For the past several months, the bishops of Alaska have been discussing how we might best exercise our role as teachers.

There are a growing number of social issues today that need to be addressed from a faith perspective, and yet require more than a ‘sound byte’ to adequately outline the theological principles which underpin our beliefs and teachings.

At the same time, as we looked at the numerous issues we wished to address, we realized that what is fundamentally at the heart of each of the issues is the need for a proper understanding of the human person.

Thus, the name of our pastoral letter released today, Ash Wednesday, is Living in The Image and Likeness of God: Human Dignity and Divine Designs.  

We invite you to please take the time to read this document. Spanish translation is here.

If we wish to make a serious contribution to the numerous social conversations of our time, it is important to be properly grounded in our Christian understanding of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God.

As bishops, our desire with this pastoral letter is to recover a positive understanding of the human person. Our Christian understanding of the human person is at the heart of why we believe that all human life is sacred, and every human person has an inherent dignity.

In this pastoral letter, we wish to help people make the connection between our Christian understanding of the human person to a variety of important topics.  Because we believe that every life is sacred, and all life has an inherent dignity, we also believe in the sanctity of every life, from conception to natural death.

Because God is the Creator of each human person, religious freedom to know and worship God is a fundamental right to be exercised without coercion or restriction.  It is in relationship with God, and more specifically, with Jesus Christ, that we learn the depths of God’s love and the truest identity and potential of our humanity.

To live in the image and likeness of God comes also with responsibilities – to know the One Who has created us, and to live in right relationship with God and with each other.  Thus, this pastoral letter also addresses human sexuality, marriage and family.

In the face of growing individualism and secularism, we draw attention back to ‘God’s Design’ for the human family.  We reiterate our belief in truth as revealed by Jesus Christ.  As we teach in this letter: “Truth is something to be discovered by reason—not defined by choice.”

Our prayer and hope is that this letter may help recover our belief in the sanctity and dignity of every human life, while at the same time renew our commitment to better understand and pursue “God’s designs” in order to build up God’s Kingdom in our world today.

A blessed Lenten journey to each of you!