A few years ago, I gave a talk to parents of confirmation candidates based on Luke 9:18-20 which describes Peter's confession of faith in Christ. I began my talk by repeating the question, "And you, who do you say that I am?" Suddenly, a little girl popped out of her chair and cried out, "Oh, that's easy, you're Father Frank." Turning to her mother, she continued, "Doesn't he know his own name?" Soon after the laughter died down, her mother pointed to the crucifix that stood behind the podium. Instantly, the girl added, "Oh, that's my special friend Jesus." Needless to say, her innocent remarks brought all to their feet with applause.
"And you, who do you say that I am?" Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, the long-awaited fulfillment of lsrael's hope for salvation. Those who followed after Peter continued to explore the identity of Christ by answering this same question. Each of us must do the same. Our answer will clarify a large part of our faith and help us to live as faithful Christians. Identifying solutions to many of the crises that we face today will depend upon the answer we give to the Lord's question.
One crisis in particular continues to trouble me. It is clear that our contemporary society continues to undermine all attempts to respect and defend human life. The Supreme Court will soon rule on the constitutionality of physician-assisted suicide which represents a subtle form of euthanasia. How can we as Christians hope to reverse this culture of death? How can we restore the dignity and respect that human life deserves? It seems to me that the Christian struggle to protect life must begin by answering the question, "Who do you say that I am?"
The Christian commitment to protect and respect human life comes directly from the identity of Jesus Christ. We defend human life because we believe Jesus Christ to be true God who took on a true humanity. Jesus is the divine Son who assumed a sinless human life so that what he assumed might be saved from the effects of sin and death. Christ as true God changed every human life by becoming a man like us in all things but sin. In other words, every man, woman, child and fetus is of infinite value because the divine Son assumed a human life in the Incarnation.
The Incarnation has changed humanity in two ways. First, Christ has restored the divine image of our creation. To be made in the image and likeness of God means that all our human abilities and talents reflect the qualities of God. Our reason, freedom and love reflect the infinite wisdom, absolute freedom and perfect love of God. Sin deformed the divine image within us, robbing our natural gifts and abilities of their power and beauty. Since we are not able to heal ourselves from sin, it was necessary that humanity receive a new start. This new start came when the Son assumed a human life. He restored us to our original glory as the image of God in the world. As such, each human being is of inestimable value because each of us has been restored as a living mirror into the life of God.
A second way in which Christ has changed human life comes from the gift of salvation which he offers to all. We do not believe that Christ simply restored what humanity lost through sin. Rather, we are "recreated" in Christ. This means that we have received gifts that Adam never enjoyed. Through baptism, we have become children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit, allowing God to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit also sanctifies us and makes us worthy to possess divine life. We are more fully human and perfect because we have been recreated in Christ. If God finds human life to be so precious that he considers it to be a worthy dwelling place, then every human life is priceless.
"And you, who do you say that I am?" Our Christian commitment to human life begins with this question. We respect human life because it is created in the divine image and has been re-created and made holy in Christ. The meaning and value of life cannot be measured apart from Jesus Christ. All human life must be respected, defended and promoted because it is worthy to receive God's own life.
My little friend at St. Athanasius Parish recognized her true friend who has made all life precious and sacred by his Incarnation.
May we be wise and courageous enough to do the same.
Father Frank Caggiano has a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is a parish priest who also serves as the Dean of Formation for the Brooklyn Diaconate Program.