Sacredness of human life is more than skin-deep

Sadly, I received no question for my September column, so I offer you some remarks for “Respect Life Sunday,” Oct. 2.

One fall day, when the earth was very young, a group of trees in the forest had a quarrel about which of them was the most beautiful tree that God had made and which of them gave God the most glory. A proud oak tree with orange leaves spoke up and said:

By Father Michael Kwatera
By Father Michael Kwatera

“You should be orange like me! Orange is the color of so many delicious fruits and vegetables: carrots, squash, pumpkins — and oranges, of course! God has done the best work in me!”

A beautiful red maple tree then spoke up and said:

“You trees should be red like me! I’m the color of juicy red apples, strawberries and raspberries and cherry Kool-Aid! That’s why I give God the most glory. You should be red like me!”

Lastly, a golden elm said:

“You should give glory to God by being like me! I’m a bright golden yellow. When people see me, they think of the sun: bright and golden, full of light and warmth. What could be better than that? Besides, I’m the color of scrambled eggs and creamy butter. I really think that God has done the best work in me.”

Finally God, who had made all three trees, spoke up:

“Can’t I work my wonders through all of you trees as I choose? If I had worked the same way in all of you, none of you would be as beautiful as you are. Your real beauty lies in being different from each other.

“Who are you, Mrs. Oak, to tell Mr. Maple that he can’t give glory to me as a maple? And who are you, Mr. Maple, to tell Mr. Elm that he can’t give glory to me as an elm? And who do you think you are, Mr. Elm, to say that the wonders I have worked in you are greater than those I have worked in my other trees? The cold north winds will soon be here to teach you a lesson. They will teach you to be humble by snatching away your brightly colored leaves.”

And so it happened! But their leaves grew back and were even brighter the next year. And the three trees decided to be good friends. Why? Because they knew that each of them gave glory to God in a special way. God had made each of them different, yet each of them gave glory to God. They were good friends ever after.

In his image

Have you ever wanted to ask a priest why he personally believes in the right to life and respect for life? This story might well serve as part of my answer. All the trees in the forest, especially at this time of year, are beautiful. Who can say that there are too many of them, or that one of them doesn’t deserve to be there because it’s not “perfect,” or because it’s different from the other trees?

All human beings, who are so much greater than the rest of God’s material creation, have a right to be born and live and die as God intends. There is a beauty, a sacredness, to every human life that is more than skin-deep, more than body-deep, for we are made in the image and likeness of the invisible God.

If law and medicine can authorize the killing of the unborn child, then what logic can forbid law or medicine from destroying life at any other point in its development?

Destruction of the life of incurables in mental institutions, of the chronically or terminally ill, of the elderly, and many others who may be regarded as a burden on society, becomes a terrifying possibility. For we live in a time and in a society where those who are unwelcome are in danger of death.

Spokespersons for God

Can anything save us from such sinful, destructive ways of thinking, speaking and acting that lead to death?

Yes. The spirit of God makes all the baptized into prophets, spokespersons, for God. The Holy Spirit of God, the Lord and giver of life, empowers us to respect and cherish and defend all human life, from conception to natural death.

Through the Holy Spirit, God calls us to imitate Jesus Christ in his respect for human life, for human persons; to be as strong, loving and wise as he was in protecting and cherishing human life.

It is the Holy Spirit who saves lawmakers from error, who saves religious leaders from apathy, expectant parents from fear, young men and women from ignorance of God’s will, ourselves from hardness of heart.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts, and create in them the self-giving way of living that can renew our respect for life.

Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at mkwatera@csbsju.edu or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.

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