We live in a time when the value of human life is under attack. At the very least, the value of human life appears to have been significantly diminished. Today we measure our value and the value of others in terms of material possessions, wealth, power, position, title, education, houses, cars, and pleasures.
We live in an age of high technology. We have progressed more in the past fifty years than we have in the past two thousand, at least in technological terms. The development of new technologies has allowed us to travel farther, faster, and more safely to any place on the globe. We can generate more information than is possible for an individual to absorb. We can grow and produce sufficient food to feed not only this nation, but also the whole world, if we choose to do so. New technologies and new drugs have resulted in truly astounding medical advances that enable physicians to better care for their patients, to hasten the healing process, and to cure diseases and injuries that until recently were considered incurable.
Despite all of the advances that we have made over the past fifty years, despite all of our experiences and interactions with other nations, are we much different, or any better off than when Bishop Sheen first wrote his book?
Today there are those who tell us that it is the quality of life that is most important and that when the quality of life diminishes, life is no longer worth living. There are some who say that the value of an individual life depends on who that person is, on the person's ability to contribute to society as a whole, or on the ability of that individual to pay. There are those who say that the value of human life and the right to live or die is determined by a constitutional right to privacy. We have, it seems, seriously diminished the value of human life and forgotten the sanctity of life.
It is therefore important for us to step back and honestly reflect on the value of human life, the importance of human life, and the sanctity of life.
Of all of God's creatures, only human beings are able to know and love God. You and I are called to share in God's own life. This is why we were created, and this is the fundamental reason for our dignity. Because we are made in the image of God, each individual possesses the dignity of a person, not just a something, but a someone. Each of us is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession, and of freely giving of himself or herself and entering into communion with other persons. Each one of us is called into a covenant with God, to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give.
The very foundation for our importance as individuals therefore lies in our creation. We are important because we were created by God. Our creation was a deliberate act on the part of God. We did not just "happen." Our creation was not some accident of passion. We were not created by chance. We exist as a result of a conscious, deliberate decision by our infinite, all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving God.
God created you, especially you, specifically you. Think about that -- really think about it. Let the significance of that fact sink in. You were created as an individual, by God. Your creation was a deliberate act on His part. He chose you by name. He could have created someone else, but He chose you. He could have created the world without you, but He didn't. He chose you. He made a deliberate decision to bring you into existence. He chose the time and the place of your birth, your parents, the period in history, and the environment. He gave you your physical characteristics. He gave you the gifts that He wanted you to have. God grants you, not only your existence, but also the freedom to act on your own and participate in His divine plan. God gives us the power to freely share in His providence by entrusting us with the responsibility of "subduing" the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables us to be intelligent and free in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for our own good and that of our neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God's will, we can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by our actions, prayers, and sufferings.
What is the first thing that everyone does when seeing a newborn baby for the first time? Everyone tries to figure out who the baby looks like -- the mother or the father. Whose eyes does it have, whose nose, whose chin, whose coloring, whose features? We all have the features of our heavenly Father. God made you in His image and likeness. But God, your Father, is spiritual. He doesn't have limits. He is not limited by time and place, size and weight. He has no need for food or air or water. He will not die. He will not get sick, and He will not die. You know this. But understand the significance of that fact. You are, in fact, a spiritual being, housed in a biological body. Your soul, the very core of your existence, is spiritual. It has no form that you can see, or touch, or feel. Your soul is spiritual. It has no need for food or water. It will not get sick and die. You will live forever after your earthly life is over. You are one of the chosen. God made you, and He made you in His image and likeness.
We belong to God. He is responsible for our life. He cares for us, for you and for me. If we are important and valuable to Him, how can we be any less important, any less valuable to each other?
God's love for each of us is a covenanted love. It is not a contractual love. A covenant implies a promise of unconditional love, a promise that is never canceled. A covenant promises a love that will give one hundred percent at all times, despite the response of the beloved. Covenanted love is not earned or won by the person to whom it is given. It is always a free gift. Covenanted love walks undemanded miles and goes beyond the demands of justice and reciprocity. Covenanted love is never taken back or withdrawn. This love lasts forever.
