Whose life is it, anyway

Bishop David A. Zubik

Bridging the Gap

Some of you may remember Father Patrick Rager, a priest of our diocese ordained May 11, 1985.  Not long after his ordination, Paddy (as he was affectionately called by his family) was diagnosed with a very rare form of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

For over twenty-five years of his priestly life, until his passing on July 20, 2010, Father Rager’s disease robbed him of almost every activity associated with a normal day of life: walking, running, eating, touching, speaking and, in his case, some might even say “priesting.”  Father Rager was confined to bed in his mom’s home, paralyzed from his neck to the tips of his toes.  His only means of communication were his eyes and his smile.  Father Paddy was at the very least a marvel—and many of us believe him to be a saint.

Because of the ALS, he was not able to celebrate Mass, preach a homily or offer the sacraments.  Yet, he still communicated God’s grace—through his radiant smiling eyes.  Some in our culture might claim he was useless.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  He helped others who struggled with disabilities. He helped me grow in holiness.  He did so with a deep Christ-like presence, evident in his gentle and discerning eyes. 

What a sharp contrast his life is to the main character in a 1970s play–later a movie—entitled “Whose Life Is It, Anyway?”  The storyline focused on a promising sculptor paralyzed from the neck down following a car accident.  Both the movie and the play became a forum in support of euthanasia.  They advanced the idea that the sculptor was trapped in a “useless” body and should have the right to say whether he should live or die.

What an interesting contrast with Father Rager; between a life lived in joy and compassion, and a life abandoned to despair and deemed useless.   

This past week, we marked the 49th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe vs. Wade.  Whether physically present at the March for Life in Washington or prayerfully standing witness near home in one of our parishes, we had the chance to promote the joy that Father Rager knew. We stood for embracing the gift of life, and against a culture of death.

What value does our society place on human life?  What value do we as daughters and sons of God place on human life?  Once God is taken out of the equation as the Creator of human life, eliminating the truth that all life is sacred and in God’s hands, the question remains, “Whose life is it, anyway?”

 Many in the secular world fumble for an answer or evade the question by claiming falsely that there is no answer.  Biology alone should tell them that, from the moment of conception, each unborn child is a unique individual, genetically different from either parent, “part of” no one else’s body.  Our duty is to assist and protect both mother and child, before and after birth.

As I share this reflection, there are roughly 2,800 abortions a day in the United States, with about 22% of all pregnancies ending in abortion.  There are strong political efforts to force the participation of medical personnel who have deep concerns of conscience over abortion, and to force you and me to pay for abortions with our taxes.  

Several states have legalized physician-assisted suicide.  Society can’t figure out under what conditions we can give water to a dying person.  Conventional wisdom has decided that any means to prevent birth is good.  It is not!  Capital punishment remains an acceptable option for doing away with criminals.  It is not!  These are ways our society has legally approved the culture of death.

When a culture denies God as Creator, life is reduced to a function—to what a person can do, not who they are. The horrific result allows those with power to decide who lives and who dies.

This kind of thinking shrinks in the face of Jesus’ own words: “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

As the movie “Whose Life Is It, Anyway?” is ending and the court gives the sculptor the option to kill himself, the camera pans to an overhead shot.  It creates the illusion that the sculptor is in the hand of a statue representing God.  While it might be clever cinematography, it advances a profound contradiction to the movie’s premise. God is the Creator of all Life. Our lives are in His hands, not our own.

That image of the statue takes on true meaning when we envision it enfolding the beauty and integrity of Father Rager’s life—as well as your life and mine. Created in the image and likeness of God, our lives belong to God, not to ourselves.  Embracing that truth, we arrive at a true answer to the question: “Whose life is it, anyway?”

If our life belongs to God, then the value of our life can never be owned or determined by any human being—not by a president, not by a physician, not even by ourselves.  The value of a human life cannot be snuffed out by abortion or euthanasia nor by capital punishment.  The value of a human life cannot be diminished by any ideology. Nor can it be redefined by any attempt to play “god” instead of acknowledging that God is the Creator of all Life.

Life is sacred because it comes from God—the Giver of Life.  “Whose life is it, anyway?”

It is God’s!