Since this is Respect Life Sunday, and the beginning of Respect Life month, I wanted to talk about one woman who did respect life – and her choice has made a difference in the life of virtually every person in this church.
Her name is Joanne Schiebel. In 1954, she was a young unmarried college student who discovered that she was pregnant. In the 1950s, her options were limited. She could have had an abortion – but the procedure was both dangerous and illegal. She could have gotten married, but she wasn’t ready and didn’t want to interrupt her education. Joanne opted, instead, to give birth to the baby and put it up for adoption.
And so it was that in 1955, a California couple named Paul and Clara Jobs adopted a baby boy, born out of wedlock, that they named Steven.
We know him today…as Steve Jobs.
It would not be overstating things to say that Steve Jobs is my generation’s Thomas Edison. As one observer put it, he knew what the world wanted before the world knew that it wanted it.
If you have an iPhone or an iPad or an iPod, or anything remotely resembling them, you can thank Steve Jobs.
If your world has been transformed by the ability to hear a symphony, send a letter, pay a bill, deposit a check, read a book and then buy theater tickets on something roughly the size of a credit card…you can thank Steve Jobs.
And: you can thank Joanne Schiebel.
If you want to know how much one life can matter, there is just one example.
But: imagine if that life had never happened.
Imagine if an unmarried pregnant college student 56 years ago had made a different choice.
Now, imagine all the unmarried pregnant college students who make that different choice today.
By one measure, more than half of all abortions in the United States – 53% — occur in young women under the age of 25. That is hundreds of thousands of lives every year, snuffed out. Millions over the last quarter century.
The horrifying truth is this: we live now in a culture that not only does not respect life, but discards it like trash — not only at the beginning of life, but also at the end, and every place in between.
What has happened to us?
In Europe, there’s a new industry of “suicide tourism,” for people who are old or infirm and want to kill themselves.
In California, when it was announced during a recent presidential debate that 234 people had been executed in Texas, hundreds of people in the audience applauded.
What has happened to us?
Catholics can disagree about whether the death penalty is necessary. But we can’t disagree about this: cheering death – any death, especially if it involves someone who may be innocent – is an affront to life. And yet we do it so easily. And that is part of the problem.
Life has become disposable.
In the New York Times recently, there was a long article about the practice called “singleton” – where women pregnant with triplets or twins can arrange to have one or more of the babies aborted, to better manage the size of their family.
We don’t talk about it often, but it needs to be said: the reason we don’t see as many children any more with Down Syndrome isn’t because of some great medical breakthrough. No. It’s because roughly 90% of them are being aborted.
What has happened to us???
If you listen closely, the gospel this Sunday is, in one sense, about respecting life – and choosing death. It brings us the familiar saying about “the stone that the builder rejected.” Well, we have rejected more stones, more lives, than we can count. When will it end?
It’s increasingly clear that the only lasting change will happen when we work to change not only laws, but also hearts.
And that begins with each of us.
When will it end? This nightmare will end when we pass on what we all know to be true: for all its complexity and complications, all its sorrows and fears, all its headaches and heartaches…life matters. Every life. At every moment.
This nightmare will end when we teach our children that nothing, and no one, is ever discarded. Remember the multiplication of the loaves and fishes? When Christ performed that miracle, the story didn’t end when everyone ate. It ended with the people gathering up every crumb. Because every crumb was a part of that miracle. No one, no thing, no life is wasted in the incredible work of God.
This nightmare will end when we acknowledge that life is inconvenient, and difficult, and unplanned. But nothing, and no one, is ever unplanned or unwanted when the one doing the planning and the wanting is God.
This nightmare will end when we realize, at last, that love is greater than fear.
It will end when we make of our lives a continuing prayer – prayer that isn’t afraid to plead, to ask, to question, to hope. Prayer that embraces the beautiful truth of the most popular prayer in the world: “Thy will be done.” Prayer that is able to trust.
It will end when we see life not as a problem to be solved, but as a gift to be embraced.
It will end when we simply choose life. Beautiful, chaotic, unpredictable, explosive, crazy life. Life isn’t something to be discarded because it is difficult, or inconvenient, or unexpected, or old or sick. It is so much greater than we realize.
I sometimes mention this in baptism instruction: the baptism rite begins with declaring the name of the child. It harkens back to Genesis, and the first thing Adam did after God created him – he named everything around him. With that, man continued God’s creative work in the world. And we do that today: with every life we welcome, God continues His creation. Choosing life, we choose to be a part of that.
That’s what Joanne Schiebel did. Think of her the next time you make a phone call or plug in your iPod or download music.
And this morning, consider the work before us. It begins here, and now.
By changing how we talk about life, how we treat life, how we teach life to our children, we will begin to change hearts, change minds.
“Respect life” is more than just a catchphrase. It needs to be a way of living. Respect life. Not just in the womb, but everywhere, at every time, in all circumstances — within our families, our communities, the places we work and do business. It means treating every life with dignity, and honoring every life as a gift.
Doing that, moment by moment, we will begin to change the culture.
And: heart by heart, we will begin to change the world.