Wednesday, November 5, 2014

All Life is Sacred

Brittany Maynard's decision was wrong, but not for the reasons you think.

What I'm seeing on the inter-webs is that many Christians feel that the only reason to be disappointed in Brittany Maynard's decision to end her life is if you group it in as a suicide. Suicide is wrong, therefore she was wrong. At this, I shake my head.

Technically speaking, yes, suicide is the term for what happened to Brittany Maynard. However, to pretend that the underlying cause of her actions is comparable to that of a more stereotypical suicide (for lack of a better term) is about as mature a position as young earth creationism. Suicide is a different issue (and is itself a vastly complicated one). Many progressive bloggers have keyed in on this distinction and concluded that maybe she wasn't wrong to end her life, some going so far as to say Brittany Maynard didn't commit suicide.

Coming at it from that point of view is a red herring. Suicide is not what we should be talking about. What is disappointing about Brittany Maynard's decision in particular and society at large is that so many believe that human dignity is rooted in quality of life. Life is only worth living if it can be lived under ideal conditions. That is simply untrue. Human life is by nature dignified, even if it's imperfect.

I readily admit that it would have been very difficult for Brittany Maynard to continue living - clearly her prognosis was dire. However, pain, suffering, and the loss of faculties do not empty life of its dignity.

The notion that quality of life is the measure of the dignity of life is related to the horrendous fact that in the United States, 92% of children with trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) are aborted. Reflect on that for a moment. What might cause parents to make that choice? The child is atypical? It will be more challenging for the parents? It's not what the parents imagined life or parenting to be like? Maybe it's something else besides, but whatever the cause, it's terribly sad. It betrays a survival-of-the-fittest mentality when it comes to human dignity. The only people who should live are those who's lives are worth living.

Here the reader will begin to write off the comparison, because I'm using Brittany Maynard's sad case as an opportunity to make a point about abortion. But to be pro-life is not just a question of abortion stance. The Christian is called to recognize that all human life is sacred: the child in the womb, the terminally ill patient, and yes even the convicted criminal. I am saddened that Brittany Maynard could not see the beauty of her life in spite of suffering, just as I am saddened that so many parents can't see the beauty in a disabled child and that so many Christians insist that criminals deserve death. None of us is in a position to point at a given human life and say, "end it," just as none of us is in a position to walk through the Louvre, point at a particular work of art and say, "destroy it."

Then there's this:
I've also seen people say that the reason Brittany Maynard was wrong is because it is God's decision when we die, not our own. I think that is an awful thing to say. The book of Wisdom teaches us, "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living." (Wisdom 1:13) We are not on this earth to patiently await the time God has chosen to kill us. We are on this earth to be filled to brimming with the love of God, and then let that love be poured out of us into the world until such time as we are spent. "If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." (Bl. Mother Teresa)

Very plainly, the reason Brittany Maynard's decision was misguided is that her life still had value, even if she could not see it. Broken as she was, and as we all are, Brittany Maynard never ceased to be God's beautiful creation. It would have been heroic for her to go on living, and sometimes, heroism is precisely what God calls us to.

Still, though I've said her actions were wrong, I do still hope to see her in the Kingdom. If God in his goodness would deign to forgive my great sins, surely he can forgive someone who unfortunately did not recognize the Divine Image in her own heart. In the build up to her decision, I wished for all the world to have some way of communicating that truth to her, but, as Thomas Merton said, "There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."

This is November, the month of praying for the dead:

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, 
and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May her soul and the souls of the faithful departed 
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saints' Day Homily

I don't ever post homilies, but since this one will only be delivered once (tomorrow is All Souls' Day, so the homily will be quite different), I figured I'd make it a bit more accessible. (And yes, I did steal a line from Louis CK.)

John makes a rather peculiar assumption in this evening's second reading: "The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him [Jesus]."

"The reason the world does not know us..."

"The world does not know us."

Really? The world does not know us? Is that true? Let's give a face to "the world," and ask the question, "does that guy know me?" I wonder if we're really all that estranged from a personification of "the world."

The world is greed.

He is the desire for more, and more, and more. The world is wanting to have the newest thing, searching for happiness in money and power. The world is having desires fulfilled as soon as possible. He despises patience and loves next day air. The world is greed. Does the world know you?

The world is envy.

The world is always thinking about what other people have, despising the blessings God has given to him. The world looks in the other person's bowl, not to check that they have enough, but to see how unfair it is that they have and he does not. The world is envy. Is he your friend?

St. John assumes that the world does not know us...

The world is gluttony.

The world is perpetually bored, consuming food and drink and entertainment, because, well, what else is there to do? The world stays up all night binge watching TV shows. The world wastes hours on the internet and playing video games. The world is gluttony. Are you a stranger to the world?

The world is lust.

The world pretends to love the sexual act, but actually hates it, using it in all the wrong ways. The world is addicted to pornography, and that doesn't bother him, because everyone uses it, right? The world sees other humans as objects not subjects. The world constantly makes sexist jokes and sexist policies. The world is captivated by someone else's spouse, or a live in girlfriend or boyfriend. The world is lust. Does the world know you?

The world is sloth.

The world is lazy and listless. The world insists that no one encroach on his time. The world sits on the couch and takes for granted those he loves and who love him. He always keeps his options open. The world knows what the right thing to do is, but hesitates to do it, sits on his hands, and it goes undone. The world is sloth. Does the world know you?

The world is anger.

The world knows just what's wrong with people today, what's wrong with everybody else. The world will admit a vague sense that he know's he's not perfect...but do you know what that other guy did? Did you hear? ... The world is a gossip. The world curses uncontrollably, especially when he's driving or watching football. The world is angry with his wife more often than he finds himself enjoying being with her. The world never compromises. The world is anger. How familiar is the world with you?

The world is pride.

The world doesn't listen. The world wants things his way. He's frustrated that people just don't get it. The world rolls his eyes at his superiors, usually behind their back. He's really good at imagining what he should have said to that person. The world is self-absorbed, but at the same time, hates himself, because he knows deep down that he's not as good as he tells everyone else...definitely not as good as the facade he presents on Facebook. The world is pride. Are you a stranger to the world?

Again, St. John takes it for granted that we are strangers to the world, for the saints are. That's why holy people stick out so easily and draw so much criticism. To the extent that they are captivated by heavenly things, their relationship with the world is neglected more and more.

Most saints started out as close friends with the world. They were old drinking buddies. But growing in holiness is sort of like what happens when a person settles down, gets married, gets a job, has kids, matures, or otherwise no longer has time for his immature friends. He feels awkward around them. He doesn't care as much about the things they want to talk and joke about. He has to leave early to get back to his life. Eventually he becomes estranged from them. He says hello every now and then, but his life has changed.

That process of leaving our old "friends" behind is precisely what conversion means. We grow further and further apart from our old drinking buddy, (but we might not even notice it as it's happening). We begin to care about other things and neglect our old friendship with the world.

But here is the question. Here is what determines whether we're on the path to sanctity, that great quality of being a saint:

Who is it that we're growing apart from? Can I more truthfully say:

"I am neglecting my relationship with the world."
"I am neglecting my relationship with God."