This weekend is Respect Life Sunday. In every Catholic Church in the world priests will be reminding Catholics of the dignity of every human person. President Reagan poignantly stated: “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion is already born.” His words remind me of something that happened years ago when I was a new priest.
In my first parish all the priests lived on the second floor; we lived above the church. The kitchen, the living room, the apartments were on the second floor. In the dining room was an immense window that looked out on the entire street. One summer there was a visiting priest from India. Father lived in a rural and poor village in India. It was his first time visiting the United States.
Some mornings I would pass through the dining room and see the priest staring out the window onto the street. Often he was shaking his head. It was usually the same time every morning at 7AM. After several weeks of this I asked Father what captured his attention out the window at 7AM. “That truck,” he said. “It is amazing!”
I looked out the window and sure enough there was the big garbage truck with the sanitation men hard at work. “What is so amazing about the garbage truck?” I asked. He said something to me I will never forget. He responded “You Americans throw so much away. Each day I stand and look at how much you throw away. In India we put an entire week’s worth of trash into a small bag. Every day you have piles of trash at every house.”
Father was correct and I was glad he would not be around to see the Christmas garbage collection. And so I began to notice just how much we throw away. Walk down any street in New York and you will see lots and lots of trash every day being thrown away. I began to think about the fact that we live in a “Disposable Society.” Father Francis was puzzled recently when I threw out a broken table. He thought I should still use it. I told him it only had one leg. To many foreign cultures nothing is ever thrown away—not even a table with one leg. Everything has value.
When we were young we put our babies in diapers and then washed the diaper to be reused. Today we throw away 5 diapers per day. Years ago we washed and reused baby bottles, today we throw them out. The milkman collected and recycled our milk bottles; today we throw out the cartons of milk. My grandfather refilled his lighter with Ronson lighter fluid, today we have disposable lighters. I remember bringing my grandmother’s refillable fountain pen to be fixed; today we throw pens away. We throw away razors every morning. We no longer buy cars and keep them for years; we lease them and dispose of them after 2 years. We throw everything away. We have begun now to throw people away without even blinking.
We must wonder if anything today is permanent. I ask young people if they can name anything in life that is permanent. They cannot. Is everything disposable? Is everyone disposable? Having been immersed in a “Disposable Culture,” I wonder if marriages, families and people themselves have not become disposable. If the child in the womb is unexpected; if an elderly person becomes a burden; if the terminally ill person does not die fast enough, they too become disposable. I read last month of the legal euthanizing of youth now in Scandinavia. In America we “dispose” of a child in the womb every 20 seconds! Every 20 seconds!
My friend Sister Philip’s bumper sticker reads: “Smile! Your Mother Chose Life.” How fortunate for you that your mother chose life, for no life is disposable. Every life is sacred. Period!
– Fr. Gerard Gordon