks is to establish a practical way to follow Christ in an intentional manner.

Charity is putting the need of the other ahead of our own and it is central to the gospel of Jesus, thus it is also critical to the monastic way of life. So, for instance, in RB 7.31 (on humility) the monk is not to love his own will nor take pleasure in the satisfaction of his own desires; RB 72.7 (on the good zeal of the monk) demands he pursue what he judges better for someone else. Jesus is the supreme example of charity, of course, being the very personification of Divine Love in laying down his life for others.

Our names are symbolic words that signify our person, which when uttered brings to mind the person named. When we besmirch another person's name by gossiping, for instance, and speaking ill of the other, we denigrate their name and dishonor their dignity as persons. To honor the dignity of others is to "see" in them the image of God as the basis of their very existence as persons - at least that's what the serious Christian is given to believe; but, morally speaking, do we act consistently on what we claim to believe?

Faith aids us in believing this about people, charity aids us to act on it. But we must know and acknowledge our own dignity first, and strive to honor it by living up to it every day. When we do this, we are more likely to begin regarding the personal dignity of others despite sometimes how we may experience them behaving. Our sins and faults do not strip us of this essential dignity as persons made in God's image, even if we aren't living up to it all the time.

Then, to complete the circuit, we must link this love of self and other with love for God. The first of Benedict's "tools for good works" (RB 4) is the most important: To love the Lord God with our whole hearts, all our minds and strength, and its realization demands that we love our neighbor as ourselves - this honors the name of God. Jesus taught this as the basis of all religious observance, "all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Mt. 22:36-40).

To be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10) has to begin with ceasing to speak ill of others, and to treat them as we would want to be treated. This is what honoring the human dignity of our neighbor will demand of us. It is a "narrow road," because at times it feels like a cross when the "other" is a person whose opinions I don't particularly care for, or agree with, or whose quirky behaviors I don't like, or whose talents always seem to outshine my own, or who always seems to gain the attention I want for myself, etc., etc., etc.

To speak ill of others is tantamount to besmirching the Divine Name because the human person is made in God's own image. To dishonor a person is to dishonor our Creator, and for the Christian it is tantamount to "taking the Name of the Lord in vain," though perhaps we don't think of it that way. Maybe it's time we start!

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.


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