Safeguarding the Dignity of the Human Person – By Pixie Smith

Multi Generation Indian Family Cooking Meal At Home
The theme for the new catechetical year is “Safeguarding the Dignity of the Human Person.” In its simplest form, this means living a virtuous life. On a practical basis, what does this mean for us as catechists and catechetical leaders working with children, youth, and families?

In 1965, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council approved the Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis). It states, “Therefore children and young people must be helped, with the aid of the latest advances in psychology and the arts and science of teaching, to develop harmoniously their physical, moral, and intellectual endowments so that they may gradually acquire a mature sense of responsibility in striving endlessly to form their own lives properly and in pursuing true freedom as they surmount the vicissitudes of life with courage and constancy.”

This means that those of us who are serving in our Church’s catechetical ministries have an obligation to teach and support the teaching of the Cardinal Virtues of justice, fortitude, temperance, and prudence as well as the Theological Virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity). The dignity of every person is rooted in the reality that each person has been created in the image and likeness of God. While the unique qualities of each individual can be scientifically proven, using science without a solid “valuing” of human life violates the dignity of that human person. By having an understanding of Catholic values and virtues and by practicing virtuous living, we are able to appreciate and value each person.
Virtue formation is included, to some degree, in many catechetical programs. If we do not include an intentional focus on these parts of our lessons, however,

this vital component may be overlooked. This year, our catechetical theme suggests and challenges us to be certain we are teaching and offering opportunities for practicing virtuous living in our faith formation programs. This will contribute to safeguarding the dignity of the human person.

Learning about virtues and integrating virtuous living as a habit in our lives is a lifelong and arduous process. Here are some simple and practical strategies to encourage virtue catechesis in our catechetical sessions and in the home:

Justice: Strengthens us to act responsibly and give to God and others what is due to them. Set reasonable, age appropriate rules and stick to them. Constancy in following rules and the consequences for not following helps children develop a sense of dependability and justice.

Fortitude: Ensures firmness in difficulties and the courage to always do what is right. Be vigilant about helping children and young people understand their feelings. Help them identify and practice appropriate responses to emotional shifts. This will help develop confidence and a commitment to do what is right.

Temperance: Teaches us to do all things in moderation, having power over our “instincts.” Practice healthy habits and establish boundary lines for acceptable behavior. Whether it is eating, talking, sleeping, exercising, praying, or watching TV/video games; there is a point where too much is “too much.” Setting limits for children can build temperance.

Prudence: Learning the process of discernment, learning how to make good decisions and right judgements; to choose to do right and avoid what is wrong. Give children the latitude to make mistakes and a chance to fail. Giving them opportunities to make age-appropriate decisions/rules for themselves and by allowing them to work through the process (even if results are less than ideal) will assist them in making right judgements in the future. Helping them practice steps of discernment — asking God for guidance, discovering what the Church teaches, and consulting trusted adults — will help them live prudently.

Faith: We believe in God and we believe in all that he has said and has revealed to us.
Helping children and young people to embrace what they believe is a catechetical challenge. Supporting children to take ownership of our beliefs so that they become their beliefs entails making faith relevant to them in the lives they lead when they leave the church property. Encouraging them to look for God in all things will support their ability to believe God can be found in all things and their faith will grow deep roots.

Hope: The aspiration to happiness that God has placed in the heart of every human person. In today’s social climate, it can be difficult to help young people know the true meaning of happiness. The focus on the idea that “personal possessions equal personal happiness” has swayed many from following the Holy Spirit to real happiness. When the Cardinal Virtues, with the help of the Holy Spirit, become habits, we are able to grasp the Theological Virtue of hope.

Charity/Love: We love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Caring for others, in our homes and families and in the broader community, is a common theme in all catechetical lessons. Putting the needs of others before our own is a necessary concept to develop. Unselfish living has become another unpopular social idea lately, but must be practiced in order to truly live out this virtue.

By developing an understanding and application of virtues within our faith formation programs, we can contribute to safeguarding the dignity of the human person.


Pixie Smith has been active in catechesis and liturgy for over 25 years as a catechist, children’s liturgy and music director, and coordinator of children/family/sacrament formation programs. She has numerous catechetical and leadership certifications in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Lay Ecclesial Ministry Certification from Springhill College in Mobile, Alabama, and advanced studies in Theology and Organizational Leadership. She is the Southeast and International Sales Representative for RCL Benziger.


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