Archive | May 2015

Value of Life

Recently, there was a police officer shot and killed in the line of duty. She was serving a search warrant to a wanted felon and known gang member. She was a mother to three, one of which was scheduled to be released from the NICU the day after she was killed. She served as coach to an inner city team, served the special olympics, etc. It is a tragic and heartbreaking story. She was a person trying to make a difference in the world.

In the wake of this woman’s murder there has been a rant circulating around Facebook firmly stating that not all lives matter, not all lives have value. The article goes on to argue that the man who shot this police officer had no value, even going as far to say that he didn’t even deserve to have his name mentioned. The author claimed because of this man’s choices and actions that his life had no value.

Here is a brief quote from the rant: So circling back to my original thought, do all lives matter? No, all lives have the potential to matter. It’s up to the individual whether they want to matter or not. Everyone can make a difference; everyone has that opportunity to matter. What have YOU done with your life that matters?

First thing to get straight–I, in no way condone the actions or choices this man made. Second, it is a great tragedy when ANY life is lost. Third, I have no agenda against police officers or for gang members.

St. John Paul II worked arduously to educate people on the dignity of the human person. The Catholic Church ardently defends that all life has value from conception to natural death. Why? And how?

I have been wrestling with this for days, as a co-worker posed it to me and asked how to argue human dignity without referring to God or Christianity.  There is one thing I have come to the conclusion of:

If one human person is ruled not to have value then no one has value.

Let me clarify.

If we are to say that our value is based on our choices, on our actions or on our words then how about those who are unable to make choices i.e. the unborn, the elderly, the sick, etc. Are those without the ability to choose unworthy or unvaluable?

Which leads me to ask, who determines the value of people? There are many political and social leaders who have tried in the past (Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Sanger). Is it their ability to be productive? The fact they have senses, feelings, thoughts, etc.? But what about those born without sight or the ability to move from their bed? Do they not have value because they cannot perform actions as others do? For many atrocities of humanity, they were based on leaders determining the value of certain people over the other. To some, the Jewish people and Christians alike had no value. Those of certain descent had no value and were seen as sub-human. Because they were seen as not having value they were no longer seen as humans but as animals or beasts that could be killed easily without penalty. If we are to argue they have value then we cannot base them on actions or having a perfectly functional human body.

In reality, when a person is stripped down of all their accomplishments, good deeds, failures, faults, sins, etc. we have value simply by the fact that we are human.

Yes, you can immolate this value by living a virtuous life, serving others, and doing the right and good thing. Yet, what happens when we fail? When we sin, fall, choose wrongly? Is that it? How does the world dish out forgiveness or determine who has more value? Can you ever regain value in the eyes of society once a serious offense is committed? We can hide this value under a mud puddle of bad choices and end up on a cold wet street somewhere wondering what happened to our life. But does it deteriorate our value as a human being? I would argue that it does not.

Society may see this person as a drain, a nuisance and an unwanted pile of bones and skin. The Church does not see with eyes of this world. As hard as it is to swallow, the Church would say that that person curled up on a street corner has the same amount of value as the teacher in a classroom or a police officer on the streets.

The Church is a church of hope. Even if the gang member in this case had survived and served his prison term, a priest or a pastor would have come to visit him. Why? Not because he is a lost cause but because every life matters. The Christian people  hold out hope for those who have made bad choices that they can come through the mud and rediscover their dignity. That man’s life had the potential for conversion and a new life.

Yes, the police officer chose a nobler path, she directed her life to immolate all the goodness that can come from a good life. A life of service was rewarding for her. She saw a community hurting and wanted to help it, coach it and protect it. She entered into the crosshairs of hope. Hope that she would protect the community from a violent felon. Hope that this man would come peacefully, remorsefully and willingly to face the consequences to his actions. Hope that his infant daughter would witness this act and vow never to fall into the same life her father had. That man, no doubt, probably thought he didn’t have value and that I believe is at the root of his bad choices.

When we stop believing our lives matter or have value then we have no reason to keep living, to keep making the good but hard choices, to pursue anything but what I think will make me happy for the fleeting minute–no matter the consequence to those around me.

Yes, our lives have value.

Yes, our choices matter.

