We are a handful of dust, kept together by seventy-five per cent of liquid, with souls that were stained at birth and which are weighted all through our lives with a heavy downward lurch towards sin.
– Caryll Houselander
“Greatness” has a negative connotation in this day and age. Nobility is equated with riches and power. Born of the recent election cycle is the notion of the high-handed 1% class that seeks to rob the “other” 47% into irrelevancy. Authority is a wrongful establishment that must be reordered to guarantee the inalienable rights of all to the goods of the rich. True greatness is synonymous with forced material equality.
How confused we have become! In reality our equality is of the sort described by Caryll Houselander above. Some time of reflection in a graveyard will quickly teach us the conclusion of the ambitions of this world. “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” We are nothing. In this we are all truly equal.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Does it make a difference to our nature that we were created by an Intelligent Being with an intent, and did not simply materialize from the fabric of the universe? It certainly does! Not only were we created with an intent, we were created in the very image of our Creator. And just as our Creator is free in His will to assent or dissent, so we as spiritual beings are created with this very same power. In this we are also equal.
Created with intent, we have a calling. God’s noble intention for us in no less than for us to become sons and daughters of God. The calling comes from God, but the choice is ours. With this calling comes a great responsibility. We must live our lives as sons and daughters of God. Every one of us is free to reject this calling, but no one is free from the consequences of this rejection.
Rights are a favorite topic of social and political conversation. Our rights come from our dignity. But we forget that our dignity comes from our calling. Those who attribute our dignity to anything else do violence to their perception of reality. No right can be separated from its corresponding responsibility. The responsibility associated from each right comes directly from the responsibility to live in a way becoming of sons and daughters of God. Our rights are simply those resources which enable us to grow in virtue. When we invoke a right, we subject ourselves to judgment by accounting ourselves to the use of that right. While we may differ in our accountability, we are all equal before the judgment we must face.
We become sons and daughters of God through the acquisition and the practice of virtue. Virtue is our true fulfillment in this life because it can lead us to holiness. Unlike physical strength or comeliness, power, wealth, honor, or aptitude, virtue is within the reach of all. This is fitting, considering all are called to virtue.
We are unequal in all other qualities we possess because our vocations are different. Our vocations differ because God calls us to holiness in different ways. In this world we hold some qualities in high value, while others hold little appeal. In fact, we often practice all or some virtues for the purpose of attaining these qualities. We make them our ends.
But in God’s sight the values are different. Whether or not we choose to act as such, we are stewards of our rights and the qualities we possess. True nobility comes from the ordering of all our possessions and faculties toward growth in virtue, and the valuing of virtue for its own sake. Those who are noble are so by their own choice, because they choose to attribute nothingness to themselves and devote their lives to the attainment of holiness. At the final judgment they can say “Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more” and be elated upon hearing “Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:20-21)
God seems to enjoy working through paradoxes. One of the greatest is that a human who is dust is transformed simply by being called to be united with the almighty Creator. And the Creator Himself chose to condescend to the level of dust, live the life of the poor, die the death of a criminal, and become bread and wine so that each one of us may partake of His glory.
We stand before a confused and depraved world that seeks to distort our message for the sake of a self-glorification that turns to dust in God’s light. We witness to this world by words and example, by demonstrating faithful stewardship of our faculties and possessions and calling all people to holiness. Let us gratefully, humbly and joyfully accept the nobility offered to us by living out and practicing our Catholic faith.