Destroying the Image of God

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. (Gn 1: 27)

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

This year on January 22nd we observed a truly sad milestone – the 40th anniversary of the day on which the U.S. Supreme Court issued its infamous decision, Roe v. Wade, that opened the floodgates of abortion in our nation. Since then it’s estimated that 55 million abortions have been performed.

Shortly after that misguided ruling, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that Roe v. Wade was a “decision that deformed a great nation,” and how accurate her words have been. Abortion has become a plague on our nation. Besides the 55 million babies killed, children of God with tremendous promise and potential, think of the suffering inflicted on their mothers. Abortion causes enormous pain – physical, emotional and spiritual – for women who have abortions and often the men who help provide them. Abortion is particularly devastating to minority communities, sweeping through the inner cities of our nation like a terrible pestilence.

Legalized abortion was like a rock thrown into a lake, and the ripples of death and destruction have rolled across our nation ever since. Along with abortion, we’ve witnessed the growth of embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, violence in our schools and streets, domestic abuse, and addiction to a variety of drugs. Each of these acts has its own consequences, but what they have in common is that they diminish human life and dignity. The culture of death of which Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote so powerfully has taken root.

40 years! Think of the remarkable progress our society has seen in 40 years, unimaginable progress in the fields of science, medicine, technology and communications. 40 years ago we knew nothing of texting and sexting, the Internet and iPhones. But the truth is that while we’ve progressed in some ways, we’ve regressed in others. There can be no authentic human progress while we randomly destroy and casually discard our own children.

Pope Benedict made this point in his Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate: “Openness to life is at the center of true development. God is the guarantor of man’s true development, inasmuch as he created him in his own image. Man is not a lost atom in a random universe. He is God’s creature, whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom he has always loved.”

How it must offend God that we destroy his image, the children that he created and loves!

Since I became a bishop about 20 years ago, I’ve had the practice of handing out little picture cards during school visits and confirmations. The cards have my photo on the front and my coat-of-arms on the back. I’ve used the cards as a souvenir of my visit and as a pledge to pray for the children and their families.

One of the things I’ve noticed, however, is that when I go to the church or school hall to greet the students and their families after the ceremony, my pictures quickly end up being discarded in all sorts of unseemly places. I’ve been startled to find my own image staring back at me from under a cafeteria table on the floor, from the bottom of a garbage can, or being used as a coaster with rings of coffee marring the holy face. It’s a very good exercise in humility.

But it’s far different when we treat the image of God, his little children, our unborn babies, so casually, and discard them without a second thought.

My mom, who passed away about 11 years ago, was one of the best cookie-bakers in the history of the world. She especially enjoyed baking Christmas cookies and sharing them with family, friends and neighbors. It was something she did well and she was proud of it. It was her special gift to those she loved.

During one of my visits home, just before Christmas one year, mom asked me to take a tray of cookies to our neighbors across the street. “Hold it straight so the cookies don’t get crushed,” she reminded me. “Doesn’t really matter,” I said flippantly; “they’ll be fine.” “It matters to me; I made them” she scolded, raising her voice about as much as she ever would.

Even 53 year-old bishops have to obey their mothers.

But I can hear my mom’s words being repeated by Almighty God every time we destroy one of his children in abortion. “Doesn’t really matter,” we say. “There are already too many children and besides, it’s my body; I have the right to choose.” “Matters to me,” thunders Almighty God. “I created this child. I love this child.”

This is a “Year of Faith” when we are called to appreciate the goodness of our Catholic Faith and to renew our commitment to Christ and his Church. A firm and consistent commitment to the Gospel of Life has to be part of our faith. I can’t imagine any Catholic not being personally committed to promoting the dignity of human life – not only for, but especially for, the most vulnerable members of our family, unborn children.

As a Catholic community let’s continue to work and pray on behalf of human life. Let’s pray for the conversion of heart and soul for those who don’t understand our passion or share this value. And let’s pray that God will forgive us for so often and so casually destroying his image.