Is it possible to place a value on a human life? Is it reasonable to do so? Our secular society does and then calculates human value based on a wide set of criteria – a combination of social class, family connections, educational level (preferably at an elite university), political affiliation, employment status (level reached and at an “appropriate” or approved agency or company), the location or the state in which one resides. Sadly, not many of us are considered valuable by our secular society.
My faith teaches that God doesn’t measure human value as our secular society does. Every human life to God is precious and of inestimable value. He has planned for each of us and knows us even before we are growing in our mother’s womb. God does seem, however, to prefer the childlike, the innocent, the outcasts, the sinners who know they are sinners, and the downtrodden. Even a cursory reading of the Bible can pick out a dozen or more individuals who received “special treatment” from God in the Old Testament as their life situation or their personality was not what was admired or acceptable even for the time in which they lived.
Here are a few examples: Abraham and his wife Sarah, though wealthy but already old and childless without a proper heir became the ancestors of all of God’s people, Joseph, youngest son of the patriarch Jacob who was sold into slavery by his brothers and later saved his people from famine – including his repentant brothers, Moses, who murdered an Egyptian but was called to lead the Israelites to freedom from Egypt, Rahab, a prostitute and innkeeper, who hid the Israelites and helped them conquer Jericho, Hannah, a barren older woman, who gives birth to Samuel the prophet, David, an Israeli shepherd boy who with God’s help killed a giant Philistine warrior and became Israel’s greatest king, Deborah, a widow and judge of Israel who saved her people, Gideon, a reluctant and timid leader encouraged by God to battle Israel’s enemies, Esther, a captive Jewish orphan, who became a queen of a foreign nation and saved the lives of her people, Naomi, a widow, who had lost her husband and sons and was in living in a foreign land, and Ruth, a Moabite, an outsider, who became the grandmother of David and through David an ancestor of Jesus.
Stories abound in the New Testament of Jesus reaching out to sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and those desperately ill. Jesus’ preferred friends were generally uneducated, or those with personal flaws or serious sins who later became His greatest disciples and willingly gave their lives for their faith in Him. Many of those who were educated and elite – the ones who were the most valued by society in Jesus’ time – turned away from the Son of God and chose to follow their secular culture’s norms.
So what is this discussion all about? Why ask all of these questions about human value? I was reflecting about a story a friend related recently about my sister Jill, and in doing so, I thought about me, about God taking someone – my youngest sister Jill – who was small and unimportant in this world, as I also am, and using her to break through my stony heart and change me, to give me, as it is said in the Bible, a true heart of flesh.
The death of my youngest sister Jill was very traumatic for me. Jill had been ill for years and finally succumbed to her illness in 2019. Since the rest of the family, including two other younger sisters had predeceased Jill, I was the only immediate family left. Jill and I had never been friends, even before the rest of the family passed from this life. There were more than 11 years between Jill’s birth and mine. We had little in common in the lifestyles and choices we had made or the way in which we thought about the world. Jill had led a most unusual life, much different than my other sisters or myself. However, over those five years during which Jill and I were thrown together by circumstances, I had come to know and appreciate Jill, to see her “value”. We had begun to enjoy one another’s company during the last weeks of Jill’s life, and I came to appreciate the remarkable and courageous person she was and is.
Taking time out of my already busy life, building a relationship with Jill and caring for Jill’s many needs which escalated as the years passed was difficult for me. And yet I was so bereft when Jill died that I did something which I had never done before. When I prayed for Jill after her death, I asked God to send me a sign that my little sister Jill was safe at home with Him. I received not one sign but four separate signs in a short span of time. The strength of the signs and their unmistakable conclusion was proof that Jill had passed into the arms of God and was safe with the Lord and with the remainder of my family.
More than two years have passed since Jill’s death. I pray for her as I do for all of my family each and every day. I have even designated the first three Hail Mary’s in my daily rosary for my sisters. I wish my sisters good morning and good night every day and often remind them that I am still here and in need of their prayers. I visit the cemetery where Jill is buried now and again, though not as often as I should. Since mom, dad and Christine are buried in San Angelo, I seldom visit there anymore – it is a more than three and a half hour drive from my home. Jean had directed that her ashes be scattered at her death, so there is no way to visit her gravesite. I like to think that Jean must be blowing around somewhere nearby when the wind is howling.
I was surprised and delighted recently when a good friend called to tell me that she had a story about my sister Jill. My friend, Kathy, had attended Jill’s funeral two years ago. After the ceremony I gave each of the attendees a handmade rosary as a remembrance of my sister. I also wanted the attendees to know how grateful I was for their companionship and prayer during those last difficult days of Jill’s life. Their prayers for Jill and for me helped to sustain me and give me courage to face what had to be done for Jill while she was alive and after her passing.
Kathy is part of the St. Vincent de Paul ministry in our parish. She is often called upon to visit with “clients” who have fallen on hard times. The ministry provides food, shelter and comfort for those who are in need. One day last week Kathy was called upon to visit with a new client who was living in her car. Besides bringing the client money for food and gasoline to “tide her over”, Kathy had the sudden inspiration to take the rosary which I had given to her at Jill’s funeral. Since Kathy has other rosaries, the gift rosary had been safely stored away in the drawer, ready to be used when needed. The homeless woman was delighted with the gift of the blessed rosary, as she had often prayed the rosary in the past.
Knowing that the rosary which was given out at Jill’s funeral has made its way to someone who had need of it reminds me that God really is in the little details of our lives. He is aware that many handmade rosaries are waiting in my studio, and He already has a plan for each one of them. And the life of my youngest sister Jill had more importance than I knew, because even two years after her death, items, like the handmade rosary given out at her death, continue to affect the lives of others.
In her life Jill had often reached out to those forgotten by society; she had friends who most people would be afraid of, ignore or look down upon. I learned only after Jill’s passing that my youngest sister was very generous with her time and her possessions, more so than I had ever been. Jill often gave things away to someone in need which she herself had treasured or needed. In the eyes of our Creator my little sister Jill may have been among His favorites, just like the New Testament individuals cited above, for she obeyed His commands to love even those society considers unlovable. So I am left wondering about myself and how I am following God’s plan for my life.