March 10, 2023

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

During Lent, remember we all have equal value to God

David Bethuram

When William walked into our emergency assistance center, we were his last choice.

Unemployed, with only a meager amount of money, William had run out of food. He had nowhere else to turn. The emotional and difficult decision he made to ask for help was only outweighed by his physical need for food and shelter.

His eyes were cast downward, his voice lowered, and his shoulders slumped. William’s body language conveyed a person that had been robbed of his self-esteem.

Pope Francis once addressed a crowd, stating: “It is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry—this is an act of justice. But there is also a deeper hunger … the hunger for dignity.”

Human dignity is the innate right to be valued and respected. It’s not something that’s earned or acquired. It’s the right of everyone—regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, intelligence or socioeconomic status.

At Catholic Charities of central and southern Indiana, we understand the importance of acknowledging the dignity of those we serve. Recognizing a person’s intrinsic worth doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture.

We gave William food that day to nourish his body. We didn’t just hand him a bag of food and escort him to the door—although that in itself would still be considered a corporal work of mercy. He made his food choices that he needed and was told he was more than welcome to return the next week so he could select more food items. The staff always helps our clients to select enough food that will last for seven days, whether it is for an individual or a family of six.

Acknowledging his ability to make his own choices is a small way of bringing dignity to an experience most of us can’t imagine.

We also provided him a caring and compassionate ear. A skilled case worker listened to his circumstances and let him know that Catholic Charities would continue to help him, not only with food, but with utility assistance and community referrals to get him through this time of trial.

William’s case manager listened closely to his narrative, looking him in the eye as he spoke. William’s despair stemmed from unemployment. His difficulty finding consistent work caused him to lose sight of his own inherent value. Catholic social teaching holds that work is dignified and an intrinsic good. Work is more than simply making a living. It’s fundamental to the dignity of the person.

The social teaching of St. John Paul II affirms that dignified work not only makes adequate housing, food and medical care possible, but also fosters positive participation in society.

Utilizing our employment support resources, William’s case manager helped him obtain meaningful work. More than earning a wage, William’s sense of self-worth was restored. He has taken the next step toward self-sufficiency.

At Catholic Charities, we believe that one’s circumstance does not define their God-given dignity. We all know a William. Perhaps, at some point, we have even been William.

Lent is a perfect time to remind ourselves that Jesus died for us all. Therefore, we all have equal value in his eyes, regardless of our situation.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. You can contact him at †

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