Sunday, October 4, 2015

Worth Living

   Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

I talked to a whole lot of people
at our Holy Harvest Festival two weeks ago,
but there’s one conversation among them all
that stands out in my memory.
It was with a man who lives out of town,
but comes here often for work.
He’s a probation officer—
which means that what he usually sees
is the dark underbelly of Malone.
He was rather encouraged 
to see another side of our community
in and around that tent 
behind Holy Family School:
kids and young families, prayer and games,
music and dancing, good food and laughter—
all on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

As we spoke,
the man shared with me his sadness
that what he encounters on the job
is rather the opposite 
of what we were witnessing at that moment:
he sees young people, 
filled with so much potential,
needlessly squandering it—
with drugs, or petty crime, or plain ol’ laziness.
You and I have seen it, too—
right here on the streets of this village.

My conversation with that man turned to our shared conviction
that how you choose to live your life
depends on whether or not you think you’re worth something.
It’s a question of dignity.
No one’s going to be very good
if they can’t see anything good in themselves.
You can’t expect somebody to clean up their act—
or even clean up their house—
if they don’t think there’s much value to their existence.

And if a person can’t recognize his or her own dignity,
then there’s not much chance
they’re going to show respect for anybody else’s, either.

What that visitor and I spoke about
is more than finding ways
to improve young people’s self-esteem.
This issue runs far deeper than how you feel about yourself.
Feelings, after all, come and go—
and they’re just that: feelings.

The remedy I’m talking about here is a matter of faith:
believing that there is a God;
believing that God created the whole universe in all its wonder;
believing that God—in love—
creates each and every human person;
believing that you are of infinite worth to God.
As we read in our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews,
God’s own Son, for a little while,
made himself lower than the angels
that he might suffer and die
and so raise us up with him to glory.
Jesus is not ashamed to call us his “brothers.”
We’re that precious in God’s eyes!
And nothing whatsoever can diminish this great dignity,
since it’s God’s own gift.

There’s been lots of talk in Catholic circles in recent years
about “the dignity of the human person.”
We need to see it as so much more than a catchphrase!
Since I think the greatest poverty in our community
is not lack of money, nor lack of ambition, nor lack of jobs,
but is far-and-away a spiritual poverty,
I also think this approach
is the cure to so much of what ails us.
Even more: it’s at the very heart of the Gospel.
People need to discover their true worth,
and people do that when they come to believe
that they’ve been created in God’s image and likeness,
and called to live with him forever.
If we can deep-down-believe that we matter to God—
matter more than anything—
it changes how we live:
the respect we show for ourselves,
the respect we show for one another.
The God-given dignity of every person
is a way of life each one of needs to embrace,
and a message we all need to spread around.

This past week,
Fr. Scott loaned me 
a Lighthouse Catholic Media CD.
“It’s really good,” he said.
And he was right!
I’ve listened to it three times already—
and will listen to it again.
It’s by Fr. Mike Schmitz
and is called, 
Living Life by Design not by Default.
(There are copies of it in our CD racks
if you want to check it out for yourself 
after Mass.)

Fr. Mike is giving a talk to college students
about the impact 
our modern means of communication
have on our relationships with one another.
Email and texting, Facebook and Twitter
make it possible for us to communicate with many people—
—but to do so on our own terms, and at a safe distance.
When I see a post or receive a message,
I’m free to delay my response or ignore it altogether—
making such communication
in many ways far easier and less messy
than speaking with somebody face-to-face.

We’ve become rather expert at using our many tech devices…
…but we no longer know how to talk to one another in person.
Have you ever seen a young couple out on a date—
not gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes,
but both looking intently at the glowing screens of their Smartphones?

As Fr. Mike puts it,
we sacrifice real connection for mere contact.
Yes, we’re “in touch” with lots of people,
but we rarely (if ever) interact on any deep level with them.
We may be in each other’s space,
but we’re not really in each other’s lives.

A retired priest I worked with some years ago
was much beloved for the way 
he’d give high-fives to all the kids
as he processed down the aisle 
at the end of Mass.
Just imagine if I high-fived everybody 
on my way out…
…but then didn’t stick around 
to talk with anybody.
That’s the reality so many people 
are living today:
contact with lots and lots of people,
but connection with almost no one.
We have more ways 
to communicate than ever…
…but people are also more lonely than ever.
Getting this disconnected is far from healthy,
because it goes against the grain
of how God made us in the first place.
Taken to the extreme,
it leads to tragedies like our nation once again experienced
just the other day in Oregon.

On that CD, Fr. Mike shares an insight
from one of the organizers of the Steubenville Youth Conference—
to which we’ve sent high school students from our own parish
these last few years.
When they started the conferences 20-25 years ago,
their goal was to get teens
to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—
so what they needed to do was introduce them to Jesus,
and once they met Jesus, their lives were changed.
Today, before they can introduce teens to Jesus,
they have to introduce them to the concept of a relationship;
they don’t know what a real relationship, what real friendship, is.

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”
Thus said the Lord God at the very beginning…
…and it remains just as true today.

What Fr. Mike sees in the effect of technology on our friendships,
Jesus was already able to see in so many of our relationships.
Jesus doesn’t want to see husbands and wives divided;
even in his day, divorce was widespread
and tearing at the fabric of the God-designed connection
between men and women.
Jesus doesn’t want to see parents alienated from their children,
or families broken apart.
How easily we let overwork, TV, daycare, school, sports,
and our increasingly independent lifestyles come between us!
Such division reaches its extreme
when children can be eliminated before they’re born,
and the sick and elderly, as well, if we find them too much a burden.
Nor does Jesus want to see this sort of disconnection
run into our most critical relationship of all:
our relationship with God.
We pop in, then pop out, once a week for Mass—
maybe not that often;
our prayer is sporadic, or maybe just routine.
Sure, we’re making some contact…but not a very deep connection.

At every level, in every relationship, it must be repeated:
“What God has joined, no human being must separate!”

October is Respect Life Month, and this is Respect Life Sunday.
This year’s theme is beautiful: “Every Life is Worth Living.”
It’s not only beautiful; it’s true.
So let’s make this a time to celebrate and promote
the immense dignity of every human person.
Don’t take it for granted!
Many folks around you have no idea how precious they are.
Tell them!  Show them!  But first: believe it yourself!
And let’s make this a time to foster connections.
Don’t settle for mere contact!
Develop authentically human relationships 
in a world that’s rapidly forgetting how.

We have such incredible dignity!
We're made for real connection!
Yes, lifeevery lifeis worth living!

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