You are loved unconditionally for what you are. The message of unconditional love is one of liberation: You can be yourself and express your thoughts and feelings with absolute confidence. You do not have to be fearful that love will be taken away. You will not be punished for your openness and honesty. The idea that someone loves you unconditionally is very hard to accept, especially today. In our day and age, no one in their right mind is presumed to do anything unconditionally. But the fact remains that God loves you totally, completely, and unconditionally, and this makes you a very important individual.
When we love someone or something, don't we give to that individual some degree of importance? Think of the first time that you met your spouse, or think of the love that you have for your parents, siblings, or children. Aren't they important to you? God loves us in that way, but more so. His love is totally unconditional, unsolicited, unmerited, and undeserved. God's love for us is not based on anything that we have done or possess materially. God's love is always there; it is a gift and an irrevocable commitment. There is nothing that you can do or say that will stop God from loving you. There are absolutely no conditions attached to His love. He doesn't require you to be something special, to be rich, powerful, or educated. He simply loves you for what you are, and that love is always with you. We human beings have a hard time understanding that. It is because of God's unselfish, unconditional love for you that He has prepared a place for you in His kingdom and that fact makes you very important, too.
Remember that there is no one on the face of the earth, living now or in the past, that has been loved by God more than you are. No one. God loves you with the same fervor and intensity as He loves a Mother Teresa or a Pope John Paul or anyone else you can name. God loves no one any more or any less than He loves you. He does not love you any more than He does the poorest sinner or the most hardened criminal. God's unconditional love for you makes you important and gives you great value.
You are one of a kind, rare and valuable. The Lord made you with a set of fingerprints that are unique. Nobody else has them -- only you. The same can be said for the prints on your feet, the palms of your hands, your voice, and your genetic code. You are somebody unique with a body that has never been made before. After you were created, God broke the mold! You were made with a history that nobody else has. You were put in a distinctive time and place in history. You have been given a one-of-a-kind sequence of experiences in your life. You are somebody unique, with a never-before- lived past, present, and future.
You were given abilities, talents, gifts, and potential that nobody else possesses in precisely the same combination or degree. God has given you opportunities to develop those innate gifts. You have been given your own interests, desires, and dreams that are solely your own with a unique potential. You are somebody unique, a rare occurrence, one that happens only once in all eternity. That gives you value and importance, too.
Michael Lynberg summed this up in his book, The Gift of Giving: "There is something special and unique about us all. Each person born into this world represents a force, an energy, a promise that has never occurred before and that will never occur again. Only one being like you, with your blend of characteristics and potentialities, will exist in eternity. Only one being like you, with your dreams and aspirations, with your wisdom and experience, born sometimes of joy but often of sorrow and pain, can ever be." How wonderful God is to have loved you so much that He would create you, love you unconditionally, and make you such a unique individual.
You have talent and ability -- tremendous potential. It is precisely because you have this talent, ability, and potential that you are important. Consider the parable of the talents in the Bible (Matthew 25:14- 30). Before departing on a trip, a man called his servants and entrusted his property to them. He gave to each according to his ability. To one, he gave five talents, to the second, two talents, and to the third, one talent. The first two doubled their talents while the third buried his single talent. When the master returned, he asked for an accounting and was pleased with the efforts of the first two servants. But he was angry with the third. In fact, he took the talent away from the third and had him thrown out of his house, telling the servant that he was wicked and lazy. God, like the master in the parable, has given us each certain unique talents and abilities. To live well, we must not only use them, but also do whatever we can to develop them. How many talents and what kind of talents we have been given is not important. What is important is that we use them and develop them.
Each of us has a purpose or a mission to perform in this life. That mission is unique. Each of us has been given a special task to perform, a task that specifically fits in with the master plan of our Creator. That mission was given to you at the moment of your creation. No one else has your exact mission. It cannot be transferred nor altered. If you do not complete your assigned task, no one can step in and complete it for you. It is unique to you, and only you can do it.
