by Leon Suprenant
Pope Francis has exhorted us to fight the tendency to view people as “disposable.” But what does it mean to be disposable?
First, if something is disposable, it may be used at another’s whim. For example, “disposable income” is money that I am free to use as I choose.
Second, if something is disposable, it’s meant to be replaced. Eventually the blade in my disposable razor becomes dull, but then I will replace it with a new blade exactly like the old one.
Third, if something is disposable, it will be thrown away once it has served its purpose, like a used light bulb.
And lastly, once something is used, replaced and thrown away, we want to have nothing further to do with it. We want garbage trucks to take away our disposable diapers, because this once-useful product is now trash.
I’ve been talking about “things,” and very often our treating things as “disposable” does not reflect good stewardship or adequate concern for the world in which we live.
Yet it’s even worse to treat people as disposable, which happens far too often in our “throwaway culture.”
Deacons, and indeed all Christians, are called to reach out to those on the “peripheries” or “margins” of society. That all sounds very noble, but also a little vague. What does that really mean?
One way of looking at it is that those on the peripheries or margins are those most at risk of being treated as “disposable.” Who are those being “used” rather than truly loved? Who, because of age or disability, aren’t considered useful? Who has been removed from our midst because of incarceration or deportation so that we don’t have to deal with them? Whose lives are seen by the rich and powerful as not having any value?
This has everything to do with our “eucharistic revival.” Each host used for Communion costs approximately two cents, and there is nothing remarkable about it. It is, in a word, disposable.
Yet behind this nondescript appearance lies the King of Kings, such that martyrs have risked death rather than allow a single consecrated host to be desecrated.
As we come to more fully recognize and reverence Christ “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35), so also we must come to recognize and reverence Christ, in the words of Mother Teresa, “in the distressing disguise of the poor.” She could just as easily have said, “in the distressing disguise of those who are considered disposable.”
It’s no accident that Our Lord washed the feet of his disciples in the context of instituting the holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is meant to heighten our concern for the material and spiritually poor in our midst, and draw us out of our comfort zones in service.
Christ united himself with every human person, thereby giving each one of us, without exception, inestimable value. In Christ we have a mission on earth and a destiny in heaven — the very opposite of being “disposable.”