by Veronica Lam
My dear friends, let us love one another, since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. — 1 John 4:7
A Shared Experience
There was a time in school when I got into a small conversation with a classmate, and I eventually left because she called me a bad name and gave me a look of disgust for being silly or different. Although she may have been joking, it did not change the fact that her look and words still offended me. I felt like I was receiving something I did not deserve, and I knew that there was something wrong with the way she confronted me.
We have all felt undignified at some point. We have felt used, abandoned, abused, demeaned and hurt by not only those close to us, but by those who we may not know very well. Every single encounter we have is a moment to make a decision, and that decision is whether or not you are going to love.
What Is Dignity?
Dignity is the truth, goodness and beauty of something. Everything has a certain dignity to it, whether it is a tree, a fire, or an animal; however, humans have a special kind of dignity because we were made in the image and likeness of God, who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty in their fullest essences. Recognizing the truth, goodness and beauty in someone can prepare us to respond, and that response is called love.
Our lives are composed of the constant process of receiving and responding. When displeased, we can respond by complaining or expressing our anger. When we are tempted we can respond by sinning. When we get hungry, we eat. Even Mass is structured in such a way where we prepare our hearts for God and give him all that we are, then we receive him through the Blessed Sacrament.
As we receive the calling of who we are to be (a saint), we realize that the single most important response we can give back to God is love. This is made so because God is Love. In result, we respond by imitating him, meaning we look to his Son, Jesus Christ, as our model of holiness. This imitation of Christ is an imitation of Love. Therefore, we must love.
We must learn to love, beginning with a simple look. This look of love should be expressed in two ways: towards ourselves and towards others.
How We Look at Ourselves
Loving others begins with loving ourselves because to be able to see the dignity in another, we must also be able to see the dignity in ourselves. It is like playing basketball. A father cannot teach his son to play basketball if he does not know how to play it himself. We cannot teach others to love if we do not know how to love; we cannot love others if we have not learned to love ourselves.
Everyday we tell ourselves lies, that we are not good enough, not beautiful enough, not smart enough, or not worthy of someone’s attention. When you look into the mirror, what do you see? Is it someone who is weak and ugly, or is it someone who is worthy of the best?
What Defines Us
We are continually faced with temptations that put us down and pollute our minds into thinking we are less than we actually are. However, God has made each and every one of us so beautiful and so full of goodness and truth that it is not only beneficial for us to recognize and respond to that, but it is a crucial aspect to being human. A part of being human is love.
In Jn. 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery demonstrates the power of Christ to define who we are and not who the world believes us to be. The woman was brought to the crowd, expecting that she would be stoned to death because, in ancient Judaism, stoning, or lapidation, was a common form of capital punishment for many crimes, including adultery. Instead, Christ told the crowd that only those who had not sinned themselves could throw the first stone. He knew that none were without sin. Christ then forgave her sin, gave her a new life and told her to sin no more.
We may think that our actions and decisions define who we are, but they ultimately do not. We can choose where we end up in life, but Jesus is the one who defines who we are, that is, a daughter or son of God.
How We Look at Others
It is known that St. John Paul II would look at a person from a mile away with such love that they would break down in tears. That immense love is something each of us needs to strive for in our daily encounters with every person that comes our way.
Everyone deserves a smile. They deserve to be looked at in a way that shows them their worth and inherent dignity. When leaving a conversation, a person should always leave happier than when they came to you.
Nobody Cares About Me
This reminds me of a story from when I was little. My siblings were joking around and I said something. They teased and ignored me. I then stormed up to my room saying, “Nobody cares about me!”
This was a tragic and emotional thing for a stubborn and attention-craving child, but my father was the first person to come and console me. He came to my room, held me in his arms and told me he loved me. He did not say much, but that was all I needed to hear. It is so crucial to let people know that you love them, not only with our words, but with the way we look at them.
Taking Action — a Challenge
With the National March For Life coming up, I would like to challenge you to not only be pro-life when it comes to a baby’s life, but remember what it means to be pro-life in your everyday life with each encounter with every person. I would like to challenge you to smile.
When you look in the mirror, smile. When you look at a person walking by you, smile. Every person you encounter, smile. Your smile may be the only one that someone receives that day. And if a smile is strong enough to make the other person smile back, is it not worth it? Mother Theresa tells us,
Peace begins with a smile.
We must take this to heart, and step forward a bit more with this small act of love wherever we go. This is one of the first steps to loving ourselves and loving others, to recognizing and responding to each person’s dignity with a look of love.
The Apostolate of Smiling
With this challenge, it is important to seek out methods to keep you in check or to remind you to hold fast to your resolution. This could mean having a friend ask you how you have been doing, or having a daily examination of the day’s efforts. However, reading encouraging texts and prayers can also be a great way to have the thought of authentic encounters floating around in your mind all day. The Apostolate of Smiling is a beautiful reflection on the use and value of a smile. Take this into account the next time you encounter someone, and don’t forget to smile!