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 | By Deacon Dan Lupo | Columnist

Dignity under a bundle of rags

One sleeting afternoon in downtown Chicago, walking to our theater destination, my 70-something mother abruptly stopped, unhooked her arm from mine, and asked me for money. Puzzled, I gave her a five. “More,” she said. I added two 20s.

Then she walked into the alcove of the store opposite us, to a mound of rags heaped into the corner; mom bent low and spoke.

The bundle moved. The rags parted. And a bony hand appeared. Mom grasped it between her hands and kneaded warmth into it. As mom spoke, her words breathed a cloud of blessings over the hand. Mom then placed the money in it.

Mom’s small, private gesture astounded me. It still does today. Mom lived out God’s truth about the dignity of human life as revealed in Scripture: 

  • Genesis 1:27 - God created humankind in God’s image: Mom saw buried under the pile of rags a person made in God’s image, ravaged by societal neglect; she affirmed the dignity of that beloved creature of God with her human compassion.
  • Deuteronomy 10:17-19 - God loves the orphan, widow, and stranger: So too he loves the abandoned, the outcast and the homeless; mom sought to affirm and extend God’s love by offering her own.
  • James 2:1-8 - Honor the poor: Recognizing poverty’s blight on this person’s dignity, mom bestowed honor by her presence and monetary help.
  • 1 John 4:7-12 - Let us love one another because love is from God: Mom loved the person inside that bundle of rags by giving what she herself had received: God’s love.

These Scriptural truths about the dignity of human life are echoed by Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti (no. 118): “[we all] were born with the same dignity ... [regardless] of color, religion, talent, place of birth, [or wealth, etc.] …. As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.”

Obligation?! Not just believing in human dignity as a moral principle, but accepting an imperative to act to make it so? This is where the rubber meets the road for us: Catholics are obliged to ensure the dignity of human life in all circumstances, situations and instances. There are obvious ones, like helping the stranded roadside stranger; and subtler ones, like advocating for and voting for laws and leaders that promote such dignity. 

The story of my mom’s lived embrace of upholding the dignity of human life is timely because our church is inviting us to form our consciences in preparation for the upcoming election. We faithful are encouraged to vote for people, platforms and policies that follow Catholic social teaching principles. For help forming our consciences, search these phrases online: Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, Life and Dignity of the Human Person and Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

Learning and living what the church teaches frees us to follow God’s will – to live as Easter people, as followers of Christ, as children of God, as believers in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. All lived out not just within our faith community, but in our wider lives: in the workplace, the marketplace and the town square.

One last detail about mom’s incredible act of love. Diabetes had taken her vision in one eye. How mom noticed the rag bundle in a dim alcove on the same side as her blind eye; recognized it as a makeshift shelter for a suffering outcast; and saw the opportunity to fulfill her obligation to affirm the dignity of human life -- this is something for those promoting her cause for sainthood to decide. 

With that one eye and God’s grace, mom saw a human life suffering the indignity of neglect. And she was moved to respond. Let us all pray for the grace to recognize when our brothers and sisters suffer indignity, and to accept our obligation to respond with sacrificial love to lift them up.

Deacon Dan Lupo serves at St. Thomas More Parish in Austin. He is a diocesan spiritual director, a healing prayer minister and a retreat leader. Contact him at