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The Dignity Code of Jesus.
The Dignity Code of Jesus.
Joseph Cardijn and Thomas Merton were influential figures in the 20th century, each contributing significantly to their respective fields. But when you ask most Catholics what they know about either, you might get an answer saying, "Not much."
While they were both prominent in their own right, their backgrounds, interests, and contributions were quite different. They both were working on bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now on earth. Think of the Sermon on the Mount. For us as Christians, this provides us with the roadmap for working in our world to bring about the Kingdom of God.
Joseph Cardijn founded the Young Christian Workers (YCW) movement in 1912. The YCW aimed to empower young workers, especially in urban industrial areas, by combining social activism with Catholic teachings, think the Sermon on the Mount. Cardijn emphasized the importance of social justice and the dignity of labor. His approach was deeply rooted in Catholic social teachings grounded in Scripture and focused on empowering the working class. Think of the people sitting on the hillside listening to Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God, and imagine the size of the crowd. We know there was concern about feeding the masses, and we get a glimpse from Scripture of the size of 5,000. Now we know from the culture, and the time they only counted men, that was 5,000 men who brought spouses, children, and other family members with them. The Sermon on the Mount occurs early in Jesus' public life, and one can think of it as the "kick-off" of what is yet to come.
On the other hand, Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, theologian, mystic, and author. He was a prolific writer on spirituality, social justice, and the relationship between faith and modernity.
The Sermon on the Mount addresses a community's righteousness, compassion, and justice issues. It suggests people should live rightly, compassionately, and justly within their world.
The Sermon's significant themes include three main elements common to both Cardijn and Merton:
Faith to be just and merciful
Both men emphasized three keys found in the Sermon on the Mount that unlock the dignity of what it means to be a human being:
Placing the honor and faith of people with low incomes, workers, and humbled in the foreground
Inviting women to walk with him and share ministry with Him
Affirming the dignity of young people
Merton's writings explored the depths of contemplative prayer, interfaith dialogue, and the intersection of spirituality and social activism. His most famous work, "The Seven Storey Mountain," is an autobiography detailing his spiritual journey and conversion to Catholicism.
Comparing Cardijn and Merton, both were deeply committed to their faith and promoting social justice, albeit in different ways. Cardijn focused on grassroots activism, particularly among the working-class youth, and emphasized the practical application of Catholic teachings in their daily lives. Conversely, Merton was more focused on the contemplative aspects of spirituality and how they intersected with broader social and political issues. While their approaches differed, both men shared a concern for social justice and a desire to integrate their faith into the modern world.
It's important to note that while they had similarities in their dedication to social justice and spirituality, their specific contributions and the ways they expressed their beliefs were distinctly shaped by their unique backgrounds and contexts.
Through their renewed and inspired reading of Scripture, the Reformers of the Vatican II era rediscovered and applied to their situation in time and their efforts of creating the documents of Vatican II; the focus was on the teaching and practice of Jesus, including Jesus's code of dignity. Not that they declared that they recognized such a code or even gave it a name—instead, it was a case of what we often call 'the imitation of Christ' —doing what Jesus did. Living the gospel message and understanding the Sermon on the Mount roadmap. Both men, Cardijn and Merton, understood the "code."
This deep awareness of the "code" is what we term 'human dignity' and this "code" enabled Jesus to challenge the Pharisees and Sadducees and their code. To challenge the code that was dominant in the Roman Empire.
We see this awareness of the code of human dignity in the working lives of both Cardijn and Merton. As we study the lives of both men, look for lessons we can learn to apply to our lives today that enhance the code of human dignity.
This week, read Matt 20:1–15—the wonderful parable about the Lord of the Vineyard. The story is simple, but because of the simplicity, we often miss the point and overlook what is in front of us. Also, think about how our cultural upbringing filters the story. Look for the affirmation of the individual workers. Cardijn and Merton would suggest this parable is about Jesus' understanding of the worthiness of the workers and the human dignity of people. The parable is part of Jesus' reaction against the prevailing values of his day in the world. The honor code of Greco-Roman culture is not much different from what we experience in our lives and the world we live in today. This parable is one of the most straightforward statements on the individual worth of all people—what I would like to think Cardijn and Merton would call 'The Dignity Code of Jesus'.