Life is full of priorities. Sometimes we get them out of order:
• A father who spends all weekend watching TV.
• A woman who works 18 hours a day to further her career.
• A student who plays Xbox instead of starting the project that’s due tomorrow.
• The couple that buys a shore house without being open to another child.
• The adult child who lives at such high speed that he or she never bothers to call home and check on aging parents.
• The young family that skips Sunday Mass to participate in a soccer tournament.
Every single one of us has, at times, been guilty of these or similar things, haven’t we? We’ve all had poor priorities.
We get a clear message, however, from Moses in Deuteronomy and again from Jesus in the Gospels: we must get our priorities straight. In Deuteronomy 6, one finds the passage that Jews call the Shema. They recite these words every morning and every night: Shema, Israel, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!” The passage continues: “Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words!”
Jesus repeats those words of Moses in the Mark 12. That’s His way of doing a voice-over at the end of the commercial, saying, “I approve this message”! The message is that God is our number one priority. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that God is our first priority, followed by our obligation to our parents and family, followed by our obligation to our country—what he calls our patria, our homeland. After those top three, of course, a lot of smaller things fit in.
Just as we have to prioritize things in our personal lives, we also have to prioritize things in our public lives. This past week, because of Hurricane Sandy, lots of people on the East Coast got an opportunity to practice prioritizing. Lots of residents down in the shore towns wanted to stay to prepare their houses for the storm. Preparing for the storm is certainly a good thing to do, but there came a point when it was dangerous to stay any longer. So they evacuated, because, when it comes to matters of life-and-death, we don’t mess around. Any reasonable person could see that getting off the barrier islands was a smart move.
But not everyone is so clear-thinking when it comes to politics. Sometimes, people make a big deal out of this or that particular issue—unemployment, poverty, taxes, jobs, clean energy, etc. All those issues are important, but they’re not life-and-death. So, important though they may be, they should never be prioritized over issues that are life-and-death. That would be like a resident of Cape May deciding to stay there last Monday so they could cut their grass. In the face of a storm that could threaten your life, who would be worried about cutting the grass?
Let’s say, for instance, we want to improve education for children—an idea everyone can agree is important. If at the same time, though, we maintain that it’s okay for parents to abort their children, what does the education system matter?
If we take up the noble goal of solidifying Social Security and Medicare for seniors, but we also say that “doctors” can euthanize the elderly, all the programs in the world are just a waste of time.
We want to cure cancer, so let’s say we advocate to increase research funding for scientists. If part of the research, however, involves harvesting & destroying embryonic stem cells, we’ve just perpetrated an evil much worse than the original disease. There’s no sense at all in arguing over the policies that govern people, so long as those very people are treated as expendable.
In both our personal lives and our public lives, we need to have priorities. If our faith has any value at all, then it should teach us which issues have priority over others. There are lots and lots of good things we should support—ideas and causes that deserve our energies & support. But, when it comes to matters of life-and-death, we can’t mess around. There can be no compromise. We must defend life with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength!