Christ’s disciples are images of God

By Bishop David Ricken

What does it mean to be human?

The answers vary. Some think they are what they do. They identify with their profession, their skills, what they do to make a living. They connect with their function in society. Another group speaks in terms of their property, bank account, investments and possessions. They are what they own. A third group identifies with their sexuality. They are self-conscious about gender and what it means to them. In an extreme form, such an inclination may lead to exploiting others. They may boast, “I am a sexual subject seeking a sexual object.”

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Bishop Ricken

These responses reflect three things: work, money, sex. Many see no need to think that their origin is from God. It’s enough for them to think of themselves as heirs of a pre-human species. Original sin is not part of their self-understanding, which allows them to be immune to inclinations to evil. In their life story they believe they are born good. Education and culture remove the rough edges and foster personal development. Instead of being images of God, they are comfortable with the self and use their energies for self-realization.

In a way, it would be consoling to think we are not images of God. That way we need not cope with the mysteries of life that have engaged philosophers and saints for centuries. The meaning of life cannot be separated from the experience of suffering, death, betrayal, rash judgment of one’s behavior, injustice and many other similar issues. This works for a while when we are healthy, strong and prosperous. In the end, even all these good things are fleeting.

Evangelization requires our membership in the church to be disciples of Christ. A basic truth about a disciple is that we acknowledge that we were conceived and birthed in original sin. That is why we are invited to be baptized, the sacrament that introduces us to the life of grace, of friendship with God and an essential understanding of what it really means to be human. People who know they are images of God and have been baptized have a self understanding that supports them throughout their whole lives. What does it mean for them?

Think of a reply in the first person:

n I have an immortal soul.

n I can know God and the truth. I affirm the existence of truth and my capacity to know it.

n I can love God and people and pray that I reach the level of unconditioned love.

n I am free to choose the good.

n I can make moral judgments with the grace of God and the guidance of the church. I have this capacity because I have an informed conscience.

n I have a body that should be a temple of the Holy Spirit and can image God’s presence in my life. Through divine providence there can be a unity of body and soul.

n I have human dignity because of God’s love and the gifts I have just recited.

n I believe and pray that my identity is related to the sacred, the mystery, the transcendence that makes my life worth living.

The most powerful drive in any human being is the longing to love and be loved. We face obstacles to this desire from infancy to old age. We want to be loved. We want to love someone. No one can escape this hunger. God has given us the capacity to love and be loved. God has given us the capacity to know and be known. Where does this come from? Its source is the gift of being an image of God. Scripture teaches us that God is a holy community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As images of God who is love, we are motivated to share that love we received at baptism with family, friends, strangers and humanity itself. We are not meant to be lone rangers, indifferent to the needs of others, nor are we meant to deny the gifts of others who could help shape our growth and development.

To be an evangelizer for Christ, we benefit from an insight into ourselves as images of God. At the same time, we need to see the people we serve also are graced images of God. This is a basic building block that enables us eventually to become disciples of Christ. The process of reaching spiritual maturity always includes this awareness of how we see our humanity and that of others. Such a communion of insight inspires our drive to sanctity which always includes the life of grace that began at baptism. This drive is a divinely-given energy to seek final union with God. We are led by the Spirit to the light, truth, love, community and eternal life that make life worth living and purposeful.