Yes, our choices effect not just our lives but the lives of others.

Yes, our choices have consequences.

Value has to be something inherirantly given to each human being. It is up to us if we enhance and immolate that value or if we hide it and try to destroy it. But value is the constant factor it is ever present in each individual.

Rescue workers, seeing someone floating down a raging river don’t first yell down to the person, “Hey, are you a good person?” before diving in to rescue them. Same with a bad car accident. The workers don’t ask to see a resume or a list of good things they’ve done to determine if their lives are worth saving. Even that man who killed the police officer was taken to the same hospital as she, received the same treatment by doctors employed by the same hospital and they tried to save his life. Rescue workers, priests, doctors, nurses, firefighters, they don’t ask the value/worth of a person before helping, they just do it. If there is a human in trouble they will try to save that life.

When a natural disaster occurs we mourn the loss of life, not just a few lives. We don’t say, “Oh, I feel so sorry for the doctor that was killed but not for the garbage man who lived next door.” The media doesn’t try to dig up dirt about the people killed to convince people not to feel sorry for certain people.

All lives have value: young, old, mother or father, gang member or student. It is up to us to immolate that value, to show it to the world and use it to draw others to realize that they too have this immense worth within them. When we start saying that a person’s value is up to them we begin to wade in the murky waters of what value is, who determines it, and to that person what value means–if value to them means sex, money, selling drugs and killing those who get in their way then who can counter that if that is what they have determined for themselves to give their life value? There has to be a universal, inherent value or worth placed on every life. To foster this will only lead to a better world.

The Red Button

Imagine yourself in a blank room. There is nothing on the walls or floors. Not even a speck of dust is floating in the air. There are no doors or windows but it is surprisingly bright. Directly in front of you is a small pedestal. On top of it is a red button. A shiny red button. Engraved under this button in small letters are the words, “Push for a surprise”.

What are your first thoughts after reading the message? Some of the more prudent ones may back away and start looking for an exit. Others, like me, might stand and stare at this button for awhile, wondering how it got there and what would happen if you pushed it.

You start to wonder, why not push it? The longer you think about it the more the urge to push it grows. It’s almost unbearable. As you nudge closer to the button you notice it is covered with countless other fingerprints.

Who else could have pushed this button? What happened to them?

I don’t know about you, but there are times that the spiritual life feels like this very scenario. God calls us to make a choice–to push or not to push. Those who run marathons (not myself included) know that there comes a point when your body begs for relief, to stop the running and they have to decide if they press on or give up.

Here is something I struggle with–I am afraid of what will happen when I push. In a race it means reaching the finish line–harmless enough. It’s a little flimsy tape you run through. In the spiritual life though, pushing that button can lead to a lot of different things. It can lead to a higher level of virtue. Sounds great, right?! But then I recall that phrase, “Lord, give me patience, just not right now.” Why this kicker? Because you know when you ask for patience you will get opportunities that will test your patience. So, when I ask for patience I say, “Lord give me patience, not the opportunity to grow in patience, please, just give it to me.”

Amen?

Wouldn’t life be easier if God would just *poof* instant virtue. No more effort required. It’s like playing a video game and never getting past level 4. You can scream, growl and throw your controller but the machine takes no pity upon your unskilled self. Instead, it sits there mocking you with its impossibility. Daring you to keep trying. “But I’ve tried 70 times to beat this level!” Doesn’t matter, if you don’t have the skills you don’t pass, you don’t get to the next level without completing the current level.

I fear what pushing the spiritual red button will bring to my life. And the thing is, whenever I think about the possible outcomes, it is rarely pretty.

I’ve read the lives of saints.

It can bring intense suffering, attacks from the devil, loss of loved ones, and a stripping of my own selfishness. Saints like St. John Paul II, St. Gemma, St. Joan of Arc, St. Sebastian, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Paul, St. Rita, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Florian, St. Philomena and even our Blessed Mother all found themselves in front of this spiritual button. Those are the fingerprints which adorn the surface of this button–which glorify it. They were willing to push themselves to open their lives to what God’s will had in store for them. And I, after reading their lives, can see two things they received like confetti from heaven: grace and joy. When you read their journals what they write about is the joy they have, not the suffering. The suffering is never the focus, it is Jesus. It is about a deeper trust that the sufferings they are enduring are for a greater good, for the salvation of souls and for drawing their souls into a deeper communion with Christ Himself.

