Pro-Life Between the Bookends

Most pro-life Christians, I suspect, would agree that every human life is intrinsically valuable. The Book of Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image and likeness, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the image in which we are made is Jesus Christ Himself. Our dignity is not in the dust from which we were formed, but in the Spirit breathed into our lungs by the Creator Himself. Our worth has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the One who loved us into being.

Many of us would not accept the argument that anyone—born or unborn, young or old, capable or incapable—is not worth saving or sustaining. Many of us believe that abortion and euthanasia are unacceptable, that suicide is always tragic, and that today, the death penalty is rarely justifiable even when it may seem deserved.

Why? Because the value of every human life is infinite in God’s eyes. Many of us believe and proclaim these truths. So why do we struggle to apply them to ourselves?

How many of us grew up wishing we were different somehow: taller or thinner; more athletic or smarter; better looking; more popular with girls, guys, teachers or parents?

How may of us carried that chip past graduation: a desire to be seen and noticed, heard and understood? A desire to prove ourselves, to be somebody, to be relied upon, to be right?

How many of us even now find ourselves wishing that we had different gifts? How many of us think that our spouses and children would benefit from someone different, or at least a better version of ourselves? And that if we were just a little more than what we are, we would be happier, they would be happier, even God would be happier?

How many of us will carry that with us into old age: the idea that we are what we can do? And if we regard this lie as truth, how many of us will leave this life feeling broken, diminished, worthless?

We Christians do not accept the argument that an unborn child’s potential disability or a newborn’s helplessness warrants termination, any more than a quadriplegic’s paralysis or an elderly woman’s inability to care for herself does. We do not accept that these people must somehow prove their worth or earn their right to life and loving care.

When we pray for human life to be valued in our culture, we reference the bookends, “from conception to natural death.” But what about our own lives, between the bookends?

Between the bookends, the same rationale applies. Our value is not rooted in what we can or cannot do. God needs nothing, from me, you or anyone else. The only thing He desires is us, just as we are. We cannot earn His love, but we don’t have to. We are made from it, shaped by it, and awash in it. It’s ours for the taking, in superabundance. He desires us: me…and you.

You have nothing left to prove. The only One who matters has already chosen you.

Call and Response: Embracing the Already of Christ’s Saving Act

Blogger’s Note: This was my final paper for the fourth semester of the Catechetical Institute, “Prayer: The Blessing Given and Received.” In this reflection, we were not only to discuss the final pillar of the Catechism, but the book and Institute as a whole. After two years of study, the Class of St. Padre Pio graduated this evening, following Mass with Bishop Kettler presiding. 

The fourth pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) calls us to deeper relationship with our heavenly Father who loves us and redeems us by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, and the actions of the Holy Spirit in the world today. This relationship is cultivated through the gift of prayer, “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (CCC 2558), approached “‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart” (CCC 2559). We are creatures, completely dependent on God’s love and mercy, not only for salvation, but for our basic needs, our next breath, our very existence. Even our desire to pray is prompted by the One who desires us, seeks us, spies us from afar and runs to greet us with great joy and love.

As with the previous pillars, I was struck by how much of the “work” of prayer is in God’s hands, not ours. We bear it like a burden at times, but it is He who beckons and inspires, who teaches us what to pray for and in what order (CCC 2763), who knows our needs before we express them and even when we can’t express them. It is He who changes us in prayer, not the other way around. I was also drawn again to His proximity: We sometimes cry out to Him as though He dwells a long way off in Heaven, but that Catechism reassures us that the heaven in which God dwells—“Our Father who art in Heaven”—is less elsewhere and more elseway:

This biblical expression does not mean a place (“space”), but a way of being; it does not mean that God is distant, but majestic. Our Father is not “elsewhere”: he transcends everything we can conceive of his holiness. It is precisely because he is thrice holy that he is so close to the humble and contrite heart.

“Our Father who art in heaven” is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke to dwell in them (CCC 2794).

