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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 21, 2024)

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Thanks to an abundance of AP credits and somehow testing into Spanish 5 (some Peruvians would later discover that my oral comprehension was more like Spanish Zero), I was able to graduate a semester early from college. But what to do, now that life was just beginning?

The job market for economists and historians (my two “fields”) in Madison, WI, at the time was not exactly popping. So, naturally, I decided to dedicate my ample free time and energies to the Arts. My first piece from this period would be classified, I suppose, as a “beer-pong table.” But the artist in me cringes at the application of such a prosaic label. It was a cultural commentary. Terrorists vs. Americans! was the theme, with great American heroes populating the spots for cups on one side (reputed pillars like George Washington, Brett Farve the Viking, and Chuck Norris, for example) and current enemies of freedom (Bin Laden, Farve the Packer, etc.) on the other. The dividing line was a wall topped with barbed wire and adorned with appropriate political graffiti, doubling as a Ping Pong net when the table was so utilized. Call it “low art” if you must. But art meets its audience where it is at. And its author. And so this piece did, until move out day dawned and it was loosed into the stream of college house hand-me-downs flowing to oblivion.

So that occupied the first week or two. What now? The next oeuvre was addressed to a different audience, both older and younger than the first. It was my first and only foray into the then-stagnant world of children’s book authoring. Like for a good Pixar film, success on this stage means delighting parents and kids alike while communicating some worthwhile message.

Thus was born Pennies Are Trash!. While introducing today’s 6-8 year olds to basic monetary theory via a primer on U.S. coin currency, the book operated on one level to inculcate in children the habit of saving. But on an even deeper level, it strove to impress upon them the truth about pennies. Namely, that they are completely worthless and should be thrown away on first contact.

The book received high ratings from the focus groups we tested it with (mostly roommates and chance visitors to the house). But while in negotiations with an up-and-coming illustrator (just so happened to be my sister), I realized the book could never be published. I stood by the message and still do, as applied to pennies and in practice. But the principle, applied elsewhere, is disastrous. All joking aside, I realized that the message of Pennies Are Trash! is everything that is wrong with the world.

Applied to people, the principle encourages abortion. “Pennies are trash” because however many you have, they are more a burden than a benefit. Their value is so small as to be negligible. Ergo: better not to waste time or energy, space or attention on them.

Makes sense for pennies. Unfortunately, the world also applies this logic to human beings. More burden than a benefit? Throw them away! Too small or too old to be useful? Into the dumpster! This makes sense for the world, because the world is egocentric. The value of everything else depends on its relation to me. I respect others to the degree I see myself in them, or at least derive some benefit from them. Too different to be recognized as my kind? Competes with me for resources? Opposes my plans? Banish it from my sight.

We who profess to be citizens of the Kingdom not of this world are not called to be ego-centric, but Christo-centric. We value things according to their relation to Christ. According to His valuation of them. And therefore we understand that all human beings of whatever size have enormous intrinsic value: made in the image of God, purchased by the Blood of the Lamb, and endowed with the potential to become sons of God and saints that glorify Him for all eternity, each in a unique way. O, the crime of abortion that has so saturated the world, and occurs with such alarming, every-day-ordinary frequency so close to our parish! O, the infernal logic upon which it is based, which is leading more and more to accept lives being “thrown away” at the other end of life’s spectrum!

Let’s not get discouraged. But let us look inward and see to what extent we too operate on the logic of egocentrism, according to the lesson of Pennies Are Trash!. And on this Respect Life Sunday, let us commit to witnessing to man’s value by not casting off anyone, however obnoxious or unimportant or costly, and allowing the Gospel to reveal to us the great value of, well, even one or two pennies that are offered to God in love.

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