I remember my father teaching me about being honest. He sat me down and told me he thought I was lying. Before I could respond with a better story, he redirected my thoughts and my motivation, not just in that moment, but for the rest of my life. He said to me, “Kathleen, you are a Boyle, and Boyles are always honest. Our word is trusted. It is who we are.”
I realized in that moment that my identity compels me to act a certain way. As I grew and matured in my faith, I extended that core principle to my whole life, realizing that as a Christian I am compelled not just to say, “I believe,” but to live my beliefs moment to moment.
I am reminded of this often when working on safe environment issues. I wonder, at times, if everyone understands the essential reasons for our efforts and how they flow from our identity as Christians. I can’t help but wonder if they truly understand that this is what we are compelled to do and be because we are Christian. It is who we are!
Let me explain by listing three ways our faith compels us to establish and maintain safe environments.
1. We are created in the image and likeness of God.
From the moment we are conceived, through our loving Creator, we possess personal dignity that deserves respect. As Christians, we recognize our own God-given dignity and that of others, especially the most vulnerable among us. Our faith demands that we strive to protect the dignity of others by ensuring that they are treated with respect in an environment that safeguards the safety and wellbeing of all. Our faith mandates that we witness to others through right relationship with all whom we encounter and serve. Our faith likewise requires us to work to educate others about this God-given dignity in an age-appropriate and comprehensible manner.
2. Jesus gave us a new commandment to love one another as he loves us.
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus’ instruction on being his disciple: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) We have to do more than say, “We believe,” as disciples; Jesus tells us we must live what we believe. Our love must extend to the most vulnerable among us. Living our belief in the love of Christ is our way of witnessing our faith. This witness not only brings others to Christ but is an identifying mark of us as individuals and of our faith community. We must strive to be caring, trustworthy, and approachable. Children and youth will hopefully come to trust that we as Church want them to be safe and want to help in the event that they find themselves in a relationship that isn’t right.
3. We are led by the Holy Spirit to continue Christ’s mission.
At the end of Vatican II, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) reinforced that the goal of the Church and all her members was “to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit.” (#3) To do this, we were reminded that we, as disciples, need not only to be aware of the challenges of the times but also be willing to cooperate with the Spirit in bringing the Gospel to address those challenges. Learning of the horrors of child sexual abuse requires action on our part. We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” As Christians, we are compelled to assist children by establishing safe and loving environments for them. Likewise, we are compelled to provide formation for them that highlights their God-given dignity, teaches them about right relationships, and equips them with skills and strategies for their safety and wellbeing. It is who we are as Christians.