Saturday, January 28, 2017

No slippery slope. . . a precipice of apostasy. . .

Ten Canadian Catholic bishops took the unprecedented step of issuing guidelines and giving direction to priests in the face of assisted suicide in Canada.  These are not what you might think.  The bishops did not lay out an argument and a plan to resist and even condemn the choice of death.  Just the opposite, they took this practice and began to normalize it within the context of the faith.  They found commonality with this anti-life practice, even affirming that it may be permissible, perhaps even desirable, for a priest to anoint a Roman Catholic about to receive such a deliberate, self-willed, death-dealing dose of medication designed with only one purpose -- to end his or her life.

“Persons and their families, who may be considering euthanasia or assisted suicide and who request the ministry of the Church need to be accompanied with dialogue and compassionate, prayerful support.”  This is the first step -- support for those who are inclined to end their lives and compassion for them in their suffering.  These bishops go so far as to suggest that the person choosing assisted suicide is not "culpable" but vulnerable to his or her suffering.  They affirm the giving of the Sacrament of Holy Communion “to assist a person in growing in their union with Christ,” and in particular, Viaticum, or final communion, which “has a power of particular significance and importance as the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection.”  These bishops admit that Penance is for the forgiveness of past sins yet leave the door open "in ways known to God alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance" -- as much as assuring that the choice to end one's own life is morally acceptable from an earthly perspective and divinely redeemable from the heavenly perspective.

The bishops should have kept silent rather than give moral and faithful sanction to a process that has decided suffering is worse than death and death is a small price to pay to relieve it.  But they did not keep silent.  They took a stance which, though not exactly approving of the law of medically assisted suicide in Canada, has come as close as possible.  They have sacrificed the pro-life stance of their own church in order to appear to be compassionate and understanding to those who live with chronic pain and whose suffering will not end except in death.  The presumption is that this is an incredibly complex issue facing the church and the individual priest and it is hard to navigate the path to an appropriate response.  What this ends up saying is that the issue is too opaque to be considered simply within the framework of ordinary morality, right and wrong, and ethical truths that do not change.  If this is not a door to official sanctioned situational ethics, I do not know what is.

Honest and faithful pastoral care for souls begins with knowing Him who is the Creator of every soul, with knowing His good and gracious will, and knowing what He has done to redeem the world from sin and its death. Honest and faithful pastoral care acknowledges and is attentive to the plight of suffering, and manifests a certain tenderness, patience, and compassion with those who suffer. But no honest and faithful pastoral care suggests or gives tacit approval to the idea that the suffering is itself worse than death and justification for ending life.  There is no “gospel” to mercy without judgment, to grace without truth, or to ministry that remains passive when the great issue of the sacredness of life lies in the balance in the face of a tilt toward the sufferer and his or her own judgment.

Every pastor knows he is no grand wizard to end suffering or explain it so that it makes sense to the sufferer.  We cannot end suffering and this is not our ministry or our calling. What we can do and what we are called to do is to place the suffering and the sufferer within the veil of Him whose suffering has born the ultimate fruit of mercy, forgiveness, life, and salvation and to hold up the Suffering Servant of God as our strength and help in greatest weakness and pain.  Our Lord's suffering was greater than any and all our suffering and yet He willingly endured it for the sake of those who would be redeemed by that suffering.  For His sake, we endure and we are sustained by His grace in the midst of our suffering -- both that which comes because we are His own and that which is the result of a world of sin whose effects will not be fully undone until the resurrection of the faithful.  The message of Scripture is clear -- we suffer as those

Suffering is not new to us but the technology is new to end life quickly and "painlessly" (can death ever be rendered mute by claiming it is painless).  The suffering of those who suffer is not hidden from God.  They are not without His gracious favor even in the midst of their pain.  As St. Peter reminds us: 
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
       “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

The fact that ten Canadian Catholic Bishops can give tacit approval to the idea of assisted suicide is troubling enough, but we are seeing too many Americans also becoming comfortable with the idea. Societies which move closer to this slippery slope eventually legitimize the practice for not only sick or elderly people, but for depressed people, handicapped people or people just tired of living. We must always speak out against this practice, which has the potential of taking our societies into a very dark place indeed.

Ted Badje said...

The controversies surrounding the end stages of life are seen often through the lens of convenience, not being a burden to your family. People need to come to value the dignity of life despite pain. There are advances in science where there are medicines that alleviate pain but leaves the person lucid. There need to be a lot of Christian discernment on this.

Anonymous said...

Just keep in mind that the Roman Church is protected against any and all error (remove tongue from cheek!).

Heresy is alive and well in Rome, and growing daily with Pope Frank!

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest