I purchased a fitness tracker recently. The setup process was a little intimidating. I had to enter my age, gender and weight. I found the last of those parameters to be very disappointing. I guess there are worse ways to put a value on a human life.
I was reminded of a conversation I had with a fellow who had lost his job. He found employment after a few months, but at a much lower salary than before. He and his wife were not bothered by the change of job. It meant that they would have to change their spending habits, but they knew they could work out the details without much difficulty.
Even though he was not concerned about being able to pay bills and afford entertainment, he was bothered by the loss of income. He was even more bothered by the fact that the money bothered him. I pointed out that we live in a culture that puts a value on human life in terms of dollars.
In our culture we value those who have money; we put much less value on those who have none. One of the sad consequences of this is that we put a value measured in dollars on our own lives. Unavoidably, we are always desirous of more money and things, and therefore, we are always undervaluing our lives based on what we don’t have yet.
Is it any wonder that so many people are so dissatisfied with their lives? If the possessions you have are a measure of your value, you can never achieve a personal value that is satisfactory. I’d like to offer an alternative to the limited and materialistic values system that our culture embraces.
Among believers the most commonly used alternative to a materialistic value system is one based on moralizing. If we moralized on the basis of the Scripture readings for Mass tonight, we might say something like, “God values human life so much that the Incarnate Word of God suffered death for our sakes.”
A statement like the one above is noticeably similar to the famous line from John’s Gospel. (John 3:16) In John’s Gospel, that famous line is a statement about God’s will to redeem the world from sin. It is a statement worth taking seriously, but it might not be the most appropriate metric for us to use. God’s love is a measure of the value of human life, but it is an expression of God’s values system rather than our own.
Human values systems, even among believers, are based on what attracts and demands our attention. Values systems with a wide appeal are those that focus on desirable objects that are difficult to acquire; the more elusive the objective, the more valuable it is perceived to be. I’d like to propose the celebration of Eucharist as a statement of Catholic values.
In the Scripture readings tonight we see an account of the Hebrew Passover, an account of the celebration of Eucharist in the middle of the first century of the common era and John’s symbolic interpretation of the Last Supper.
Each of these three distinct stories shares in common a reference to worship. Further, the three accounts of worship share in common a reference to reality beyond the material and created. These three accounts of worship are focused on God rather than on some human quality or finite experience or created good.
Believers and non-believers alike value what is attractive, alluring and slightly elusive. Those who put their trust, and ultimate value, in money and things do so because it is money and things that they pursue with their whole hearts. For believers, the celebration of Eucharist is intended to be worship of the One in whom we put our trust and ultimate value. Just as with human life, there is more than one way to value Eucharist.
What is your experience of the celebration of Eucharist? Did you come here to get something? If so, you are pursuing what you value most: religion as a commodity; you are focused on yourself as recipient.
Did you come here to give your worship to God? If so, you are pursuing what you value most: the experience of eternity that always, necessarily eludes our grasp; you are focused on what is not you, that is, God.
Eucharist gives us a choice about our lives: we can measure our personal value on the basis of created things or we can measure our value on the basis of our desire for the Uncreated. In either case, we will always want more of that which we value. The former promises a life of dissatisfaction while the latter promises the fullest possible human life.
Tonight we memorialize John’s interpretation of Jesus’ humility on the Cross. We do so to remind ourselves of the appropriate attitude with which to approach both God and neighbor. Eucharist is an act of worship that elucidates the eternal value of human life: we are the creatures in the Universe who can know and love God.