God, speaking through Isaiah in the First Reading, tells us that the religious behavior he desires does not consist of fasting and of lengthy prayers. What he asks of us is rather “releasing those who are bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, clothing the naked.”
That puts me in mind of a speech delivered twenty years ago by Cardinal Bernardin, who was the archbishop of Chicago until his death in 1996.
The American Bishops Conference had just issued a pastoral letter that told us that we should have an identical concern for the dignity of human life both in our opposition to nuclear war and to abortion.
Cardinal Bernardin’s speech went further. He said that the abuses mentioned by Isaiah in our First Reading, even though they did not directly take away life, were equally offensive to our human dignity.
Cardinal Bernardin had a real catchy name for the speech that he gave twenty years ago. He called it “The Seamless Garment.” He was referring to the garment Jesus wore coming up to his crucifixion. It had been woven as a complete, encircling garment that was assembled without a single seam. You will remember how the soldiers who crucified Jesus looked to see if they could divide the robe at its seams, letting each of them have a panel. But since it was seamless they rolled dice for it and one soldier took the whole garment.
Cardinal Bernardin used the seamless garment as a metaphor for the dignity of human life. He said we should give equal attention to combating every assault on human dignity, whether it be the denying of food, the denying of medical care, of education, or of freedom.
While warding off assaults on human dignity by abortionists, or by secret producers of nuclear weapons we should not be forgetful of God’s desire that we also look out for the dignity of the needy in our midst.