The Dignity of Every Human Life

The woman on the phone said “they found his body in the basement of an old flophouse.”  She didn’t know him very well, but she thought, being Catholic, she should call a priest.  And so, I went.  When I got to the run-down old building it was filled with people of questionable character—I left my wallet in the car.  I locked the car.  Sure enough the poor guy didn’t have anything; I imagined a life lived with nothing to show for it.  Sad.  But he was a child of God and deserving of a Catholic burial.  The problem was that he had no one in the world.  His father, his mother and his brother were all dead—each buried in a different borrowed grave.  I found a wonderful funeral director who helped make arrangements to claim his body.  I called the local church and met with the kindest priest who allowed us to wake his body in church for an hour before I said the funeral Mass.  His few friends walked from the boarding house to the church funeral.  None of them had a car, as they walked everywhere and took buses when they could afford it.  A very kind lady I know bought him a grave and the “Bishop’s Charity Fund” provided for the opening of his grave.  A suit from Sears—probably the only suit he ever owned.  After the funeral, a meal was arranged for his little group of friends from the boarding house and a few homeless people.  Afterwards we took him to the cemetery—just the funeral director and myself.

Why am I telling you this sad story?  I tell you this story to remind you of two things:  First, that every human life has dignity from conception until natural death and therefore has inestimable value.  Moreover, we are given an even greater dignity by virtue of our baptism, consecrating us as children of God.  Our bodies have now become a holy dwelling place and temple of the Lord.  To that end, at death we are afforded the ancient and venerable rites of a Catholic funeral, weather we be rich man or poor man.  This is what the lady who called me knew intuitively, even if she couldn’t put it in precisely those words.

Secondly, I tell you this story as a counterweight to the diminishing value of human life in today’s society.  It is a story that shows us—because every human life is sacred—that we must practice the Catholic Corporal Work of Mercy of burying the dead.  And when there is no one to do that, there we find the Church.  This is what the Catholic Church does in every place and every age—the Church ensures that the dignity of every human person is maintained unto death. This is something that everyone knows—the Church is there for those whom the world forgets.

A postscript. A woman contacted me.  She had been at the funeral.  She told me she had four children.  One child was dead, the second child was in a mental hospital, the third child was in drug rehabilitation and the fourth child was in prison.  She asked if I would make sure she would be buried properly when she died.  She said she had no one that could ensure she would have a funeral Mass and a burial.  She told me that the only one she could count on for sure was the Church.

She’s right!

– Fr.  Gerard Gordon