A core value my parents taught my five siblings and me was to be of service to others when we could. Although we never had much, Mom and Dad taught us to be generous with what we did have. We attended St. James the Less Church in Columbus, Ohio, and our Catholic education reinforced that core value of service to others.
Later in my life I studied theology and learned that the Christian call to help others goes back to Genesis 1:27. Every one of us is created in God’s likeness: This is the foundation for the Catholic concept of dignity. Dignity demands that we work to ensure everyone has access to the resources they need to fulfill their God-imaged human potential.
I believe that a recognition of dignity calls us to embrace and accept without question those who are different—community members whom the rest of society rejects. Throughout the gospels, Jesus does exactly this: He allows his feet to be washed by a woman thought to be a prostitute. He dines with tax collectors and spends the night in a leper’s house. He unquestioningly accepts individuals because he knows they are created in God’s image, calling us to acknowledge their dignity too.
Belief in the promotion of dignity through service to others is the cornerstone of why I do what I do. It’s why I lead The Night Ministry (TNM), an organization that accompanies those experiencing homelessness and poverty and helps these people access the resources they need. TNM’s organizational calling reflects my own: not to reject others but to accept them and to recognize and promote the dignity that, as individuals created in God’s likeness, we all possess.
Every night TNM provides shelter to more than 60 youth experiencing homelessness, many of whom have been shut out of their homes because they dared to question their sexual identity, are perhaps pregnant, have an undiagnosed mental illness, or are fleeing abuse. We also serve more than 5,000 adults every year through our Health Outreach Bus, our Street Medicine Program, and services to those who ride Chicago’s trains all night because they have no other place to lay their heads.
Our mission is to provide housing, health care, and human connection. We walk with people as they wait for housing, deal with a medical emergency while on the streets, or—for our youth—work to deal with the emotions that accompany homelessness while they are still adolescents. If you show up and need services, we help you unconditionally, no questions asked. It’s a privilege to do so, as ours is a mission that cherishes the dignity of each person because they are created in God’s image.
Wouldn’t Christ have done the same today?
This article also appears in the November 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 11, page 15). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Unsplash/Matt Collamer