So we are not only immersed in God, but He in us—the Holy Spirit is not only as close as oil on skin, but so thoroughly fills us that, in truth, our only escape from Him is an act of the will in which we reject His love and refuse to turn back to Him. He who has the power to save us desires my salvation more than I do myself! Continue reading

No Longer I: Living In Christ, the Very Image of God

Blogger’s Note: This was my short final paper for the third semester of the Catechetical Institute, “The Moral Life: Fulfillment in Beatitude.”

The third pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Life In Christ, pertains to the moral life, as summarized in the Ten Commandments and perfected in the Beatitudes (CCC 1965 and following). This initial point is not a small one: Many of us grow up with the commandments as the foundation for our moral life and do not mature past that point. I have seen two impacts of this in my own life. The first is a simplistic notion of sin and my own so-called goodness (“Well, I haven’t killed anyone…”). The second is a legalistic approach to practicing Catholicism, as though if I just learn the rules well enough and follow them closely enough, I can get to heaven.

But the further one reads beyond those first stone tablets, the more rules one finds, and it seems impossible to achieve holiness on our own steam. By contrast, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a positive (both in the emotional and legal sense) restatement of God’s laws, which both challenge and inspire us to do good instead of simply avoid evil. God’s beatitude—His kingdom, His vision, His joy and His rest (CCC 1720)—gives each of us and the Church as a whole our purpose (CCC 1719), and “confronts us with decisive moral choices”:

It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement…but in God alone, the source of every good and all love (CCC 1723).

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Second Coming?

Sometimes at the end of a long day, or after hearing a particularly depressing news story, I catch myself shaking my head and wishing Jesus would just come back already. Of course, I recognize that I am not the saint I am called to be—but I continue to turn and turn and turn again back to God, to beg for His pardon and His strength to do better day by day, and I have great hope in His mercy and His desire for me. So in these moments of sorrow over our tilted world and broken hearts, I find myself longing for His return.

Then last night, at a meeting of the Stewardship Council for my home parish in St. Michael, we watched a short video from Bishop Robert Barron on our mission as disciples and evangelists. I encourage you to take a few minutes to open your hearts to what God may want to tell you, then watch it yourselves.

About two-thirds of the way through the video, a strange thought struck me: What if we are the Second Coming? Think about it: As the Church, we are the Body of Christ in the world—the only hands and feet, the only eyes and ears, the only heart He has in this world. What if, while I am watching the world and waiting for Jesus to return, He is watching and waiting for me?

This morning’s gospel reading contained these words of Jesus:

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.” – Luke 12:42-43

We are called to act on the master’s behalf, to bring Christ—to be Christ—to a waiting world. When I wonder, “What’s keeping Him?”—might He not ask the same of me?

Liturgy and Sacraments: The Spirit at Work in the World

Blogger’s Note: This was my final short reflection paper for Module II of the Catechetical Institute, on liturgy and the sacraments. I continue to be drawn toward the person and activity of the Holy Spirit, which I’ve been slow to comprehend in the past.

The Spirit is the fuel of the Church, the energy and life force of the Body of Christ. And we can’t get him through heroic effort. We can only get him by asking for him. That’s why, for the past two thousand years, the Church has begged for this power from on high. Jesus told us that the Father would never refuse someone who asked for the Holy Spirit. So ask! And ask again! Realize that every liturgy is a begging for the Holy Spirit. (Bishop Barron, Daily Gospel Reflection 5/8/18).

The second pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery,” pertains to liturgy and the sacraments. The opening paragraphs (CCC 1066-2068) connect back to the first pillar, “The Profession of Faith,” by re-asserting God’s plan outlined in the Creed:

“For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.’” For this reason, the Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation (CCC 1067).

The liturgy in its various forms celebrates the great mystery of Jesus’ saving mission. It is the “public work” (leitourgos) of the Church: the “participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God’” (CCC 1069), which manifests her as a visible sign of communion between God and man (CCC 1071).  The Church is born on Pentecost, the new Body of Christ on earth following the ascension of the resurrected One, and Jesus acts “in and with” this body through the sacramental economy (CCC 1076). The fruits of this mystery are shared liturgically, especially through the sacraments, “efficacious signs” (CCC 1131) instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church to give us the grace we need to live lives of holiness. Continue reading