Wednesday, March 24, 2010

St. Paul's Advice to Joe Biden on Dignity

The word dignity is being forgotten, perhaps even redefined. In an age where many people in our society, and perhaps more accurately, globally, disregard the needs of others to gain their own desires, we are seeing that dignity, as a foundation to individual character, is a secondary notion.

The definition of dignity is this:
bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation. (courtesy of
Note that not only does this definition include speech among its distinctive qualifiers, it says that those qualifiers point to the character of the person with regard to one's self-respect and appreciation of circumstance.

Can anyone guess where I'm going with this? Does Joe Biden's less than prudent comment at the signing of health care legislation come to mind? I recognize that people do use offensive language from time to time, however, when Mr. Biden felt the compulsion to express his jubilation to the POTUS yesterday, he left his dignity at the door when he failed to respect not only himself, but the formality of the situation. He should know better as a statesman and a Catholic.

In the interest of charity and duty, I will offer some catechesis. What is in Scripture that could benefit Mr. Biden, and other Catholic politicians? Let's take a look at the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians.

St. Paul offers this advice to the Ephesians:
No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29)
Interesting that the language that comes from one's mouth is intended to edify and bless. Also note worthy is the verse that immediately precedes this admonition.
The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work with his (own) hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need. (Eph 4:28)
I find this profound in so many ways, too numerous to mention here. I will address the obvious. Paul reminds the Ephesians that immoral activity hinders charity, and follows that statement with the admonition regaring foul language being neither edifying nor sanctifying. In using profane language, Mr. Biden didn't call down upon the ceremonial signing of this legislation any blessing, but instead denied that blessing.

Not only did he show a lack of respect for the process, but also for the POTUS. Mr. Biden also gave witness to his lack of self-respect and self-worth. But, St. Paul has something to offer us with regard to dignity and self-respect in Ephesians, as well.
[A]ssuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus,that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Eph 4: 21-24)
Who we are and what we believe determine how we think and act. Mr. Biden can't take off his Catholic hat to put on his Vice President hat at will. One should inform the other and, unfortunately, it appears that neither hat fits very well.

Finally, it is important to realize that we all have a stake in this matter. If we dull ourselves to the "what's the big deal" mentality that the press would like us to adopt, we all fall prey to devaluing our dignity as human persons created by God. Listen to what St. Paul tells the Ephesians about this:
And he [Jesus] gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love. (Eph 4: 11-16)
We share in Christ's office as common priests, prophets and kings by virtue of our baptism. (Cf. Lumen Gentium 10-13) We, all baptized men and women, are called to be the holy ones who must be careful not to be pulled down by the sin in the world. With this comes the responsibility to live differently, to act differently, to use discernment before we speak, to rise above the base and the vile in our world -- to be dignified because we are the Body of Christ.

This is what the Church offers to Mr. Biden, and to all of us, with regard to maintaining human dignity: Avoid the pit falls of sin that puff up our pride and leave us to fall prey to human trickery and deceitful scheming. Paul makes it pretty clear that we have a dignity that far surpasses the temptations of this world. It is our duty to live up to that dignity, to embrace the truth and, as St. Paul further reminds us in Ephesians, to "be angry, but do not sin." (Eph 4:26) It is up to us to prayerfully consider ways to remind the good Vice President of his value and dignity as a human person, along with his duty to the Body of Christ.

Mr. Biden's lack of appropriate decorum should not be ignored, neither should it be humorous. In justice, he deserves to be reminded of his dignity and self-worth. Dignity must not be allowed to be a secondary notion. When it is degraded, it has an impact on how we view the dignity of the person overall. Thus, it impacts our pro-life cause which respects the dignity all human life from conception to natural death. We need to make that clear.


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