by Rev. James Morrow.
A terrible calamity afflicts much of the human family - the calamity of people not knowing what is the very purpose of their existence, what is the very purpose of their neighbour's existence, the calamity of people not appreciating what people are for! To fill the vacuum absurd ideas are thought up such as that we are for being healthy and wealthy, whereupon those who do not meet such requirements are grossly under-rated, despised, used and abused like possessions instead of people, and even put to death.
The worst development from such misconceptions is of course when the strong presume to decide that many of the weak are without any purpose and should be killed. Tiny babies in their mother's womb are being universally slaughtered because people do not appreciate them. The elderly are now under tremendous threat from their own doctors, even from their children and from others in charge of them, and are liable to be put to death because of total failure to appreciate the value of the last days of the weak and dying..
The subject has been given added urgency by the deliberate starvation and dehydration of Tony Bland to death in Airedale Hospital, Yorkshire, by Dr Jim Howe in February this year (1993). Tony had been in an apparently unconscious state for over three years and a materialistic society could not see any value in his life. Specious language was invoked to justify his killing by deprivation.
Furthermore, if people don't know what people are for they are missing the very point of their own existence and squandering the precious time allotted to them to discharge their proper function in life.
Pro-lifers need to try and put all this in order by explaining to the world the supreme value of every human individual and the supreme value of every single moment of the life of every human individual. The following analysis is offered for this purpose.
In Matthew's Gospel (22 : 35 - 40) we read:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, `Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?'. Jesus said, `You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets also.'This famous and crucial passage of the Gospels lets us into the secret of what we are all for. Jesus expresses the answer in the form of two commandments. The first is that we must love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind. Why must we? Because that is the central purpose of our existence. Why is loving God the central purpose of our existence? Why isn't something else central instead of loving? And why love God and not self or material things? And if loving neighbour is also important, why is God first and our neighbour only second?
To answer we must penetrate as deeply as we possibly can into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the mystery of God's own life. To attempt this we must gather together some key passages of scripture in which we are taught the wonder of God's own life. Let us begin with the first letter of St John:
My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love. God's love for us was revealed when God sent into the world His only Son so that we could have life through Him; this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God's love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away. My dear people, since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another. No one has ever seen God; but as long as we love one another God will live in us and his love will be complete in us. (1 John 4)That passage tells us that God is love and that if we love our brethren we become like God. In other places we are told how God has made us his children, enabling us to love Him. For example, the first letter of St John, Chapter 3, tells us: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are." And again: "Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Naturally, we want to know as soon as possible what God is like and what it will be to see God as He really is. And so we should rightly search the scriptures to find what more we can learn about what God really is. In John 17, we read:
And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.And later:
Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world was.Eternal life, then, is to know the only true God and Jesus whom He has sent.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I shall ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees him nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you.And later:
Anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.Again in the same chapter 14:
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one can come to the Father except through me.In 1 John, chapter 5:9 we read:
We accept the testimony of human witnesses but God's testimony is much greater..............This is the testimony : God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son; anyone who has the Son has life, anyone who does not have the Son does not have life.I have written all this to you so that you who believe in the name of the Son of God may be sure that you have eternal life.
Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no-one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.In that passage of Matthew we see something of the unique relationship of Father to Son and Son to Father. It is a wonderful privilege to know something of their life and indeed be admitted to share their life. The life of the Father is this life of knowing and loving His Son and the life of the Son is that of knowing and loving the Father.
And yet in John 3:16 Jesus says,
God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.And add to this John 5:24:
Whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life.And in John 6:
It is my Father's will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and that I shall raise him up on the last day.And now let me quote a further passage about the Spirit of God. Jesus at the Last Supper (John 16 ) told his disciples:
When the Spirit of truth comes He will lead you into the complete truth; since He will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you of the things to come. He will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine. Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I said: All he tells you will be taken from what is mine.All that the Father has belongs to Jesus and the Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and tell it to us. The Spirit then has all that the Father has too and all that Jesus has and He will give it to us. In other words we will be given the very life of God communicated by the Spirit of Jesus who has already all that the Father has, all that Jesus has.
It should then be reasonably clear that God's life is the life of the Father knowing His Son and the Son knowing His Father, a life of Father and Son sharing their love so completely and wholeheartedly that they put all of themselves into their love. Our thoughts are pale images of the object we think of but the Father's thought is perfect and the Image of Himself which He expresses in thinking of His own Divine Nature is perfect. The perfect Image of Himself is his Word, and this Word is a Person equal to the Father because anything or anyone less would be an imperfect Image of the Father and unworthy of the Divine Intelligence.