Richard Bolles, a Christian and a career counselor, offers some advice in his career guidance book, What Color is Your Parachute? In an appendix to this book, he focuses on helping the reader identify his or her purpose in life. He begins with a hypothetical situation. Imagine, he writes, that before you came to earth, your soul stood before God and volunteered for a specific mission. Together, God and you chose what your mission would be and what particular gifts would be needed. God then gave you those gifts, talents, and abilities that would enable you to carry out your mission. Your mission, he suggests, is therefore not something that was arbitrarily given to you, but was a task jointly designed by you and God.
Bolles identifies three missions in life for each of us. The first is shared with all other members of the human race. It is "to seek to stand hour by hour in the conscious presence of God, the One from whom your mission is derived (i.e., to know God and enjoy Him forever, and to see His hand in all His works)." Your second mission is also shared with the rest of the human race. It is "to do what you can, moment by moment, day by day, step by step, to make this a better place, following the leading guidance of God's spirit within you and around you." Your third mission, according to Bolles, is one that is uniquely yours. It is "to exercise that talent which you particularly came to earth to use . . . your greatest gift, which you most delight to use, in place(s) or setting(s) which God has caused to appeal to you the most, and for those purposes which God most needs to have done in the world."
The Plains Indians, who lived on the North American continent hundreds of years ago, believed that each person had an important part to play in the life of the tribe. Early in life, each person would go through an exercise known as "vision seeking." They believed that through proper preparation, individuals could receive a special vision of life's purpose. They fasted, prayed, meditated, and spent long hours in solitude to discover their true connection to life.
Everyone, regardless of age or physical condition, has something to give. There are many examples of famous people who discovered their gifts and purpose late in life. Mahatma Gandhi was in his fifties when he realized that nonviolent resistance was his special
gift to the world. Miguel Cervantes was in his sixties when he began to write. Grandma Moses was in her seventies when she began to paint.
Consider another quote from The Gift of Giving: "The moments of your life are opportunities to use and build upon your special talents and abilities, to do the best you can, with what you have, where you are, and thus give something back, in gratitude and in faith, for the gift of living. In this lies a profound realization. If you do not live your life completely, realizing the values and goals that you hold to be worthwhile, making your unique contribution to the world in which you live, nobody ever will. Your song will die with you."
The Bible clearly tells us what we must do, and that is to do God's will. Our task is to find out what that means for us. Each task must be important or else it would not have been given to us. It must also fit in the master plan that God has for His Creation. This would seem to be an awesome responsibility, a responsibility that we must spend our whole lifetimes striving to accomplish. It is our mission, our purpose, that makes our lives very important, important because God doesn't patronize us with useless and trivial tasks, important because by doing God's will, we gain eternal life. Because of God's emphasis on our importance, what right do we have to degrade life, to terminate life, or to waste life?
You will make a lasting impression that will cause the individuals you meet to act and react in a specific manner at some time in the future. The very way that we choose to live our lives has an effect on those around us. What we say, what we do, influences to some degree those with whom we come in contact. They, in turn, influence and impact those with whom they come in contact. We then become part of an endless chain of events, that can and does impact the future.
Because you have an impact on others and you may cause them to react and to influence others, you are important.
The Gift of Giving reminds us that, "The great people of history, those who have earned our respect and admiration, those whom we truly call successful, are people who in some way have enriched the lives of their fellow man. What is remembered most is not how much money they made or how large a house they lived in, but how much they help us enjoy and understand our world; what is celebrated is not the power that they held, but how in expressing what was highest and most noble in their natures, they help us experience what is most exalted in ours."
Each of us can make his or her work a gift to the world. No matter where we are, we can do something to add to the lives of those around us. The opportunity to do so is right before us, in the things we do. Mother Teresa once said, "What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean; but if we didn't do it, the ocean would be one drop less." Albert Schweitzer wrote, "Not one of us knows what effect his life produces, and what he gives to others; that is hidden from us and must remain so, though we are often allowed to see some little fraction of it, so that we may not lose courage."
"Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."