The Transfiguration is not only a manifestation of glory; it is a confrontation with evil. The event prefigures Jesus’ resurrection: “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Mt 17:2) Beautiful, but what we sometimes miss is that, in order to arrive at that goal, Jesus had to first confront a great evil - everything that would happen when he faced the authorities in Jerusalem.
Moses and Elijah came to Jesus to strengthen him. Moses had faced the horrible evil of slavery, the reduction of the Israelites to objects who could be used at the pleasure of the Pharaoh. Elijah confronted the Israelites themselves when they began to worship the gods of temple prostitution and child sacrifice.
On Good Friday a group in Seattle will stand before a particular evil of our society: the utilization of human embryos for scientific research. Like many other cities, Seattle has sleek, modern centers which promote such research.* The centers do many good things, including the use of adult stem cells to develop promising new therapies. Nonetheless, the fact that they hope to achieve certain positive ends does not justify the exploitation of tiny humans. The Pharaohs did good things – some of which we continue to marvel at today – but that does not justify their enslavement of the Israelites and other groups of people.
Our local newspapers have written in glowing terms about these research centers. They point out that the centers will attract great scientists to our area, that they will give a much needed boost to our economy and above all, that they hold out the promise of cures for various diseases. The media's enthusiasm cannot hide a certain uneasiness. One of the editorial writers complained that embryonic stem-cell research has been “erroneously linked with abortion.” That statement raises a question: Why would that linkage (whether erroneous or not) bother the editorialist unless he sensed there is something wrong with abortion?** If so, at what point does abortion involve a moral concern: When the fetus can sleep, smile and listen to music? When it would survive outside the womb? When it is capable of feeling pain? When it has a human form with eyes, hands and feet? When its heart begins to beat?
Personally I can only see one realistic cut-off point: when we have all of our physical characteristics and have begun the process of development that will only end with death. The reason why embryonic stem cells are so marvelous is that they can develop into any of the tissues and organs which constitute a functioning human person: liver, skin, ears, brains, blood, bones and the rest. The embryo is only small when compared to a newborn child; in comparison to, say, the gene which determines hair color, it is like Mount Rainier. To produce and use such embryos for scientific research is a modern form of child sacrifice. Each one has a mom, dad, grandparents, even uncles, brothers and sisters. The fact that their own parents willingly offer them to science does not justify the practice. The ancient Israelites offered their children to god Moloch – and Elijah had harsh words for them.
This year Good Friday falls on March 25 – the Feast of the Annunciation.*** Is God trying to tell us something? I don't like to read too much into coincidences, but this one is happening precisely when governments are racing to sponsor embryonic research. The Feast of the Annunication marks the beginning of Christ’s human existence - his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In the Apostle's Creed we state that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Conception is the crucial moment. Like all of us, he began as an embryo; from that day his human potential began to unfold. Today we see a glimpse of the glory in which he desires that all humans partake. If we want to join him in his glory, we must also walk with him on his path of suffering - his great confrontation with the powers of evil.
*For example Seattle's Institute for Systems Biology which hopes to cure or prevent diseases by using "embryonic stem cell therapy." In an interview with O'Reilly Network, ISB's founder Dr. Leroy Hood commented on the "whole misunderstanding of stem cell research and stem cell biology." He stated:
I think stem cells are one of the greatest potential preventive therapeutic agents in the world of medicine, and it's just ridiculous that the religious right has put these pathetic constraints on what we can do in sorting out how to deal with the human condition, and treat people, and everything. The whole confluence of the religious with science--and you see that in terms of creationism too--is something that America as a society, as an educated society, has responded to worse than any other educated society, by far. And it is due to a small minority of very vocal people, unfortunately.
Dr. Hood is a brilliant scientist, but he spins out of control when talking about the "religious right" and the "pathetic constraints" they have placed on people like himself. Surely the man who understands so much about the human genome must also recognize that there are significant ethical concerns in this area. He would like to simply write off those concerns as "creationism" - without explaining what he means by that. Also, since this type of research is already legal, what are the "pathetic constraints" that Dr. Hood resents so much?
**If someone erroneously linked embryonic stem cell research to next year's potato crop or to the price of gasoline, I doubt that it would have bothered the editorialist. But the link to abortion did get under his skin.
***It is not a common occurence. The last time it happened was 1932.
Good Friday Service at Institute for Systems Biology
Letter to Dr. Leroy Hood
Documentation of Dr. Hood's Statements
On the Nature of the Embryo by D. McManaman
From Bishop Wuerl:
While stem cell research may not be at the top of the list of concerns that many of us face in our day-to-day life, it is nonetheless of such significance that we all need to understand fully its realities as well as its consequences. Decisions made now could establish a principle that asserts and endorses that we are free to use the drastic means of taking another human life, if we deem that the end result justifies that dire action. To concede that the end – even if it is potential relief to long-standing illnesses and injuries – justifies the means is to send our children and grandchildren headlong down a slippery slope on a moral toboggan with neither a steering bar or brakes.
Good Friday Service for Life vs. Dr. Leroy Hood's Support of Cloning & Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Pictures of Institute for Systems Biology
Adult Stem Cell Discoveries Could Treat Alzheimer’s and Blindness
From Archives (Year A homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):
Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Bulletin (Campaign, Washington legislative shell game on cloning & embryonic research)
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)
Q&A about Planned Parenthood
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru