Our readings today speak of healing, the restoration of life, and the response that follows: giving glory to God. And it all fits well in this Respect Life Month of October. When we think of things that pertain to the Respect Life movement, we tend to think about the issues themselves. But maybe it’s more correct to think of those issues as merely symptoms of a bigger and more underlying problem: a failure to see the value of life, to see life as a gift.
If that’s true, maybe it’s because we see so much that’s wrong around us, things that have come to be that way due to the misuse or inaction of human beings. It all can make us a little sour on the human person. I remember having that mindset years ago. It wasn’t until I was in RCIA, when we were asked to consider that God chose to become one of us, and even more, to die for us. There must be something much more beautiful about the human person than I realized.
The Scriptures tell us that God had a beautiful plan for us, regardless of any way we ignore or interrupt that plan. His plan is the root and truth of who we are, the proof of our inherent dignity. More than any civil law or official declaration from any government, that’s where our true human dignity lies.
I’ve heard it said that it’s easy to see the value in people who are smart, popular, rich, or powerful. Yet how easy it is for us to overlook the value in those who are weak, dependent, and vulnerable – as in the elderly, the sick, and the dying, or any whose voice is never heard—especially one who has yet to be born. Of all these categories of people, we might be inclined to think: What’s to admire? These aren’t the ones I regard as heroes, the ones who inspire me. In fact, some would say that the weak, the dependent, the vulnerable, and even the unborn, aren’t contributing to anything meaningful, but instead using up valuable resources. But I remind us: that’s not what Jesus teaches.
I think of the beautiful words that God spoke to Jeremiah when he first called him to his prophetic vocation: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. Think about what that’s saying. First of all, we hear that we were children of God before we were ever children of this world. Then God said to him, “before you were born I dedicated you”. And some translations of the Bible use word consecrated, instead of dedicated—“I consecrated you”. To consecrate means to sanctify or make something holy by setting it apart from what is ordinary, allowing it to be used for God’s particular purpose. Like the bread and wine that will be brought to this altar, to become God’s beautiful gift of life for us, God consecrated us, before we were born into this world.
Then God said to him, “a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (1:5). And like Jeremiah, we are to be a voice of God’s truths, by how we live and what we say. And as Jesus did, we too bear to speak for the weak among us, the powerless, the voiceless. In our prophetic witness, we don’t just speak against the culture of death, but we must be a voice that proclaims in joy, the beauty of life.
If we don’t speak up, then it’s culture of death whose voice whispers in our ears and the ears of our children—telling them, as a famous Australian bioethicist, Peter Singer, said, that a newborn baby is of less value than the life of a pig.
I’ve heard it said this way: “The world says that we need abortion because women can’t find happiness or success if a baby comes between them and their plans. But Christ teaches that we need the unborn child, because no one can find happiness without learning how to sacrifice ourselves for the needs of someone else. And who teaches this lesson better than a completely helpless and dependent unborn baby? (And furthermore,) Christ teaches that we cannot be successful by sacrificing our brothers and sisters in order to get ahead.
“The world says that we need physician-assisted suicide because you lose quality of life when you are dying of a terminal illness. But Christ teaches that the best quality of life comes from accepting His love and mercy – something that is frequently easier to do when we are sick, frail, weak, and old” (healingtheculture.com).
We must always be careful to not be quick or unfair to judge, but if everything our faith tells us about the human person is true, including our call to prophetic witness, we can’t sit silently, if we are to follow the model of Jesus.
I remind us, here in this setting, that the Mass is always a celebration of life. In this momentary withdrawal from the world as we know it, we participate in the life of heaven, and receive the gift of life from God. May the grace of this gift help us to witness to truth, to do it in authentic love and to be life-giving.