The Father loves the Son who has proceeded from Him, and the Son loves the Father who has begotten Him. What is this love? Love is self-giving. The Almighty Eternal Father cannot give better or more to His Son than Himself. The Divine Son, perfect Image of the Father, cannot reciprocate more or better than Himself. Each gives a love which is Perfect, Personal, Divine. Anything or anyone less would be a failure in love, unworthy of God. Each Divine Person Father and Son gives the one love, emanating from the one and same Divine Nature. Each gives God and that God is God the Holy Spirit.
God does not change. The Blessed Trinity knows and loves in eternity, for eternity. But in time God can admit others to share this stupendous life. Only intelligent creatures can share this life, angels therefore and man, because to share God's life you must first know Him. Unintelligent creatures cannot share God's life because they cannot know Him.
Only loving creatures can share God's life because to do so you must love Him. And only free creatures can share God's life because to love is give oneself and to give is to give freely. What is taken from us is not given, what is forced from our grasp is not love.
The reason therefore for the supreme and first commandment is that we are made to share God's life. He is so good, so loving, that He wants us to share Himself. But He cannot share Himself with those who refuse to give because to share the life of the Trinity is to share a life of love, and to love is to give and to give is to give freely.
God can command us to be sensible and to love Him and allow Him to love us but He cannot force us to do so. Love is free. The supreme commandment to love God above all things derives therefore from God's own goodness and God's own life. We have to love Him because He wants to be good to us.
Now we are beginning to understand what we are for.
We Must Love Our Neighbours As Ourselves
God commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Why? Here are some familiar answers. We must love our neighbours firstly because God loves them. He loves them and He wants them to have an abundance of love. He wants our neighbours to have other people's love as well as His own. He wants our neighbours to have our love as well as His.
Secondly, we must love our neighbours because Jesus came to redeem them too and to let them share His divine life. Heaven will be the life of a wonderful family, we loving the Father, the Father loving us, we loving the Son, the Son loving us, we sharing the love of the Spirit with Father, with Son and with each other.
Thirdly, we must love our neighbour because our neighbour has also been fashioned in God's image and likeness. Our neighbour is like God. We must love God and we must love those who are very like God.
Fourthly, we must love our neighbour because Jesus asks us to care about those He cares about. He has chosen to make us one mutually dependent family here on earth, already bound together in a communion of saints. He has deigned to delegate His work of material and spiritual care of everyone to everyone.
Fifthly, He has made the dignity of our neighbour so great that what we do to the least of his brethren we do also to Him. He could even tell some of our neighbours, namely the apostles,
Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me. (Lk 10, 16.)And yet I think we can come to a more fundamental reason for loving our neighbour which is common to all the reasons already listed. Jesus wants us to prepare for Heaven. I have already insisted that Heaven is a life of love. If we are to be fit for Heaven then we must prepare by loving. We need therefore opportunities in this life to love. We have to practise loving, so to speak, and if we practise properly, if we come to genuine self-sacrificing, self-giving love here below then we will be able to share God's love above. God has given us our neighbour so that we have the opportunity to love during this time of preparation and trial. And so St John tells us:
A man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen. (1 John, 4, 20)And so we must love and give ourselves freely here to those who are the substitute for God. Who could be a better substitute than Jesus' own brethren and the least of His brethren. The more we love them the more we are able to share the life of love which is the life of God.
Our whole life therefore here below, every moment of it, consists in one huge opportunity. We are not born perfect. We belong to a fallen race. We must recognise the meaning and need of love in the course of our human development and we must seek to purify that love till we reach the ultimate expression and guarantee of love which is being ready to give our life for our friends. As Jesus said at the Last Supper:
A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. (John 15, 13)When our love comes to that full, self-giving maturity we are certainly ready for Heaven whether or not our vocation is actually to give our lives or simply to be ready and willing to do so and show this by our daily actions.
The Obligation To Be Lovable.
Our analysis of what we are all for has taken big strides. We are for loving. What else are we for? The answer is we are for being loved, both by God and by man. We are for being loved by God. God has chosen to love us. Even whilst we were sinners He chose to love us. He chose to love us by the fundamental gift of our existence, by creating us. He chose to love us by giving us the vocation to share His life. He showed His love by giving us all the material goods of this world. Even when man abandoned Him by sin, His love continued and manifested itself in the greatest gift God could possible give the human family, His own Self. It is a great mystery how God gave Himself - it is once more the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. God, the one God, gave Himself to man and so the Father gave His Son to man to be our Redeemer. The Son's love was so great He sacrificed Himself freely on Calvary. He could have asked His Father for legions of angels to protect Him. Instead, He made the great act of love which was the torture and death of the Crucifixion. God wants to give us the final consummation of love - eternal unity with Him in the life to come. He wants to love us to an extent we cannot really imagine but He has to invite us and wait for us.
