Do you ever stop and think about what you expect from life? We all have responsibilities, desires, and even dreams, but don’t we spend most of our time dealing with the crisis of the moment? There is a real and compelling value in considering the big picture. Life is a precious gift that each of us has been given. Did you hear the words of this Sunday’s opening prayer (Collect);
Almighty ever-living God,
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desire of those who entreat you,
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
At the risk of oversimplification, (well, I’m a simple person, I like simple), what the Church is saying in this prayer is that God has a plan for the life of each of us. Very clearly, our opening prayer intends to remind us that the plan God has for us is far greater than whatever we can dream or imagine. There is great value, for each of us to ask ourselves, do I value the gift of life that God has given to me. Do I value the gift of life that God has given to the people around me? Today we celebrate Respect Life Sunday, the gift of life and the reverence we are called to have for human life. As a culture, we tend to think in terms of utility. Pregnancy is a life-changing experience. For a teenage girl or a professional woman, the ramifications of that change may be frightening. The child in her womb is, nevertheless, a child. When someone (someday you and I) is critically ill, we may be tempted to think about the resources consumed by their (your) medical care. We may be tempted to think that it would be kind to put them out of their misery.
Let me share my experience. I love being a priest. I believe God always intended me to be a priest and give really long homilies. However, the most memorable time of my life was the time I spent with my wife as she was in the hospital dying of cancer. Elaine was diagnosed in September of 1995 (5 months after I became a Catholic). She died November 3, 1995. In those few weeks, Elaine lost her ability to walk. Elaine suffered a lot of pain. Elaine suffered great anxiety, but not because of her pain and illness. Elaine worried about what would happen to me when she could no longer care for me. I was, after all, only a man, and worse, an engineer. She would call in her friends and ask them to watch out for me, is the house clean, is he eating somewhat healthy food? She spoke to one of our Camden Diocesan priests, Fr Cadmus Mazzarella and told him I was called to be a priest. I never learned about that conversation until after my ordination in 2002. I like to believe that in the end, Elaine offered up her life for me. An important point to make here is that while the Church teaches that life is a precious gift, going to extraordinary means to prolong life can be wrong. There were surgeries that had a slim chance of prolonging Elaine’s life. There was no cure. Those procedures would have caused her great pain. Under the guidance of knowledgeable priests, she chose to let the illness take its course. Elaine would have been horrified; I would have been horrified at any thought of actively bringing her life to an end. We can never actively take the life of an innocent person.
Our opening prayer tells us that the meaning of any human life is beyond our merits or desires. We don’t know what the future holds, but God has a plan for each of us. We are called to actively promote a culture of life, in the way we vote, the way we talk, the way we think. What can we do as individuals, as a society to help people who feel they have no option but to end the life of a human being, a baby in the womb, someone sick or suffering? Part of the plan that God has for each of our lives is to help people in difficult circumstances. In our Gospel today (Luke 17:5 – 10) Christ uses irony to get our attention, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Luke 17:10). How can we support women, alone, poor and pregnant? What do I do to support people who are sick, alone, dying? In my Christian walk, have I been a profitable servant?
At Mass, we come into the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We need, at Mass to hear the voice of Christ who asks us, “How are you doing, are you a profitable servant?” Being a Christian means to take seriously what the precious gift of life means.