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The Sacredness of Life: Witnessing the Fringes of Human Existence

In last Sunday's Gospel, Jesus told us that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2). In reflecting on this, I ran through many memories of when I experienced the fingers of human life.

Throughout my journey, I've had the unique privilege of standing at the crossroads of life's most profound moments. These experiences, ranging from my early years in a photographic lab processing autopsy photographs to my service in the RAAF cataloguing images of fallen soldiers, have deeply imprinted on me the fragility and sacredness of life. Each photograph, each moment captured, was a testament to a life lived and a solemn reminder of the respect owed to the departed, regardless of the distance between us.

Life is sacred as an vibrant abstract image.
Life is Sacred

The Sacredness of Life: Witnessing the Fringes of Human Existence

The 1996 Blackhawk accident in Townsville was a pivotal moment in my life. The task of cataloguing the photographs of the 18 soldiers who perished not only brought home the reality of our mortality but also the shared vulnerability that binds us in uniform and beyond. It was a stark awakening to the delicate thread upon which life hangs and the profound respect we owe to the vessel that carries us through this world.

Later in my military service, I was involved in an operation that was both challenging and profoundly humbling. This operation mobilised air and ground assets to safeguard refugees who were desperately fleeing from an army engaged in a "scorched-earth" withdrawal. From a purely financial perspective, the operation could have been deemed impractical; deploying F111 aircraft, after all, comes with a hefty price tag. Yet, the intrinsic value of human life far surpasses any economic calculation. The decision to proceed underscored a powerful commitment to the sanctity and protection of life, affirming that some values are beyond measure. [It's a shame we don't apply that same willingness to all refugees - but I digress.]

My roles as a priest and a volunteer firefighter have further exposed me to the extremes of human experience. I recall attending the scene of a tragic accident where a truck had veered off a bridge. As we worked to recover the driver's body respectfully, a news helicopter loomed overhead, a grim reminder of the voyeuristic tendencies of our world. Yet, at that moment, amidst the debris and the solemnity, I found myself offering the last rites, embracing the sanctity of the human soul whilst surrounded by firefighters and SES rescuers. "To me, this man is too valued by God to quibble over if he is a Christian or not," I responded when questioned about the faith of the departed. This encounter reinforced the belief that every soul is precious and deserving of dignity and respect, a principle that transcends religious boundaries.

The Brave and the Devoted: Heroes Among Us

The courage and dedication of paramedics and firefighters have profoundly impacted me. They embody the vulnerability of those they assist, placing themselves in states of physical and mental exposure. Their commitment is a mirror to the fragility of life, a poignant reminder of our collective humanity and the interconnectedness of our experiences. Their willingness to step into the chaos, to face the uncertainties of each call, is a testament to the depth of their vocation and the sacredness of their mission to save and protect lives.

Equally inspiring is the meticulous dedication of medical scientists, whose work often unfolds in the quiet, unseen corners of laboratories and research facilities. I have witnessed their relentless pursuit of knowledge, their agonising over the smallest details in the hope of uncovering the next breakthrough. Their commitment to understanding the intricacies of the human body and its ailments is a journey not just of scientific exploration but of deep reverence for the sacredness of life. The potential for their discoveries to extend the physical existence of another is a powerful reminder of the value placed on each moment of human life.

Embodiment: The Temple of the Divine

Our bodies truly are the sacred spaces where we encounter the divine. In the Bible, the same word is used for both 'breath' and 'spirit'— rauch in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek, beautifully capturing how closely our physical and spiritual lives are intertwined. This deep connection lies at the heart of our personal identities and shapes our collective sense of what it means to be truly human. The divine's presence within our physical being highlights the profound respect and care we must extend to ourselves and each other, honouring our bodies as the vessels of something far greater.

Christianity, at its core, is an invitation to recognise and live out the value God places in each of us, in the here and now. It challenges us to see beyond the temporal and to understand the eternal significance of our actions, especially those that bring dignity to the human form in moments of vulnerability. The vocations that serve to honour and protect the sacredness of the body are a powerful expression of this divine calling, reminding us that in caring for the physical, we are also nurturing the spiritual.

Henry Nouwen eloquently states, "The body is not an obstacle or a burden but a place where the divine presence wants to be known and loved."

The Sacred Tapestry of Life

These experiences, from the most solemn to the most scientific, weave together to form a tapestry of life's sacredness. They remind us that our bodies are not merely vessels but sanctuaries where the divine seeks to be known. In the service of others, in the pursuit of knowledge, in the moments of vulnerability and strength, we encounter the profound depths of our humanity and the divine presence that pervades it.

Our calling, whether in the uniform of a soldier or a paramedic, the robes of a priest, the gear of a firefighter, or the lab coat of a scientist, is to honour and protect the sanctity of this life. In doing so, we not only affirm the value God places in each of us but also embody the divine love that calls us to serve, to heal, and to protect the sacredness of our shared humanity.


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