A number of years ago, before the use of computers in schools became widespread, an experiment was conducted in California. Computers were programmed with educational games designed to reinforce basic concepts in math, reading, and writing; the goal was to discover whether such learning resources really made any difference. The organizers deliberately selected a junior high school whose students consistently scored in the lowest percentiles in every subject. The principal had originally decided to exclude the special education students from the experiment, but changed his mind at the insistence of one of their teachers. She was right to believe in her kids—for some of these supposedly unteachable students, after just four hours at the computer each week, had learned more in that one semester than in all their previous years of school. For instance, an Hispanic girl had been placed in special education because she had never learned to read, and she was so intimidated in class that she never revealed this fact. The computer, however, didn’t intimidate her, and in just one semester she was reading at her proper grade level.
The most amazing story involved a boy named Raymond, who had everything going against him: he came from a dysfunctional home, was acutely shy, had bad eyesight, and apparently had no academic ability whatsoever. However, after the one semester with the computer, he caught up on seven years of math. The school, and the company that provided the computers and learning programs, used Raymond as the poster boy for their successful experiment. During a TV interview a reporter asked him how he managed to suddenly achieve so much. The boy answered, “Well, you see, all the kids here call me retard. The computer calls me Raymond” (William J. Bausch, The Story Revealed, pp. 77-78). Great things can happen when others believe in us, and when we believe in ourselves. What the computer did for Raymond, Jesus does for all of us in an infinitely greater way—for the more we come to know Him, the more we discover our true selves.
The theme of self-knowledge and self-identity comes through very strongly in the readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. In the passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord says to His Chosen One, “You are My servant . . . through Whom I show My glory. . . [and] I will make You a light to the nations, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This prophecy, of course, is fulfilled in Jesus, and in the Gospel St. John the Baptist proclaimed Him to be the Lamb of God and the Son of God. This insight also made John even more aware of his own identity as a herald and servant, and he found great peace and satisfaction in fulfilling his mission of preparing the Lord’s way. Knowing and serving Christ helps us know ourselves. St. Paul demonstrates this in the 2nd Reading, for he introduces himself to the Corinthians as one “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” The Lord has a mission for each of us, and trying to discover and fulfill it is the best possible way for us to find true meaning, peace, and freedom in life.
The Lord says to us in Sacred Scripture, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1:5); from all eternity God knew and loved each of us in a unique and personal way. It’s important not only that we discover our own identity as His children, but that we help others achieve this all-important goal as well—for this sort of self-discovery truly can be life-changing, and even life-saving. The National Right to Life Committee tells a story about a woman on her way to an abortion clinic for the second time. At her first appointment there, the abortion counselor told her it would be a very simple, insignificant procedure—merely the removal of a mass of cells. Nothing was said about how the unborn child within her already a heartbeat, tiny yet recognizably-human features, and a unique genetic code and identity. A date was scheduled for the abortion, but as the woman was returning to the clinic a few days later, she saw a bumper sticker that had been created by the National Right to Life Committee; it proclaimed a simple but powerful truth: “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.” The woman was stunned, and her eyes and her heart were opened—she wasn’t carrying a “mass of cells,” but a baby. She turned around and went home, and as a result her soul, and her baby’s life, were saved.
For more than forty years, the Right to Life Movement has proclaimed the unique identity and value of each human life—echoing the unchanging teaching of the Church, dating some 2000 years, back to Jesus Christ Himself. Abortion is not only a tragedy, but also a grave abomination in the eyes of God—one which every true follower of Jesus is morally bound to oppose. Our society today rightly rejects and denounces racism, thanks in large part to the peaceful and heroic witness and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of his nieces, Dr. Alveda King, once said, “For many years I have been an outspoken advocate for the unborn child, because in a culture of abortion, the child is like a slave. The new civil rights movement of our time is the pro-life movement.” Can you imagine a so-called Christian back in the 1960s dying after having supported racism and segregation and violence against blacks, and having to defend his or her actions while being judged by God? It’s just as morally impossible today for any Christian to promote or defend abortion—though God’s mercy is always lavishly available to any woman guilty of such a sin, if only she repents of it. You and I are called to be witnesses of this mercy—for Jesus does not want anyone to condemn him or herself as a sinner; rather, everyone is called and invited to recognize him or herself as a redeemed sinner.
The political and moral issue of abortion is like a mirror being held up to the soul of every American—and what we see there goes a long way toward revealing whether or not we’re accepting and living up to our true identity as children of God, and whether or not we are indeed journeying toward His Kingdom of Heaven and our true home. A fearsome struggle for the soul of our country is underway, and the Lord does not allow us to sit it out, run for the sidelines, or declare our neutrality. By means of our involvement, financial contributions, influence, votes, and prayers, Jesus expects us to stand up and be counted in defense of His gift of human life—for in today’s world, this is an inescapable and vitally-important way of identifying ourselves as His disciples. On Judgment Day, nothing will matter more than this; only those who here and now discover, accept, and live out their identity as God’s children will be entitled to share in His Kingdom.
Fr. Esper’s recent books may be found at: Queenship Publishing