Yet, I still fear pushing that button. Life is hard enough. Do I really want something worse to happen? Then Jesus asks, “Why do you think something bad will happen? Do you not trust me? Do you not know that I love you?”

“Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” Jeremiah 1:8

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” ~Matthew 6:26

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

“But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” ~John 15:9

“Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.” ~John 17:24

What husband would give his bride anything but what will uphold her dignity? God has tried to comfort us with His words and through the lives of his saints that He only wishes to love us. Sometimes that love means that we must decrease and He must increase.  Sometimes it means stretching of our souls, our wills, and practicing those virtues we so desperately want to keep down in the basements of our souls collecting dust.

Like a person who wants to lose ten pounds but doesn’t want to get on a treadmill, God challenges us to lose the weight of vices or bad habits that weigh us down. Is getting on a treadmill the only way to lose 10 pounds? No. You can go on a walk, eat a well balanced diet, climb stairs, chase the kiddos around your house, take up a summer softball league, etc., etc. There is more than one way to get to the next level in the spiritual life and it is not always through gut wrenching suffering.

God has a plan for our lives. He is a loving Father who cares for us. Who wants us to be with Him for eternity. But the only way to get to heaven is to leave the level that we are living on. To push that spiritual button, even if takes 7 or 70 or 70 times 7 times until we get off our spiritual plateau. We must keep pushing, keep striving, keep finding ways to open our hearts and lives to God.

Sometimes, just getting in a few extra steps can make the difference. Getting a few extra prayers at night or during the day can help make the difference and get us to the next spiritual level.

The Easter Journey

We are tangible people. To think of things or places is great but it can only get us so far. I can imagine the green fields of Ireland and the rugged stone fences. I can picture at need a whitewashed cottage with thatched roof and steaming pete from its small chimney stack. I can even imagine the rich Irish brogue trickling along in beautiful sentences. But no matter how much I imagine Ireland, it is not the same as being in Ireland. If I have never smelled pete or walked past an Irish pub at night, tasted their amazing potato soup or walked their drizzle covered highways I would not be able to fully place myself in that beautiful country.

Sacred Scripture presents much of the same problem for me. I have never been to the Holy Land and always imagined it to be a desert desolate, windy and hot. Water would be scarce save a few seas here and there. And beauty…well let’s say it would be in the people more than the land.

Then, two of my siblings went to the Holy Land and brought back their pictures. I couldn’t believe it! This place was not dusty, dry and dead (everywhere) but lush, green and thriving with life.jordan river Jesus did not enter a desolate land but into one of the most beautiful places He had created. A land ripe for the nourishing rains which would lead to an abundant harvest. With history in the foundation of every town and building, the whole of scripture could be traced through the footprints of the Old Testament and the New.

I think that is significant.

God knew we needed a physical path to heaven. He knew we needed to be able to walk the footsteps of Christ. To see what He saw. To be able to sit with a Bible in our laps as we float on a boat on the Sea of Galilee like the apostles. Or to stand at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes.

Not only did Christ set a physical path to heaven (namely through His path to the Cross) but a liturgical one. In the Gospel of Mark, this path is constantly referred to as ‘the way’. The way is a traceable pilgrim route to Jerusalem and the Cross. The entire Liturgical year, starting with Advent, then Christmas, Ordinary Time and Lent all lead up to Easter (The highest feast of the Church).

During these seasons we not only hear differences in the text of the Scriptures read but also of the decorations of the Church as well. In Advent there are purple vestments and candles, advent wreaths and rose trimmings. During Christmas white and gold flourish in vestments, light is fully realized as all the candles of the wreath is lit, evergreen trees are brought in and the music changes to bold joyful music. Then there is the brief period of ordinary time before entering into Lent. All decorations are stripped for Lent. The church itself enters the desert of Lent in preparation for Easter. Prayer and fasting take the forefront. Stations of the Cross are recited regularly, the Gloria is removed from the liturgy and then as the journey’s end nears, holy water is drained from the fonts, statues are covered and Jesus is removed from the Tabernacle.

