Persons, places and things: Embracing human dignity


By Barb Arland-Fye


A train whistle blew during Mass, which most people probably didn’t notice, but Colin did and stood upright in our pew. I cringed as my adult son with autism focused on the window from which he detected the train’s approach. Our Lady of the River Catholic Church in LeClaire was full of people celebrating the confirmation of 10 teenagers from our parish and Church of the Visitation Parish in Camanche on May 5. Overcoming embarrassment is a work in progress for me and the learning curve is a long one!

After Mass, during a taco dinner celebrating the confirmandi, Colin and I sat next to a couple, whom we learned have two adult sons around Colin’s age. I asked about their sons’ occupations and enjoyed listening to their explanations. Both men are professionals in the education field. As we talked, Colin shared that his sled hockey season had just ended and he wouldn’t see his favorite coach (a female) until next fall. I struggled to resist giving in to embarrassment. I embrace my son’s naiveté within our family and circle of friends but unrealistically hope for him to show more sophistication in public.

My reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide me in all that I do has led to some serious self-reflection. Perhaps the Holy Spirit’s guidance led me to check Facebook posts, where I read an inspiring self-reflection from a friend.


My friend has just reached a milestone birthday and talked about how easy it is to “look back on the failures, disappointments, and pain of life.” However, for this birthday she chose to “focus solely on the blessings and gratefulness.”  Doing so, she said, brought her great joy.  Most importantly, she is thankful to God and wants all of her Facebook friends to know that God loves each of us.

I do accept and embrace God’s love for each of us but sometimes lose sight of that love in the daily distractions of life. Acceptance; maybe that’s what I long for most for my son and for those of us who love him. What I fail to realize in those distracting moments is the acceptance that already enriches our lives, especially Colin’s life. He loves unconditionally and the warmth with which he treats others is perhaps the greatest blessing of all. 

A caregiver from long ago still remembers Colin on each birthday and makes a “date” with him to celebrate over dinner at a restaurant that he enjoys because he fills a space in her heart. The supervisor of the caregiving agency also has a place in her heart for Colin. He told me recently that his supervisor, Amanda, “is like a mother to me!” I teased Colin, “But you have a mother.” He replied, “Oh, yeah, that’s right.” His comment brings a smile to my face each time I think about that conversation.

I have begun reading “Dignitas Infinita” (“On Human Dignity”) that the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith released in April, which also serves as a reminder to resist embarrassment regarding my son’s quirks. The document begins: “Every human person possesses an infinite dignity, inalienably grounded in his or her very being, which prevails in and beyond every circumstance, state, or situation the person may ever encounter” (No. 1).

Next time the train whistle sounds during Mass, I’ll reassure Colin that he can listen just as carefully while sitting down.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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