What four murdered nuns teach us about dying with dignity

The discussion around assisted suicide in Canada is becoming increasingly volatile. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the law banning assisted suicide, stating that the law, which had made it illegal for anyone to help another end their life, violated a citizen’s Charter Rights. The federal government has until June to deliver a new law. In response, a special Commons-Senate panel was created in order to hear testimony from various experts and ultimately present recommendations to the government. Recently this panel released its report. It recommends that access to doctor assisted dying be made readily accessible at publically funded health-care institutions and not just be limited to the terminally ill. Those with mental illnesses and psychiatric conditions should be able to chose to have a doctor end their life. Even minors, the report states, should be able to have a doctor help end their life.

Many leaders, within the Church and otherwise, have strongly voiced their concerns about the report. They argue against the idea that Catholic Hospitals and doctors and nurses who are opposed to assisted suicide should be forced to help people take their own lives. They argue that if what the panel report comes to pass in Canada, it would have a damaging effect on some of the most vulnerable in our society. Jean Vanier, a man who has dedicated his life to caring for the sick and handicapped, recently pointed out this danger. Those who are dying, the elderly, the handicapped and the mentally ill can feel at times that they are a burden to their families and communities. With the legalization of assisted suicide, they may feel pressured to ask a doctor to end their life. Vanier explained that such an “unconscious inducement” would lead vulnerable individuals “to believe that hastening their own death is a socially generous and responsible act. An ethos that may subtly support such thinking can lead to a deep and subversive betrayal of an individual’s right to live their life out to its natural end.”

Central to the case of those arguing for a person’s right to assisted suicide is the claim that being able to have a doctor end your life allows you to die with dignity. The argument then becomes that Catholics and others who oppose assisted suicide are preventing people from dying with dignity. For those promoting the right to assisted suicide, this is a clever way to frame the debate. After all, who wouldn’t want someone to die with dignity?

We all agree that many people suffer terribly at the ends of their lives and everyone wants such individuals to die with dignity. What we disagree with is what it means to die with dignity.

In the midst of the heated debate after the panel report was released, news broke of the murder of four Missionary of Charity Sisters in Yemen. These sisters, who were part of the religious community started by Mother Teresa, were killed by gunmen along with at least twelve people they cared for. These murdered sisters teach an important lesson about what it means to die with dignity. Before they were killed, they were helping to run a nursing home for disabled and elderly people who have no one else to care for them. From the start, an integral part of Mother Teresa’s work was caring for the dying, helping them to truly die with dignity. Mother Teresa told the story of a man her sisters found dying in a drain, half-eaten by worms. They brought him to their home and cared for him. As he was dying, he told them, “I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.”

The four murdered Missionary of Charity sisters teach us that dying with dignity does not mean possessing the right to have someone else help you end your life. People die with dignity when they are deeply convinced - as a result of the actions of those around them - that they are loved and that their life has value. For many of the most vulnerable people in our society, assisted suicide will erode their sense that their existence is of value and will prevent them from truly dying with dignity.

Road to Krakow: What do you want me to do for you?

(Reflection #1 in a series of spiritual reflections leading up to World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016)

There is a striking feature common to many of the healing encounters Jesus has with the sick, lame and blind. In these, the needy are able to express clearly and unambiguously what they want Jesus to do for them.

We see this is the meeting of Jesus with the blind beggar Bartimaeus. Jesus was making His way out of Jericho with his disciples. Bartimaeus, who was sitting by the side of the road, heard the crowd approaching. On learning that it was Jesus who was passing by, Bartimaeus seized his opportunity.

Bartimaeus began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him so that he would be silent.
But all the more he cried out, “Son of David, have pity on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “call him”.
So they called the blind man: “Cheer up! Get up! He is calling you.”
He threw aside his garment, jumped up and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man answered, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
And Jesus said to him, “go, your faith has healed you.”
Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mk 10:47-52)

What do you want me to do for you? When Bartimaeus heard Jesus’ question he didn’t hesitate. This point must be recognized: before Jesus would work in Bartimaeus’ life, He needed the man to express what he wanted from Him.

Do we know what we want Jesus to do for us?

At World Youth Day we will find ourselves in the position of Bartimaeus. We will encounter Jesus in the midst of a crowd. He will pass by. He wants to work in our life as He did in Bartimeus’. There is a catch, though. We need to know specifically what we want Jesus to do for us. We can forget this step. Since our need can be hard to point a finger, we end up asking Jesus for help in a general way or not at all.

What do you want me to do for you?

Take some time to search your heart in order to discover what it is you want to ask Jesus to do for you during your World Youth Day pilgrimage. You can start by brainstorming a list and then narrow it down until you are left will one point. How can Jesus help us if we do not know what we want Him to do for us?

Pope Francis promotes Confession during Year of Mercy

A few days ago, on February 5th, a unique event occurred at St. Peter’s Basilica. As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic were processed into the Basilica where they will remain for several days to be visited by pilgrims. The presence of these two saints, both of whom are famous for their devotion to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is meant to be a powerful reminder of the incredible gift God offers us in this Sacrament. Padre Pio would often spend 10 - 15 hours a day hearing confessions. In this way, Pope Francis explained, Padre Pio spread “the perfume of the forgiveness of the Lord” and became “a caress of the living Father, who heals the wounds of sin and refreshes the heart with peace”.
For many, however, going to confession can be a difficult experience. In his recently released book length interview called “The Name of God is Mercy”, Pope Francis provides some encouragement. He explains how the eastern form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation strikes him. In this, the confessor welcomes the penitent by putting his stole over the penitent’s head and an arm around his shoulder, as if embracing the penitent. Pope Francis says that this “is a physical representation of acceptance and mercy”. Rather than feeling afraid of judgment when we approach the confessional, we should imagine our heavenly Father embracing us in the same way.

Pope Francis acknowledges that many wonder why they simply cannot ask God for forgiveness directly. Why is it necessary to confess our sins to a priest? I found his answer helpful. Pope Francis explained that “if you are not capable of talking to your brother about your mistakes, you can be sure that you can’t talk about them with God either, and therefore you end up confessing into a mirror, to yourself. We are social beings and forgiveness has a social implication; my sin wounds mankind, my brothers and sisters, society as a whole. Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus.”

Towards the end of the book, the interviewer asks Pope Francis the following question: “What are the most important things that a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy?” The Pope’s response was to the point. The believer should “open up to the mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with Faith. And he should try to be merciful with other.” As we begin Lent, let us follow the Pope’s advice.