All of these physical signs are carefully crafted to lead us on a sense filled journey through the liturgical season. Now, during the Easter season, every candle is lit, grand music fills the choir lofts, incense wafts around the altars and aisles, the Gloria has returned and the priest is clothed week after week in white.

The Church does not just want to appeal to our minds which wants to see the historical progression of Jesus’ life and Passion. She wants us to enter into it. To feel it, touch it, hear it, smell it–she wants to make it present to each soul that enters the doors.  And for the first time since Holy Thursday, the faithful can take part in tasting the Eucharist with a sweetness perhaps forgotten prior to the Passion.

Did you know that the Easter Season is longer than Christmas? I guess I should emphasize first that both Christmas and Easter are SEASONS. They are not just one day…which means those radio guys get it wrong year after year when they start playing Christmas music during Advent and stop it the day after Christmas. Christmas actually lasts until the Baptism of Jesus or if you want to follow the Vatican tradition prior to 1962, it goes until the Presentation of Jesus.

Easter lasts from Easter Vigil until Pentecost. Fifty days. That’s 50 days of celebration, of rejoicing Christ’s triumph over death and forty of those are spent enjoying God’s presence among His people again.

I will admit, I didn’t know until college that after Jesus Resurrected and showed himself to the faithful that he actually stayed for forty days with them.

Can you imagine?

The man died!

You saw Him on the Cross. He was taken down, wrapped and buried in a tomb. A huge stone was rolled in front. And now, here He is before you with the the holes still in his hands and side. He now sits and eats with you and opens the Scriptures to you and the other disciples as though nothing had changed…it all seems surreal.

The celebration of Pentecost is the celebration of the Church–not to be confused with the feast of Pentecost for the Jews (that’s right, they have one too which deals with the giving of the Ten Commandments).  At Pentecost, we see the passing of an age. The age of Christ’s physical ministry in His human body has now given way to that of the Holy Spirit. With tongues of fire, the apostles are enflamed with boldness for the Gospel of Christ. Armed with the knowledge given to them by His ministry, His Passion and those 40 days they no longer fear the tortures of the human world. This is the age that continues in the Church to this day.

Yet these ages only build off of each other. In the sacraments, Jesus opened an avenue for the common soul to have direct access to God. No longer do we need to chase down or buy a goat to sacrifice by fire to make amends for our sins. Now, we simply walk into a confessional and confess our sins to Christ who takes form in the priest, his appointed disciple through the laying on of hands.

The most astounding sacrament He left us is in the Eucharist. This small host has become so routine for us that many don’t realize WHO they are receiving. I once heard someone say that they had spoken to a modern day Jewish man who said, “If you truly have God in that building then I would crawl on my hands and knees to see Him.” If we truly have the Christ, Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity present in every Eucharist and Tabernacle of the world then why don’t we crawl into each church? Heck, why do we fight tooth and nail to get out of that place once the final blessing has been given? If we as Catholics truly believe that God dwells here as He has never dwelt before in human history (including the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple) then why don’t we act like it?!

No longer is God smonstranceeparated from man with a veils or tents or mountains. He is no longer a distant yet close entity, shrouded in the form of a cloud and sitting upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. His presence and command were so powerful that only the High Priest could enter to the inner most sanctuary once a year to offer prayers on behalf of the people. To touch the Ark bore the penalty of death (not by human  hands, a man was actually struck dead in 2 Samuel 6: 1-7, 1 Chronicles 13:9-12). Now, we may not only touch the vessel which holds the law and sacred manna but we can consume the presence of God Himself.

At every consecration, Jesus enters the host. I don’t know about you but if I were Him there would be a lot of hoopla around this action—earth shaking, window shattering, trumpets blaring, sun dancing, angels descending awesomeness to direct everyone’s attention to my awesome action. But I am not God (thank goodness). He does not enter with great fanfare. Instead, he enters quietly, gently just as at the Incarnation.

Next time you are at church, take a look around. Use all of your senses to walk through salvation history, to feel the teachings of the church and partake in them. Don’t go to God’s house and forget to look for He who lives there.

(Picture of the Monstrance at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Huntsville, AL)