[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirteenth Sunday 2005]
I thank God that I know a number of good, Catholic medical doctors. One of them sent an e-mail to me several months ago in which he wrote the following:
“One of my elderly dialysis patients chose to stop dialysis and die at home. He came to the ER this morning with a headache and pains. I told the family that we could set up hospice at home with oral pain medication. His grandson wished him to be on a morphine drip to put him in a coma in the hospital. However the patient was awake and coherent. Though a drip was a later option, we needed to make initial attempts at oral medication. I explained that a morphine drip would be akin to euthanasia. The grandson responded, ‘Why can’t you do that? We do it to dogs.’ I shot back, ‘Dogs don’t have immortal souls.’ ‘Who says?’ he retorted. My response: ‘God!’ End of conversation. Perhaps I should have added, ‘Your grandfather is not a dog!’ Where have everyone’s morals gone?”
Later the doctor wrote to me again and added this footnote: “Everyone has been so brainwashed right from the beginning of their lives. It was interesting to see that the 85-year-old sister of this man understood my rationale just fine, while the 25-year-old grandson was basically in favor of euthanasia. An interesting contradistinction.”
Praise God we still have some doctors out there like this man, who deal with their patients based on solid moral principles!
But the footnote to his letter indicates that he’s encountering more and more opposition to those moral principles in his practice—from people like that 25-year-old, who was quite prepared to “do-in” his own grandfather!
Why? Where have everyone’s morals gone? Why is that grandson’s moral perspective becoming the dominant one in our culture right now?
Well there are certainly many reasons for this problem—a problem that the Holy Father has rightly identified as “moral relativism”—but today I want to focus on just one of those reasons (an explicitly spiritual one): Many people have forgotten the meaning of Baptism! They fall very easily into moral relativism because they have forgotten what the first sacrament is all about. The fact is, if you know the true meaning of Baptism—and believe it in your heart—you will never say what that grandson said! You’ll never say it about your grandfather (if you’re still blest to have your grandfather here on earth); you’ll never say it about anyone.
In today’s second reading from Romans 6 St. Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
Did you ever wonder why your pet dog can’t be baptized? Or your cat? Or any other animal? It’s not only because your pet doesn’t like to take a bath! It’s because your dog or cat—even if he’s very cute—is incapable of being united with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection! Jesus Christ assumed a human nature when he took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He didn’t assume an animal nature; he assumed a human nature—because human beings are created in the image and likeness of God himself. And what Jesus assumed, he redeemed!
This means that from the moment of conception, a human being possesses a dignity above and beyond anything in the material universe! That’s the truth this doctor was trying to impress upon this 25-year-old man when he reminded him that his grandfather had an immortal soul—a fact which separated grandpa from any and every dog, even the cutest!
Because human beings have the potential to share in the resurrected life of Jesus Christ for all eternity, they deserve respect from the moment of their conception until the moment of their natural death.
You young people are growing up in a culture where this fundamental spiritual truth has been forgotten by some and is being ignored by others.
And we see the consequences of this amnesia and ignorance every day—often on the evening news. Last week, for example, the results of Terry Schiavo’s autopsy were finally released to the public. According to the medical examiner, she had suffered extensive, irreversible brain damage and never would have recovered from her condition. However, there was no indication that her injuries would have killed her. And yet, some people wasted no time in saying, “See, they were right to take away her food and water and let her die.”
Wrong! People do not deserve to have their basic needs met because they’re smart or rich or have some special talent or ability—or even because they’re in good health. They deserve to be fed and hydrated and have their basic needs met because they’re human beings! Period! In today’s Gospel from Matthew 10 Jesus talks about how we should respond to others with charity. He makes the connection there between identity and kindness: giving to a prophet because he is a prophet; giving to a righteous man because he’s righteous, etc.
But before a person is a prophet or a righteous man or a disciple—or anything else—he is a human being created in God’s image and likeness who is capable of eternal life through Jesus Christ. That’s his fundamental identity!
Most of you dipped your right hand into the holy water font as you entered church this morning and blessed yourselves.
Why did you do that?—Force of habit? Because everyone in front of you did it? Because you had some dirt on your hand? (I hope not!)
That action is supposed to remind you of your Baptism! It’s supposed to remind you of your fundamental identity as a human person redeemed by Jesus Christ. As you make that sign of the cross you should be thinking to yourself thoughts like these: “I am loved with an eternal love. I have been saved by the cross of Jesus Christ. I’ve been washed clean of sin in Baptism, and now I’m called to live a life of holiness, so that I will live forever with the Jesus who redeemed me by his precious blood.”
Blessing yourself with holy water is not supposed to be an empty ritual! It’s supposed to be an act of faith that re-affirms your identity in Christ Jesus.
The message of today’s homily is really very simple: Know who you are! Know the meaning of your Baptism! And—just as importantly—know who everybody else is!
If you do, then you’ll have respect for yourself; you’ll have respect for others; you’ll never become a moral relativist; and the thought of “doing-in” your sick relatives and friends will never even cross your mind.