By Bishop Edward J. Burns
This past Sunday, the 10th Sunday in ordinary time, the readings dealt with stories of life and death. In the first reading from 1 Kings, we see the death of a little boy, the son of a mistress, and the boy’s mother turns to Elijah in her grief. He takes the boy and begs God to restore breath into the child. The Lord gives life to the child and Elijah gives the child back to his mother. In the Gospel, Luke tells the account of Jesus encountering a funeral procession for a young man, the only son of a widow. In contrast to the accounts of the raising of Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus where the family members sought Jesus out, Jesus, moved with compassion and pity, simply takes it upon himself to touch the coffin carrying the dead young man. The young man is restored to life and Scripture tells us that Jesus gave him to his mother.
Our God is the giver of all life, human and divine, and the gift of our human life is sacred – from the moment of conception until natural death. Jesus Christ our Lord demonstrated through the cross and the resurrection that we will share in the sufferings of life and we are given the hope of having a share in his divine life.
Last week I had the opportunity to read two articles that deal with the matters of life and death. The first article was about a letter an11-year-old wheelchair athlete by the name of Ella Frech (a globally-ranked female wheelchair skater) wrote to Hollywood. The letter addresses movies recently introduced by Hollywood that deal with persons with disabilities and raises the plot of their demise as a way of alleviating any hardship upon others. The little girl’s letter begins, “Dear Hollywood, Why do you want me dead? Please don’t deny it. The movies you make tell me the truth about what you really think about me.” The young girl refers to a movie about a man who suffered a spinal cord injury and is left in a wheelchair. Another movie is referenced where a woman is a quadriplegic and chose death instead of an “imperfect life.” She continues to say in her letter, “My legs don’t work. I am crippled. It’s just a fact of my life, and you need to get over it… You may not believe in God. You don’t have to, and I can’t make you. But I do, and because of that I believe in the value of all people. I believe we are all made in his image and likeness. That’s why I believe all people are worth something. If you believe that people only get their value from each other, then people can take that away. But if our value comes from God, then nobody has the right to say someone who walks is worth more than someone who doesn’t.”
The second article I came across was about a question in a high school biology test. The question asked was how one should respond when it is discovered that a pregnancy may result in the birth of a child with Down Syndrome. The multiple choice question offered these options : A) another test should be given at a later date in order to assure accuracy; B) the family should gather and discuss the financial implications, religious beliefs, the effects on other family members, the health of the mother, the doctor’s recommendations, etc.; C) the family should follow the advice of the doctor because of his scientific knowledge; D) the decision should be made by the mother who would carry the most responsibility for the child. It was interestingly pointed out in the article’s comments that none of the answers gave the possibility to respond by saying “The child should be raised with love.”
In his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life), Saint John Paul II refers to the “culture of death”. In his wisdom, Saint John Paul saw the direction of our society and the poverty of understanding the gift of life as sacred. Jesus never told us that we would not experience suffering, in fact, he gave suffering a new meaning. That is, when we suffer, Jesus binds himself ever closer to us. So too, Jesus gives us a new understanding of life. By virtue of his Paschal mystery, that is, his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, we have the hope of eternal life.
Moved by love, mercy and compassion, Jesus takes the initiative to restore us to life in union with himself and with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that the Lord will touch us as he did those who he raised back to life, and raise our hearts and minds to fully comprehend the sacredness of life.