I have been reading and reflecting on Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity”), the declaration on human dignity published last month by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It is an important restatement of the Catholic vision for the human person, and it comes at a time when there is widespread confusion about where human dignity and rights come from, and even what it means to be human.

It’s telling that this new document is dated April 2, which is the anniversary of the death of the great St. Pope John Paul II.

Throughout his long pontificate, John Paul reminded us that our societies in the West are founded on the Jewish and Christian understanding of the human person.

He would often quote those stirring words of the Second Vatican Council: “Christ the Lord …  fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

From the Jewish people, we inherit the revelation that all creation is God’s handiwork, that the human being is created in God’s image, with a body and a soul, and called to walk with God, forming families and being fruitful, caring for creation and loving goodness and doing justice.

In the story of the Jewish people’s exodus out of Egypt, God reveals that his name is mercy, that he hears the cry of the poor, and that he has created the human person to worship him in freedom.

In Jesus Christ, this God enters into human history and takes on human flesh, sharing in our humanity in order to show us both the human face of God and the true “face” of our humanity.

In Jesus we come to understand that we are more than mere creatures. We are God’s children, his sons and daughters, and he loves each of us so much that his Son was willing to give his own life to save us from sin and death. 

What runs like a bright line through our biblical inheritance is the greatness to the human person in God’s plan for creation. As one of the saints said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive!

All of the great achievements of the West — in science and technology, in medicine, in the arts and architecture; all our beliefs about charity, empathy, compassion, and social justice — are the fruits of the Incarnation and the glorious truth it reveals about human nature and human destiny.  

We can forget that before the appearance of Jews and Christians, the world had never heard the good news of God’s love, or the truth that human life is sacred and endowed by the Creator with dignity and rights.

Values and concepts that we take for granted are all rooted in this vision that we have inherited from the Bible — our belief that people have the right to food, shelter, health care, and work; to be free from violence and coercion; our presumptions that human beings are born equal, that society has the duty to care for the weak and vulnerable.

As our societies become more secularized, and more guided by a materialist and technocratic understanding of the world, we risk forgetting God and the true meaning of human life.

Dignitas Infinita identifies many “grave violations” of human dignity already growing in the world today: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty; poverty and war; the plight of migrants; human trafficking; violence against women, discrimination against the disabled; the practice of surrogate motherhood and gender theory; “new forms of violence … spreading through social media.” 

In confronting these challenges, the Church must continue to defend every human life as sacred, regardless of its condition, from conception to natural death.

We need to insist that human dignity and rights are transcendent, that they come from God and not from governments.

Only this truth guarantees the greatness and freedom of the human person. Only this truth guarantees that our rights do not become arbitrary, something to be granted or taken away at the whim of those in power.

It’s also important that we hand on to our young people the sense of excitement and joy that comes with knowing that our lives are a beautiful gift from our Creator.

We are called to a friendship with Jesus that gives our lives their true purpose and direction:  following in his footsteps, being transformed in his likeness through the Eucharist and the sacraments, striving together as brothers and sisters to reach our destination, which is communion with God in love for all eternity.

This is the promise of our infinite dignity. We should rejoice in this every day and share our joy with others.

Pray for me and I will pray for you.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to bring a new awareness that we are all children of God, made with infinite dignity and bound for glory.