And so we are for being loved by God Himself but we must allow Him to love us in eternity. He already loves us but that love is not yet in its final consummation. If we refuse His love, if we refuse to prepare to share His life then we will shut ourselves from Him for eternity and He will not be able to love us as He wished.
Moreover, we are for being loved by others, by our fellow men and women. I am your neighbour. You must love your neighbour as yourself. Therefore you must love me as yourself! I am for being loved by you. Naturally, I have a duty to be as lovable as possible! I have a duty because I love you to make it as easy as possible for you to love me. If I make myself your enemy you must still love me and care for me but that is much more difficult than loving one who is a friend. In practice, we all find that we have to love both kinds of people. We have to love those who are so very lovable and we have to love those who spurn our love, misunderstand us and even persecute us and make us suffer.
Love And The Disabled.
Now I would like to go over various particular questions concerning love in this world and as I go through it should become more and more clear how a christian should analyse a particular situation which I am presenting.
Let us consider love and the Down's Syndrome or otherwise severely disabled child. The world says that these children should be exterminated before birth. The world is as cruel and grotesque as that. The world says they cannot reach full independence, they are bound to be a "burden" on others all their lives. It would be cheaper for the strong to kill them than look after them.
You should clearly by now how ludricous and grotesque and totally unloving is the attitude of the world and how totaly misguided. Certainly if we were for being powerful or being wealthy in this world or for being very intelligent and all having university degrees, if we were for being materially independent of others, then those who fail to qualify should be exterminated - they would have no reason for comtinuing to exist. But these things are not what we are for. And what we are for the handicapped are very often much better at than the healthy! Little disabled children are for loving and being loved just the same as you and me and however handicapped they can do that thing which matters and which endures for eternity. They can love Almighty God whom they can get to know in the simplest childlike way. They can love their mum and dad and show this very openly. They can love everyone who comes their way and show this very openly. They are good at loving and they are good at being loved. Our mad, mad, mad world says let's kill off those who are better at doing what we are all supposed to do than the rest of us. How utterly preposterous, how ludicrous a state the world is in. But the world doesn't understand how far astray it has gone and you who are listening have a duty to help put the world right. That itself will be a big act of love.
Love And The Meaning of Human History.
This is not to belittle the actual genuine achievments in science, art, commerce, industry and so on, of the human family. It is to emphasise the real achievements are achievements in love and those who use the situations of their times properly and cause the real advancement are those who determine how to go on loving in a particular environment and social situation in which they find themselves.
A fellow priest passed on to me recently a little secret: it is not those who have power and authority who aremost important in Church or in civil society, but the Saints. Do you know who governed France during the lifetime of St Therese of Lisieux?
Love And The Garden Of Eden.
The devil hoped to destroy all God's plans for the human race. He invited the act of rejection of God which was far from love of Him in the disobedience of Eve and Adam. But the devil reckoned without the Incarnation and Redemption of the Son of God. Instead of removing love from the human family the devil merely helped create the situation in which the stupendous act of love which was the Incarnation and the Redemption would be given to the human family.
The devil in fact only succeeded in removing material gifts from Adam and Eve and their children, and in temporarily removing the gifts of grace which they would otherwise have had. But the redemption of Jesus would be enough to replace everything that the devil had done and indeed men would be able to love still more wonderfully in the new environment after the fall than before.
It is appropriate to end this section with a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Section 412)
But why did not God prevent the first man from sinning? St Leo the Great replies: "The wonderful grace of Christ has given us better goods than those which the envy of the devil took away" and St Thomas Aquinas says: "There is nothing against the possibility that human nature has been vested to a higher end after sin. God permits in effect that evils are done to draw from them a greater good. From which comes the word of St Paul: `There where sin abounded grace superabounds' (Rom 5,20). And the song of the Exultet is: `O happy fault which merited so great and so wonderful a Redeemer'".
