12th Sun [A] 2008

Fr. Charles Irvin

Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

Sparrows are the most common and the most plentiful of all birds. This being so, they are not valued very highly at all. If as a species they were becoming extinct you can safely bet, however, that committees and campaigns would spring up to save them. But what about human life?

There are over five billion human beings alive on this earth today. In this century, more than in any other century in human history, human life is less and less valued. Paradoxically the baby-boomer generation, namely all those born after the end of WWII, is committed to individual rights, to individual expression and personal choice, to the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution as no other generation in human history. But what about commitment to the right to life?

Perversely and paradoxically, the people of this century are given to abortion and euthanasia as never before. Human life is disposable on a scale never before known to mankind. Nightly news broadcasts tell us of the loss of life in Africa, the Middle East, and the reported killings of people here in America. Life in our century is cheap, and while we ever more forcefully advocate individual rights we witness individual human lives being discarded and disposed of on a scale that boggles the mind.

You may remember that in the early days of coal mining here in our country the miners brought canaries in cages along with them into the mines. If the canaries began to die the miners knew the odorless and tasteless lethal gases would soon kill them too. It was an accurate prediction of what was to come.

In much the same way, the way human beings are treated in our world today is symptomatic of the forces that threaten our social fabric. Homelessness and the abuse of children reveal our lack of value for human life along with the rise of abortion and mercy killings in the past few decades.

In the midst of all this we hear our Church proclaim today’s gospel message throughout the world: “Are not two sparrows sold for next to nothing? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted; so do not be afraid of anything. You are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows.

Recently we commemorated the death of Robert F. Kennedy, a champion of underprivileged and ignored human beings. In one of his most famous speeches he said:

Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of repression and injustice.”

All of us here sometimes feel small and insignificant in our huge and indifferent world. As a priest I buried many people in the same cemetery that is the site of my father’s grave and my mother’s, too, along side of his. My father’s name and my name are exactly the same, so when I see his name on the gravestone I see mine. It gives me pause to meditate!

When I die, I will be buried in the priests’ circle in that cemetery. My name will be cut into a granite stone and placed over my buried mortal remains. A few people will have gathered around it for a few minutes, but when the committal service is finished they will get into their cars and drive off. My name will then melt into the hundreds of other names buried there and shortly be forgotten. So, too, will memories of my presence in this world as a priest. It won’t take long at all, believe me.

Like sparrows, we feel helpless and insignificant in the strong winds of life and in this world’s ever quickening passage of time. And, like sparrows, we appear to be so common as to have little or no value at all. We feel that we will make little difference in our world.

What, then, of our concern as Roman Catholics for the sanctity of human life, particularly each and every human life? Many people in this world intensely dislike us for our Pro-Life stance, particularly when it comes to abortion and euthanasia. We are told to keep quiet and to stop “imposing our religious beliefs and moral values upon others.” We’re lectured about the mythic Wall of Separation of Church and State and told that we’re being un-American with our convictions about the sanctity of human life, both in its beginnings and in its endings.

Jesus tells us here and now the same thing He told His apostles: “Do not let men intimidate you. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not become known. What I tell you in darkness, speak in the light. What you hear in private, proclaim from the housetops…” “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

Jesus wants to us understand that with God there is no such thing as a nameless, faceless individual human life. Every person lives in God’s family and in His house. God knows in detail each and every aspect of our lives. And He cares, profoundly cares, about what happens to each of us. Even though at times we may feel small, worthless and of no significance whatsoever, that is not how God our Father feels about us. We are not sparrows. We are His sons and daughters, ones that God loves so much that He allowed His Son to die for us. 

Which is why we have crucifixes in our churches. For the crucifix tells us how much God cares for each and every one of us, and likewise shows us the length, the breadth, the height and depth He has gone to demonstrate His love for us. It is in that crucifix that you and I can recognize our true worth and the value that we have in the eyes of God.

Are not two sparrows sold for next to nothing? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted; so do not be afraid of anything. You are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows.”

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”