‘Lesser life’ shows way

I am struggling with a moral quandary when it comes to “stink bugs.” My humble, cluttered room at the rectory seems to be a magnet for these strange creatures. As many as five or six a day may buzz around me, or the lights, or simply walk across my floor. Kind friends have suggested that just as my love attracted stray cats, so the stink bugs feel welcome. I’m confessing to you that my love is wavering!

I hate to kill anything. I’ve carried various creepy, crawly things in my room to the front door where I gingerly set them free in the grass. But stink bugs are not always easy to catch, and often I find that I injure them in the process of trying to release them out my window. Since they don’t seem to have long lives, I have accidentally done more harm than good. And, yes, to be perfectly honest, on more than one occasion I have killed them. I always feel bad about that. I respect life in all its forms.

What helps me in my dilemma is that the great humanitarian, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who dedicated his life to serving the poor in Africa, had a similar problem. He reached the point in his life where he could no longer kill bacteria. I suspect that was good news for the bacteria, but not such good news for his patients. He had reached a point in his selfless life of service that he felt he no longer was free to destroy any life.

Obviously, I would argue, as most of us would, that human life is the highest life form. We have found ways to eradicate mosquitoes and other life forms that threaten human life. We know that people who are kind and loving toward dogs and cats tend to be more loving toward people. Conversely, people who abuse or torture animals tend to abuse and be cruel to other humans.

What am I saying? Simply that we all live in some kind of compromise. When I was a little boy, I loved my dog, King. Yet, every time I fed him, I was aware that I was feeding him at the expense of the animal he was eating. The same thought has occurred to me when I buy food for my cats. Their lives depend on something else’s death. And, obviously, I know the same thing about ourselves. Every time we eat, something has to die – a plant or an animal. One life gets sacrificed for another life. Less philosophically, the comedian Woody Allen once said: “We are all menu items in the smorgasbord of life.” Yes, even we humans have been menu items for various other creatures.

So what’s the point of this article, other than to explain why I usually have a high anxiety level? Simply that in normal day-to-day life we can and do sacrifice a “lesser life” for a greater life. Yet, there is one notable exception – the example of Jesus.

God, the highest form of life, would sacrifice his life for us humans. The martyrs teach us that people can indeed die for God. But who would have dreamed that God would die for us?

As we look deeper into the mystery, doesn’t it help to explain the Eucharist? As I said earlier, every time we eat, something has to die. Could that be why Jesus had to die, so that he could become our food in holy Communion?

So the next time I wrestle with what to do with my stink bug visitors, I realize I am trying to respect a lower life form because God has done that for us. But even more profoundly, while I can respect the lowly bug, I can’t change it. Yet, God has done that for us. God didn’t just die for us humans, but by feeding us with himself, God has divinized us humans.

We share the life of the God we feed on.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.