Love And The Dying
Our misguided society can see no use for the dying and in particular can see no purpose in those dying in great pain. It is time to be rid of them, says pagan society. It is time for euthanasia by whatever name and under whatever skilful a camouflage. The christian says the dying can still love and be loved both by God and by man. The dying are called upon to express their love of God by accepting the sufferings he shares with them. The dying are called upon to make amends for their own sins and the sins of others. Jesus made amends only for the sins of others on Calvary not for his own. He had none of his own. Mary made amends for the sins of others on Calvary, not for her own. She had none. The dying can make amends both for their own sins and those of others. God is just and wants us to cooperate in remedying and making up for our failures of love in the past. Dying even in great pain can be and should be and must be a great act of self-giving love whereby the dying person becomes the more fit to go on giving in ecstasy to God for eternity. The dying can love. They can love their friends who are good to them. They can still love their enemies. They can love God .
And the dying can be loved by those around them. Doctors who love their patients will naturally attempt to alleviate their pain if they can but will not alleviate their pain by denying them the gift of life itself. Even a suffering and painful life is the gift of God. God has given life and we must use it in obedience to Him, to love. We do not own our own lives and cannot dispose of them as we please. Any other idea is atheism.
Those who plead for euthanasia are in fact guilty of atheistic thinking and may be in fact explicit atheists themselves. They should be challenged on their atheism. Those with the opportunity to oppose the movements for euthanasia in our country should be talking about God all the time. The atheists will say - "But I don't believe in your God. I don't believe in your Christ. I don't believe in your ideas on creation and redemption". The answer I am quite sure is that if atheism is the correct view of the world then the people in it can do whatever they like. The world of atheism is a meaningless world and in that kind of world there is no point in being concerned about anything except enjoying the fleeting insecure moments of existence that you have.
Atheism is wild irrationality. Atheism assumes a world which has appeared from nowhere, has no sense of direction and no stability, and can cease to exist as easily as it began. The atheistic world is totally devoid of meaning, of direction, of any kind of sense, of any kind of explanation other than the total absurdity of being which comes and goes without explanation, reason or foundation.
The truth is that when an atheist begins to discuss euthanasia, you must direct the topic immediately to the subject of God. The basis of the challenge to euthanasia as to abortion and other horrors of our times is the re-affirmation of our creative and loving and redeeming God. Don't bother discussing euthanasia with atheists because if atheism makes sense then euthanasia makes sense. The only serious subject worth discussing with atheists is God!
Does this mean that there cannot be a pro-life atheist? It means that there cannot be a wholly consistent pro-life atheist, as the philosophy of atheism cannot ground total self-giving love. When it's either him or you the consistent and sensible atheist must choose himself.
Love and Suffering
If God is such a God of love, giving us a lifetime of opportunities to love Him and prepare for eternity, why does He allow so much suffering? Could He not make learning to love rather pleasanter?
TheCatechism of the Catholic Church bids us beware of giving too short an answer to this, the fundamental problem of evil. The full answer has to be sought in the entirety of revelation history, the entirety of God's dealings with man. We have already touched on some of this above. Here I would just like to point out that there would seem to be a necessary connection between suffering and true self-giving love in an imperfect rational creature, made of body as well as soul, fallen and redeemed.
To give lovingly is to give something of myself. It may be goods, time, labour, thought, prayer, pain or life itself, but in every case in some way I restrict myself that another may have more. Precisely because I am a limited, sinful creature on a pilgrim's way to a promised land, each gift of myself, in whatever form, seems to be a further limitation on my limited existence, and therefore sacrificial.
Indeed, even in Eden Adam and Eve were asked to accept some form of limitation on themselves. At the time the sacrifice was too much, and for refusing a voluntary limitation they were to have imposed the fitting punishment of greater limitation.
In creatures such as us the many limitations we generously accept, or rebelliously endure, are bound to register as physical or mental suffering. If not, giving would be all too easy, and love would lose its profundity and indeed its meaning.
It should be noted that even the joyous self-giving of marriage is truly sacrificial, a sacrifice that sadly often proves too great a demand, as too many broken homes testify.
It appears to me that this analysis is entirely in conformity with the Gospel of the Beatitudes, with Jesus' own life, with the example of his fasting in the wilderness, his sadness in Gethsemane, his repudiation even by those he loved and especially by His Crucifixion. It is in conformity with the thinking of his saints, for example St Rose of Lima who exclaimed as the fruit of a dramatic spiritual relevation "No grace without suffering". It is in conformity with the teaching of Cardinal Newman who said that good is only done at the cost of those who do it.
To love then is to give, to give is give freely and to give freely in our created condition of body and soul is to suffer.
Finally, readers should perhaps reread the letter of St Paul to the Corinthians chapter 13 with his eulogy on the nature of love.
Rev. James Morrow.
Humanae Vitae House,12 Chapel Brae, Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, AB35 5YT.
Tel: 03397 41380. Fax: 03397 41416