“He approached the victim.” (Lk 10:34) With that phrase Jesus describes a fundamental difference between the Samaritan traveler and the religious officials. It's one thing to glance, then turn away. But if we draw close to a person in distress, we will inevitably desire to help. It’s part of our human makeup. As today's first reading says, no one needs to go “up in the sky” or “cross the sea” to discover it. (Dt 30:12) When my niece was four years old, she would cry if the dog got a splinter in its paw. (At the same time she would slug her little brother if he messed with her toys, but that’s another story.) Compassion – pity - comes natural. The emotion wells up when we approach a fellow creature that is suffering.
To recognize compassion as something natural, or instinctual, is not to deny its greatness. It is different from the drives for food, sex, survival, etc. which we share with animals in general. There is something distinctively human about our impulse to alleviate the pain of other creatures.
Though compassion comes natural, it is only engaged when we approach the sufferer. That was evident here at Holy Family in your tremendous response regarding the Peruvian earthquake. More than four thousand dollars were donated. Why? Many viewed reports on television and then, when you came to Mass, you heard how you could alleviate some of their anguish. Even though it meant personal sacrifice, you wanted to help families in distress.
During recent years reporters have written about “compassion overload.” As part of a “global village,” we hear daily of famines, epidemics, earthquakes. Even though we feel sorry for the victims, we wonder what we can do. None of us has the resources of Bill Gates. Nevertheless we have a responsibility to discern how to best employ what we do control. And as Christians, we possess the greatest resource of all – prayer, especially at the altar of Christ’s sacrifice.
One other group of victims demands our attention. You and I walk past them every day. I mention them not to add another burden. Rather, it is the defining issue of our times, just as black slavery and the Jewish holocaust defined other periods of history. I am speaking about our callous treatment of those we judge unwanted or inconvenient. In our country more babies die in their mother's womb than the combined number of heart attack and stroke victims. Around 1300 die each day of heart attack while 3200 perish in abortions.* It's much more likely one of your relatives will lose his life by surgical abortion than by heart attack.
Those statistics are stark, but perhaps, like the priest and Levite, nothing shocks us any more. The Samaritan did have a capacity to be jolted. If you still possess that ability, please, come a bit closer. Approach the victim. To do that I ask you to consider this remarkable testimony by Dr. Paul Rockwell:
"Eleven years ago while giving an anesthetic for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy (at 8 weeks gestation). I was handed what I believe was the smallest living human ever seen. The embryonic sac was intact and transparent. Within the sac was a tiny human male swimming extremely vigorously in the amniotic fluid, while attached to the wall by the umbilical cord. This tiny human was perfectly developed, with long, tapering fingers, feet and toes. It was almost transparent, as regards the skin, and the delicate arteries and veins were prominent to the ends of the fingers. The baby was extremely alive and swam about the sac approximately one time per second, with a natural swimmer's stroke. This tiny human did not look at all like the photos and drawings and models of 'embryos' which I had seen, nor did it look like a few embryos I have been able to observe since then, obviously because this one was alive! When the sac was opened, the tiny human immediately lost his life and took on the appearance of what is accepted as the appearance of an embryo at this stage of life (with blunt extremities etc.)." (Paul E. Rockwell, M.D., anesthesiologist, as quoted by Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke in Handbook on Abortion.)
His parents did not will the death of that tiny child. But others do choose their baby’s death. Their child is as alive and vigorous as the one Dr. Rockwell observed. I am not here to judge those who choose abortion. They are often victims themselves of an unsupportive, uncaring society. What I ask you to do is join me in dreaming of the day when abortion will be as unthinkable as owning a slave or building a concentration camp.
Fr. Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, maintains that America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion. He has been urging the mass media to show the public what an abortion actually is. Only when Americans saw pictures of lynchings and church burnings did most realize what the civil rights movement was about. Abortion is the most common surgical procedure in this nation, yet it has not been shown on television. Give a warning to the fainthearted, but if pictures of Holocaust victims can be shown, why are we afraid to view those tiny dismembered bodies? Such pictures are readily available - the Center for Bioethical Reform has an extensive collection of images of actual abortions. If the public could see them, we would not "pass by on the opposite side." (Lk 10:31) All but the most hardened would respond like the Samaritan traveler and approach the victim.
*“Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the single leading cause of death in America. Mortality -- 459,841 deaths in the United States in 1998 (one of every 5 deaths).” see: http://www.americanheart.org/Heart_and_Stroke_A_Z_Guide/has.html.
However: “In 1996, a total of 1,221,585 legal abortions were reported to Center for Disease Control...The abortion ratio was 314 legal induced abortions per 1,000 live births.” see: http://www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss4804a1.htm
From Archives (15th Sunday, Year C):
Bulletin (Deacon Ordination of Armando Perez)
Erickson V. Bartell Drugs
Abortion and Pro-Choice
Stem Cell Research: Teaching of Bible & Catholic Church
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Catholic Relief Service Report on Earthquake
Local Columnist Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."
Germaine Greer on Birth Control