Sunday, July 15, 2007

Adam, Embryos and the Good Samaritan

(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given 14 & 15 July, 2007, at St. Mary Church, Cranston, R.I.; read Luke 10:25-37)

The parable we hear this weekend—The Good Samaritan—is one of the most familiar parables in the gospel. Even non Christians are quite familiar with the image of the Good Samaritan. We see it in organizations of good will and even in the CVS Samaritan Van that often lends a helping hand to motorists in need.

Precisely because the Good Samaritan is so familiar, there is a risk of losing the meaning Christ intends when He gives us that moving tale; there is a risk of reducing this parable to particular incidents or roadside accidents.

Yet to the particular question asked by the scholar in our gospel: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus Christ offers an answer that is universal: Everyone is my neighbor. Every man, woman and child is neighbor to the follower of Christ.

St. Augustine, commenting on this very parable, says that the victim of the robbers is Adam: He is every single one of us, wounded by original sin. Augustine says that it is Adam who has been attacked by Satan and his legions; as a result of original sin he is stripped of his immortality and lies helpless on the side of the road.

It is Christ who comes along as the Good Samaritan, that Outsider and Divine Visitor, who comes to rescue Adam. He looks upon that fallen and broken man and is moved to compassion.

Think of all the many times we see this replayed in the gospels. Christ looks lovingly upon the sinful woman, caught in the act of adultery, and has compassion. He looks with compassion on the sinners and tax collectors, and constantly seeks to draw them to Himself and heal them as the Divine Physician.

Here in the parable of the Good Samaritan, says Augustine, it is Christ Himself who lovingly picks Adam up and places him on his own animal. He brings him to the inn—which represents the Church—and provides him with refreshment and healing through the Sacraments, symbolized in the oil and wine poured over his wounds.

Our response to this beautiful story of our redemption should be two-fold. First and foremost we should allow Christ to truly become the Good Samaritan in our own lives. Where have our sins, and the sins of others, wounded us and left us broken and in need? Have we allowed Christ to enter deeply into those hurts, those wounds, and to heal us through the sacramental life of the Church?

But more than that, we are called to follow the command that Christ issues at the end of that inspiring parable: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Where do we find Adam, helpless on the side of the road, in our own lives? How is God calling us to care for those who are weak or helpless and in need, those we encounter everyday?

One of the great crises of our culture, one that we cannot help but notice, is the great lack of care that we have for the weak and the vulnerable. What Pope John Paul II referred to as the “Culture of Death” is evident on many levels in the world we live in.

Abortion on demand remains one of the tragic legal choices open to the very mothers and fathers who are most in need of care and support. How many lives have been lost and broken—not just the unborn, but also the mothers and fathers of those children—and all in the name of freedom, in the name of choice.

When we look to the other end of the spectrum, to those who are preparing to enter into eternal life, we find this same lack of respect for the dignity of the human person. Many people facing the twilight of life and the prospect of death are tempted, and even at times encouraged, to consider Euthanasia or “mercy killing.”

It is a false solution and a misplaced compassion which robs the person of the dignity owed them as a child of God. This was once an isolated issue, involving some other country or another state, and one that did not really seem to concern us. The national attention given to the case of Terri Schiavo a few years ago changed all that. That young woman literally died of de-hydration as a result of the choices of supposed caregivers, doctors and lawyers, who never even really seemed to know her. That tragic outcome is one that should concern each one of us.

But much closer to home for us today is the issue of aggressive embryonic stem-cell research. This is something that is in the news constantly, and there is a great lack of understanding for many Catholics and non-Catholics alike when it comes to stem cells and stem-cell research.

Firstly, stem-cell research is a very good thing; it provides a tremendous amount of hope for those with any number of diseases and illnesses and the Church certainly supports it. Stem cells taken from the human body have the potential to regenerate and form new cells which may be able to cure someone who has been afflicted with diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, to name just a few.

And there are legitimate, ethical ways of obtaining these cells. They can be found in bone marrow, various tissues and organs, and in the umbilical chord after the birth of a child. These are what are commonly referred to as adult stem cells—taken from the bodies of those who willingly offer them—and there have been hundreds of successful cures from these stem cells to date. We should, by all means, thank God for that.

Just yesterday, in the Providence Journal, there was an editorial written by Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Roberts, mentioning this hope for breakthroughs in the research and medical application of stem cells. But the Lieutenant Governor greatly confused the issue by failing to distinguish the nature and methods of adult stem cells over and against embryonic stem cells and embryonic stem-cell research. She wrote about both together, and strongly advocated for the research and use of each.

As the name indicates, embryonic stem cells are taken from human embryos, human beings in their tiniest and most vulnerable form. What was also missing from the lieutenant governor’s editorial is what happens to those human embryos after they have been harvested for their stem cells: they are destroyed, discarded as mere medical waste.

This is not, and never will be, ethical or humane. One of the foundational moral principles that applies to all people of all times and cultures is that one cannot do evil so that good may come about. The destruction of a human embryo—human life having both a body and a soul—can never be justified, no matter how hopeful the outcome or possibility of good that it may entail.

The lieutenant governor is undeterred by this sound and clear ethical principle. In fact, she is determined to use our tax dollars to fund research that will deliberately involve the destruction of innocent human life. As she stated unabashedly in that editorial:

“I want to expand Rhode Island’s share of research dollars and scientific contributions immediately.”

It should be the hope and prayer of every Catholic and person of good will in the State of Rhode Island that her wish for aggressive embryonic stem-cell research using our tax dollars never becomes a reality.

But a bit closer to our gospel this weekend, we can ask: How are we called to be Good Samaritans in the face of these challenging issues? Above all else, we should be available to help heal those who place so much of themselves in these poor and unethical choices.

When these terrible abuses of freedom fail…and they will… we need to be there to help people find true meaning and well founded hope for their future with God.

When the choice of abortion fails...and it will, and there are broken persons and broken lives, when people turn to Euthanasia as an option and discover that they have made a terrible and irrevocable choice, or when the empty promise of embryonic stem-cell research fails…and it will …there has not been one single cure from embryonic stem cells. There have been hundreds of cures, tremendous results from adult stem cells, the obtaining of which are perfectly ethical and morally sound, but none whatsoever from embryonic stem cells. So when these choices end in failure and brokenness, then we have to be there to look upon our brothers and sisters with compassion and help them to come here.

We are called not to condemn them, but to love them, to look upon them with compassion and to bring them here, to the one place where Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, can pour oil and wine over their wounds and bring them healing, restoration and peace.