Several weeks ago, I mentioned I that I would discuss sanctify of life issues within the context of several related questions. One of these questions was, “are some lives more sacred than others?” It is not unusual for people to take different stands on matters related to sanctify of life. For example, there are those who identify as pro-life, calling for the overturn of Roe vs. Wade, but who see no problem with supporting the death penalty. Other people hold the opposite view — they are pro-choice but against the death penalty. It concerns me when there are those who emphasize or stress one aspect of the sanctity of life while denying the importance of others.
In recent years, there has been much conversation over students being slain in schools, the global refugee crisis resulting from the war in Syria, and racism — in addition to other issues. The hot button item literally today is the current administration’s policy that is enforcing the separation of children from their parents who cross the US border illegally. All of these are sanctity of life issues.
There is a post on Public Orthodoxy by a Jesuit priest named James Martin in which he advocates for a wholistic approach to Sanctity of Life concerns. If you wish to read it you can access the link at https://publicorthodoxy.org/2017/02/02/pro-life-social-justice/.
There is much in this short reflection with which I agree, but after reading it, it struck me that something was missing. For example, in addition to being pro-life, Father Martin says, “I support anything that helps a person live a full, healthy and satisfying life, in every part of the world.” This sounds good to me, but is this how we are to understand our lives? He speaks to supporting equal pay for all, universal health care, affordable housing, humane work environments and many other things — all good things to work towards. But can these things be obtained by solely engaging in a political process? The gospel and epistle reading of Sunday, June 17, 2018 shook me up in a good way.
Saint Paul in Romans 5:1-4 says: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
And in Matthew 6:25,32-33 Jesus tells us: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”
Both readings say important things about our lives in this world as Orthodox Christians. First, there is something about suffering that works towards our salvation — making us whole, complete, and human. Saint Paul says we are to rejoice in our sufferings because of how God allows them to be used to help us to become patient (a determination to joyfully see things through even when things seem bad). This, in turn, builds character in us, resulting in a hopeful disposition. Walking the pathway of acquiring the virtues of the Kingdom can only happen when we anchor our lives in this peace, given to us in Christ through faith in Him.
This is clearly expressed in the gospel reading. Jesus commands us to not be anxious about our lives and not think of them in terms of pursuing and obtaining certain things as ends in themselves, as if they will make us content. To seek these things apart from seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness will only make us more anxious and more preoccupied with wanting what other persons have. Since our heavenly Father knows we need these things, Jesus assures us that if we make seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness our number one priority, the things we need to live in this world will be given to us as well. (Notice I said “need,” not “want.”)
I apologize if this does not come across in a clear and cohesive manner. This is difficult “stuff” to articulate. My point is that we needn’t give up on engaging in a political process to effect certain changes in the world in which we live. However, if we put our hope solely in that process we will not find peace or find true contentment. We need people of “good will” in this world. We need to be transformed! This only comes about within the context of seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness, and to see and believe in the Church as the “Re-creation of Creation,” made so by our Lord’s live-giving death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. So whatever change we advocate in this world needs to be seen from this perspective.
I am sure there are holes in my “point” that some may wish to shoot down. We do live in a fallen world in which people do not seek His Kingdom. What does that mean us? I hope to follow up on this next week.