Monday, October 7, 2013

Respect Life

*A stripped down version this week, as I'm trying to get out the door to make it to our annual diocesan priestly retreat. Please pray for us!*

Readings for Sunday, October 6/ 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Luke 17:5-10

In recent weeks the scriptures, especially the Gospels, have been speaking to us of the poor and our need to go outside of our comfort zones to serve them and, in serving them, to serve the Lord. As we gather on this first Sunday in October, we recall that October is Respect Life Month, a month in which we are called to be mindful of the dignity of every human person and to continue to work in our hearts and in our world for greater respect for all human life.

Often these days we hear of the need to care for animals and to protect the environment, and rightly so since the Lord placed all of these things under our care to protect and preserve. But while we have an obligation to preserve the gift of creation, we have an even greater obligation to fight for true respect to be shown to every human person. It is not an optional thing in the Christian life, but rather is the foundation upon which so much of our moral teaches rests. If we look at the beginning of the Book of Genesis we see the story of the creation of the universe. We hear how the light is separated from dark, sky and earth, the animals and plants are created and then finally man and woman. The fact that man and woman are last in the lineup of creation emphasizes that humanity is the crown of creation, the culmination and high point because unlike anything else that God created, we are made in His own image and likeness. We are unique among all of creation. Interestingly enough, if you read the second chapter of Genesis, it gives another account of creation. In this account Adam is created first and then the animals and such are given to him and lastly woman comes to complete him. In that story we see that all things are entrusted to man’s care and that while all things must be cherished, the most valuable thing of all is the woman, another person whom Adam knows as different from all other creatures. We are unique, created in God’s image and for that reason we must be respected. All of us.

It can be easy to try to limit our respect for others sometimes. I’ve heard often and said myself the familiar phrase “you have to earn my respect.” While that can fly in the working world, that is not something that should be in our hearts as we interact with other people. We have an obligation to love and respect others not because of what they have done or not done, any attributes or accolades, or whether we get along with them or not, but simply because they were created by God and loved the same as we are. This can be difficult because sometimes people do things or we perceive something that makes us lose some respect for them. Sometimes we’ve been hurt by someone or we have some aversion to a person or group. It is for us to comply with God’s grace to find healing and renewal in that place of our hearts and to do all that we can to show respect and love.

Yesterday there was an article in the paper about an inmate who spent some forty years in solitary confinement and died only two days after his release from prison. I’m not making any political points, I don’t know all the facts of the cases and I’m not making any judgments one way or the other. All I know is that when I read that there was sorrow in my heart for him because he didn’t get to experience the freedom he was created for, even if it might have been by his own choosing. That’s what God desires of us – to be able to look at others and despite whatever good or wrong they have done, to see in them still the image of God and to honor them as such.

When I was thinking about this in regards to my own life I realized how easy it is to talk pie in the sky theology around respect for others and knew that I needed to have concrete things to put into practice. As I was praying, three things came to me. A few years ago there was a movie released call ‘Eat Pray Love’ which you’ve likely seen or heard of. While I love to eat as much as anyone else, for our purposes today I want to take out the word ‘eat’ and insert the word ‘think.’ Think Pray Love.

The first concrete thing we can do to grow in respect for others is to think. Think about God’s love for you. Think about how many blessings God has given you in this life, each of them a sign of His love and your goodness in His sight. Think about how when in times of temptation or trial the Lord walked with you to give you strength and to guide you along the right path. Think about the times when you were lost in your sin and the Lord was there even then to persist in His love and to bring you back to Himself. There is nothing that we can do to change God’s love for us and when we realize that and take that knowledge into our hearts, we are able to recognize that it’s true not only for ourselves but for everyone else as well. God loves all of us the same and regardless of what happens in this life that love is always present. We are invited to love in the same way.

The second thing we can do is pray. Mother Teresa was a blessed woman who was able to have such an incredible impact upon the world and saw the face of Christ in the poor everywhere she went. The reason that she was able to see Christ in the poor was because she already knew the face of Christ in prayer. Each day she spent an hour in the convent chapel in communion with the Lord, drawing closer to Him and because she knew His face in prayer she was able to walk out in the streets and see Him without having to try; she knew His face and Knew voice. If we immerse ourselves in prayer each day and become friends with Christ, we will not have to struggle to see Christ in others – especially those we might not respect so much right now – because we will know Him already in every face we meet.

The last thing is to love. This is the most important piece of the puzzle because if we respect others in our hearts and keep close to God in prayer but have no sign of love for others, we are lost. It is for us to show the love that we know God has for others. One concrete thing is to think of one person or group of persons that we might not show respect like they deserve and to work intentionally to show them greater respect. When we do this it changes not only our hearts as we become more like Christ, but it also has the power to change the hearts of others. Too often we undervalue ourselves and think less of ourselves than we actually are, but an act of kindness shown renews within us the awareness of God’s infinite love for us and the fact that we were created ‘good’ in the eyes of God.

As we continue in this celebration of the Holy Mass, let us ask the Lord’s grace to come into our hearts and to transform us to help us love and He loves, and to see others as He sees them – as cherished men and women, all created in the image of our Father.