“I’m sorry you are living.” I include this story in the weekend’s homily; it was the cover message of a card I received from a second-grader when I was leaving St. Vincent de Paul parish in Houston, where I helped out during my time in grad school.
The students made farewell cards, and that was my favorite. I always cherish the idea that he simply misspelled the word “leaving” … otherwise, it’s a pretty dark message.
Respect for human life begins with the sincere inner conviction that is the polar opposite of this spelling error:
“I’m glad that you are living.” It recognizes that each person is a gift, made in God’s image, entrusted with that gift of life itself from the Creator. It is true that in our human imperfection, it is easier for us to love some people and harder to love others. Those we know, those closest to us, those we admire – for them, it is natural to say “I’m glad you are living.” For others – strangers, those who unsettle us, those with whom we differ strongly on things important to us, those we fear at some level – for them, it requires grace from God to truly say: “Though it challenges me, I am glad you are living.”
We are in the third generation in the 49 years since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in the U.S., and the erosion of respect for human life has become firmly entrenched in our culture. We see it not only in death that results from abortion and euthanasia.
It is also active in the scourge of pornography; in the coarseness of much music and film, art and media; in the ready dismissal of human dignity in those who are unexpected or uncomfortable for us; in the narrowness when people focus on personal satisfactions and preferences regardless of the impact on others.
Human lives can be bought and sold in trafficking; virtually every aspect of life gets saturated in some sexual message; we can become numb to suffering either through indifference to others or being exposed to suffering that overwhelms our hope ever to see a better day.
From the perspective of faith, we see the age-old long shadow of what Catholic doctrine calls original sin. This is a condition we all inherit in the human family. Its impact continues to darken intellects and weaken wills, the seed of doubt in God’s wisdom and love that was planted by the
Evil One bearing such abundant fruit in a divided world.
That same faith reveals that only Jesus Christ can free us from this cycle of error, fear, and sin. We need a Redeemer, One greater than anything in the world … One Who says to us unfailingly, regardless of our faults and rebellion: “I’m glad you are living.”
In a simple but powerful passage, Pope Emeritus Benedict once wrote about his childhood: “We were one in heart and soul, enjoying so many experiences together, even though times were hard, as this was during the Second World War: first we had the dictatorship and then poverty. But the mutual love that we shared, our joy, even in simple things, was so strong that it enabled us to endure and overcome. Even little things were a source of joy because they were an expression of warm-heartedness. And so we grew up convinced that it was good to be human, because we saw God’s goodness reflected in those around us.” None of us can say when the many wounds to our common humanity rooted in COVID, politics, international tensions, race, and all the rest will find healing. In such times, we need to listen more carefully for the voice of God amid all the human voices that sometimes whisper and sometimes shout. Keep your balance and perspective, pray for wisdom and charity, do good for those around you to show (and grow in) sincere respect for their lives, and recall the promise of Jesus: “A thief comes only to slaughter and destroy; I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).