…In our day, after centuries of disregard, we’re finally paying attention to mental health, self-esteem, and the consequences of abuse. This increased awareness may be ushering in a whole “new epoch” in human history, as Pope Francis likes to say.

If we are rendered incapable of loving ourselves, how could we even imagine being loved by God or doing the challenging work of loving others?

Let’s look at the example of sexism and its most extreme expression — domestic violence. Today, we know that abusers control those they are abusing by attacking their self-worth and isolating them from the love of others. It is this fragmented self, without an ability to recognize themselves as worthy, that subsequently becomes incapable of feeling themselves loved by God or by anyone.

The destruction of another person’s ability to love themselves renders them powerless. An abused person is denied participation in Jesus’ vision of the tripartite law of love, while abusers sentence themselves to self-hatred. Through the destruction of another human being’s self-love, aggressors forfeit their own worth, and try to obliterate God’s always offered embrace. The commandment is most clear: There are three loves linked here; when you destroy one, you destroy them all.

The amazingly good news Jesus brings is God’s predilection for mending what we break. The prodigal messes up, and yet, when there seems to be absolutely no love left, the broken one somehow remembers the offer of extravagant love and mercy and starts the journey home (Luke 15:11-32).

We’ve neglected our responsibility to not destroy the love of self in others and failed to be attentive to the consequences of this for too long. Most of our social sin feeds on this, not just sexism, but racism, xenophobia, classism, and the many ways we have devised to humiliate and dehumanize each other. It’s time we remember we’re loved, always, unconditionally, and begin the road to loving ourselves and our neighbors that will take us home.

From Cecilia González-Andrieu, professor of Theology at Loyola Marymount University, in the Southern Cross