Monday, October 20, 2003

We Throw Away Things That Are Broken

Homily for The 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 53:10-11
Hebrews 4: 14-16
Mark 10: 35-45

Holding up a large screwdriver in my hand, I ask a child in the congregation: What am I holding in my hand? "A screwdriver", she answers. That's right, a screwdriver. A screwdriver is a very useful thing. You can do all kinds of useful things with a screwdriver. It's a tool, an instrument. Asking another child in the congregation: Now, suppose I was using this screwdriver, and I put so much force on it that I broke it, and I couldn't use it anymore? What do you suppose I'd do with it? "Throw it away, I guess", he answered. Throw it away! That's right, I'd throw it away, and get another one. That's what we do when a tool or instrument breaks: We throw it away. There are few things more useless than a broken screwdriver. A tool is a thing. Tools are things we make for a practical purpose: when they don't fulfill their practical purpose anymore, they're useless, and we get rid of them.

Now, when I was in the seminary, one of the things I learned was a basic principle of morality: You should NEVER treat persons as if they were things. It is always wrong to treat persons like things. There are very good reasons for this: Firstly, we make things, as I said before, for a practical purpose. We make things to suit our own convenience. But persons are not here for our convenience! YOU are not here for my convenience. Pointing at a woman's husband, and addressing her: In a certain sense, HE is not here for your convenience. Human beings are created by God, in His image and likeness, and put here because they are goods unto themselves. We are, by our very existence, goods in and of ourselves. Even if you never did anything that appeared useful in the eyes of the world, you would still be a good unto yourself.

Now, that things are different than persons, and should be treated differently, is really just common sense. After all, we don't treat tools like we treat people. We don't... well, I was going to say that we don't get emotionally attached to our tools, but I know that some of us men might get attached, a little. Addressing a man in the congregation: But even so, we know the difference: Would you trade your child for new circular saw? "No", he answered. No, of course not.

But even beyond common sense, there are even deeper reasons why we must not treat persons like things. You see, God thought that human beings were so important, so valuable, that He gave his Son, gave Him up to death for us. He thought we were so precious that He became one of us: He took our nature upon Himself and united His Divinity to it. Think about that for a moment: Our human nature, in Christ, is united with the Divine nature. That means that human nature is elevated, by Christ, to having infinte dignity and worth. That is why the great christian writer C.S. Lewis said, "Next to the Sacrament of Our Lord, the person sitting next to you is the holiest thing you will ever set your eyes upon."

We heard, in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, that Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. Now the essence of the priestly office is to be an intermediary: A priest acts as an intermediary between God and His people. And so Christ is our priest and mediator. But consider this: God Himself, in the Blessed Trinity, is in no need of an intermediary for Himself. The persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are in perfect intimacy and communion with one another. There could not be any mediation between the Persons of the Trinity. This means that Christ's priesthood subsists in his humanity. It is in His humanity that Christ is Priest and Mediator for all of creation. Our human nature, the nature that Christ took upon Himself, is the same nature which bore Christ's priestly office. And we are united with that nature. We are in communion with that nature. And so, in Him, human nature is elevated to the infinte majesty, dignity, and worth of His Priesthood.

Human beings are of inifinte dignity and worth, and so can never be treated as mere things. But unfortunately, we are in danger of losing sight of this truth in our society. In some circles, I would say that we have already lost sight of it. I imagine that many, if not most of you, have heard about the woman in Florida, Terri Schiavo, who has had her feeding tube removed by a judge's order and even as I speak, lays dying. Up until this week, when the news media reported on the situation at all, they simply parroted the arguments of those wanting Terri to die, that she is in a "persistent vegetative state." But a number of doctors and other health care professionals have testified that she is in fact NOT in a persistent vegetative state. They have further testified that they believe she could be at least partially rehabilitated. But her husband (that's right, her husband), has refused any efforts at rehabilitative therapy. Some reports have indicated that Terri is terminally ill. That is false as well. If she dies, she will die not of any disease, but of starvation.

Unless someone in authority intervenes, Terri will almost certainly die within a week. She will die because a judge has ordered her to die. Her husband, who has refused any kind of rehabilitation, stands to inherit about $800,000 when she dies. That money was supposed to go to Terri's care and treatment, but he has used it to pay for lawyers in order to seek her death. He also has said that he wants to move on with his life, and marry his live-in girlfriend. Terri is in the way, her life has become inconvenient, and for that she is going to die.

Terri's body is "broken", and so her husband, his lawyers, and the judge, want to throw her away. Terri is is being treated like a thing, to be discarded when it has oulived its usefulness. But persons aren't things. They can't be thrown away, and they certainly cannot be replaced. What is happening to Terri is certainly an injustice. It is a horrific and merciless cruelty. We treat condemned criminals with more mercy and compassion. But even worse, this is a crime against the dignity and worth of the human person. This is an affront to the Lord of Life, who gave our human natures infinite worth by uniting them to Himself.

By our baptism we all share in the priesthood of Christ, so we must be sanctifiers of the world. We must sanctify it by our prayers. We must pray for Terri, her family, and all who are threatened by the failure to respect the dignity of life. We must pray for Terri's husband, for his lawyers, and for the judges in this case, that the grace of Christ may penetrate and soften the hardness of their hearts: That they will see that Terri, although her body is broken and wounded, is nonetheless of infinite worth.

We must sanctify the world by our actions. We must act to see to it that human life is always respected. We must stand up for Terri and all like her. We must stand up by making sure our laws protect the helpless and weak. We must stand up against those who seek to discard the weak because they are weak. We must stand up against those who would deprive the voiceless of justice because they cannot speak for themselves. We must be witnesses to the worth and dignity of the human person which has been granted us in Christ, so that never again in this land will anyone have to suffer as Terri has.

Our Lord tells us in the Gospel that we must be the servants of all. We must especially be the servants of the weak, the helpless, those who cannot speak for themselves. Terri Schiavo is all of those things. We must be people who speak out for her, and those like her, who are in danger because they seem to be useless or a burden. By our baptism we all share in the priesthood of Christ, and so we must be intermediaries: We must mediate Justice. We must mediate Mercy. We must mediate Compassion. We must mediate Truth.

We have in Christ a high priest who sympatizes with our weakness. He will give us strength to act, to fight, to stand up. He will give us courage if we falter. If we seek to witness to Him, to His Truth and Love, he will give us grace and timely help. Let us approach the Throne of Grace, that we may be the ministers and heralds of Christ a world in desperate need of Him.