The theme for this year’s Embrace the Conference is “Masterpiece: Made in His own image, Destined to live forever”. It is taken from a Message that Pope Francis sent to Catholics in the UK for the Day for Life in 2013 (just a few months after he became Pope). In the Message, Pope Francis expressed the hope that “… everyone may come to recognise the inestimable value of all human life. Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.” While this does sound nice and affirming, it is also a powerful statement with deep implications for each and every one of us and how we perceive each member of the human race, including ourselves.
On a basic level, it means that each and every one of us has been created and not meaningless products of a random series of accidental events. A masterpiece implies that there was a creator involved and, moreover, “masterpiece” refers to the greatest work produced by someone. Great artists, musicians and writers produce a lot of works but only some are considered masterpieces. In terms of God, the masterpieces of God are each and every human person without exception. It is from this belief that the Christian then comes to the belief that each and every human person has a special dignity: every person is a masterpiece of God and, therefore, deserves the due respect that comes with it.
The deep belief that every human being is a masterpiece of God is a great gift that the Catholic Faith offers and so each of us has an inherent dignity regardless of our gender, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, physical appearance or past actions. Even the biggest and most despised sinners have a dignity that is specific to them that can never be taken away, can’t be diminished by any circumstances in life and is not endowed by any law: it is the dignity that comes by virtue of being a masterpiece of God and that, in itself, deserves great respect and unalienable rights.
Being a masterpiece means that not only are we created but also created with a particular design and purpose and so there comes the responsibility to preserve, maintain and develop the intended plan and design God has in mind when each of us was created. When we go against or neglect God’s design for us, we tarnish that masterpiece that God intended us to be. In short, we call this ‘sin’. While sin doesn’t take away our basic human dignity, it can obscure the shine of the masterpiece that God created us to be. That’s where the Sacraments come to help us where the Sacrament of Reconciliation helps to remove the tarnishes that sin creates and the Sacrament of the Eucharist gives us strength to live out what God intends for us as masterpieces and so for that masterpiece to shine out in the lives we live.
There also comes the responsibility to regard and respect each fellow member of the human race as a masterpiece of God and that applies to everyone whether that be the sick, the poor, the young, the old, the refugee, the unborn child, the woman who has had an abortion, the activist actively engaging in causes that oppose causes that the Church supports, the criminal who has committed the worst crimes: all these are still masterpieces of God even though, like the rest of us, there are decisions made that do not reflect the masterpiece that God created each human person to be.
In a film about St John Paul II, what is striking was how St John Paul II really saw every one as a masterpiece of God even those who came to him struggling with serious vices, those who worked to oppose him and even tried to kill him: St John Paul II saw them all as still, on a deeper level, God’s masterpieces and encouraged them (as well as challenging himself) to be fully the masterpieces that God created them to be and not to let themselves set limits on what that could look like. The problem comes often from us because we can think it’s too ideal, too unrealistic, too challenging, too demanding; but God created us to be always greater than we are, to be great, to be a masterpiece and to always be there to help us along the way and not to let others or our weaknesses or our past stand in the way of being a masterpiece of God.