I'm very appreciative to Fr. Barnufsky and to all of you for the opportunity to present some reflections on Respect Life Sunday. In the brief time that I have I will try to do two things. First, I'd like to tell you a little about the Life Principles program that has been the work of Human Life of Washington for the last couple of years. Second, I'd like to relate it to the Scripture readings.
The Life Principles program was developed largely through the efforts of Fr. Robert Spitzer, who teaches philosophy at Seattle University, It's an attempt to shift the discussion about the life issues from simply a debate between two positions, toward a discussion that proceeds from our ordinary common sense, what we all understand and share in our own human nature. The Life Principles program utilizes the insight into human nature which originated with Aristotle, who distinguished four different levels of happiness. These four levels correspond to the natural growth of an individual, who moves from a focus on the material satisfaction, to ego satisfaction, to love for others, and finally to the love of the ultimate, God Himself. The speakers who are trained in the Life Principles program are prepared to take an average audience, whether elementary school students or a CCD class, or a high school civics class, or a Kiwanis Club meeting, and explain why respect for life is required by what we know about the nature of human beings.
You see, according to Aristotle, everyone seeks happiness. An infant seeks happiness in the form of physical gratification, to satisfy hunger, or cold, or physical discomfort. But soon a child gets bored, and looks for attention, for ego gratification. We all want to be somebody, to be appreciated or admired for our strength, or our skills, or our accomplishments. But no sooner do we achieve this goal, than we find the need for the ability to share with other people, the gift of love. But even human love is ultimately inadequate because we are all imperfect. As St. Augustine says, our hearts are restless until they rest in the ultimate source of happiness, with God Himself.
This morning's Scripture readings are a very strong reminder of the call to affirm life in our everyday dealings. Like Samuel, we are called, not by a human voice, but by God Himself, to be his servants. I can't resist pointing out that the reading from Samuel skips from the end of verse 10 to verse 19. In the intervening verses Samuel is told by God that Samuel is to warn Eli that great destruction faces the house of Eli because of their blasphemy. Samuel had the courage to speak this terrible truth to Eli. And because he did, the Lord was with Samuel, and did not permit any word of his to be without effect. Like Samuel, we live in the midst of a culture in which shocking things occur. Every year we allow more than a million babies to be ripped from their mother's womb in the most heartless and cruel way. And in recent elections Washington rejected but Oregon accepted euthanasia as an answer to the suffering of the elderly. In the recent Supreme Court argument one of the lawyers said that the right to be put to death should extend to anyone who was dying, no matter how imminent or far away that death might be. Justice Scalia leaned over the bench and commented, "But counselor, we're all dying." So we are all the targets of those who want to eliminate anyone who is judged not to have sufficiently high quality of life. And we are called to say something about this, even when we are afraid we won't get a very good reception.
In the Book of Samuel, Samuel is surprised that when he speaks that which the Lord has told him, Eli recognizes it and accepts it. "It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him." I suspect that if we listened more to what the Lord was telling us, and spoke his words rather than our own, that some of the stridency and bitterness might give way to greater understanding.
Our second scripture was from St. Paul, who reminds us that we are not our own, "we have been purchased, and at what a price!" As Americans, we have a natural instinct to be independent. We don't like being beholden to anybody. And yet our Lord commands us to think of everything in our lives as a gift. Our spouse, our children, our parents, our bodies-- none of these belong to us; we are not entitled to them; we can't claim rights, we can't stand on our own autonomy. We belong to someone else. This goes against our grain because we don't like being subjected to anyone else's rulership, not even God's. And yet that is what we must do. We must surrender to the one who has the rightful claim to everything in our whole circumstance. One of the important insights from the Life Principles program is the distinction between freedom from and freedom for. When we seek for happiness based upon material or ego satisfaction, we are constantly looking for freedom from: we don't want anything to stand in our way. But when we graduate to a search for happiness through giving to others, and particularly where we look for happiness in God Himself, then we recognize that true freedom is the freedom for something. Being married, becoming a parent, committing ourselves to an ailing or infirm loved oneşthese acts don't take away our freedom, but rather give us the opportunity to really become ourselves.
This takes us to the final Scripture: the words of Jesus himself. The stage has been set by John the Baptizer, who has been preparing his followers for the one who is to come, for the Messiah. And when he sees Jesus he recognizes that this is the fulfillment of his prophecy: "Behold the Lamb of God!" But John's disciples, before they actually leave John to follow Jesus, exercise some caution. They ask Jesus, "Rabbi, where do you stay?" You see, the disciples wanted to know: what will it be like, following you? Perhaps the disciples suspected that the Lamb of God would be sacrificed in atonement for sin, and they were already apprehensive about being swept up in this sacrifice. But Jesus didn't rebuke them for their half- heartedness, or insist upon a total commitment before they would be allowed to follow him; he simply invited them to Come and see -- that was Jesus' invitation. He said to the disciples in effect, you can take it one day at a time. As a practical matter, that's about all we can manage, is one day at a time.
These days, to be a faithful follower of Jesus may seem like an invitation to martyrdom, and of course in one sense it is. But Jesus understands that about us, and he doesn't judge us for our fear. Although following him will ultimately require us to accept the cup of suffering with him, it also means that we live with him, that we will partake in the sacraments that he has prepared to sustain us, to transform these frail, fearful creatures into the apostles who were able to win the entire world for his kingdom.
Rabbi, where do you stay? Come and see, says Jesus, come and see.