Sunday, January 27, 2019

A change of heart. . .

In the Great Litany we pray God to deliver us from sudden and evil death.  It is one of many ways in which we pray the Lord to keep us in the face of times and events we can neither predict or know.  Death was once one of those things.  Dying suddenly was then considered an especially terrible death.

Today we no longer pray that way.  Because we fear suffering more than anything else, a sudden death devoid of suffering is considered the most blessed death of all.  Where we once prayed to avoid such a sudden and evil death.  Now, it’s a blessing --  he or she went so quickly; what a blessing; that is how I want to die.

To go one step further, we want to be in charge of our own deaths.  Give us pills so that we can die painlessly when we choose -- before something bad happens to us or we must endure great suffering (even the suffering of not knowing we are suffering!).  Even Christians are not immune from such an idea about death in which a sudden death is best and a death you can plan is even better than best.

We worry about the prospect that someone enduring the death penalty might suffer and therefore have deemed the whole thing sub-human if even a bit of pain accompanies their death (usually for the most heinous of crimes that caused untold suffering to their victims and the families of those victims).  I am not at all saying that we should cause suffering purposefully but I do wonder how we got to the point where the worst possible thing we could endure IS suffering (and not death!).

I certainly do not want people to suffer but is the elimination of suffering the most significant cause of the Gospel?  In our effort to prevent and eliminate suffering from all people (suffering which is caused by sin) do we not run the risk of the logical conclusion of a euthanasia culture?  When even hydration and food become "extraordinary" means of prolonging life, are we not essentially saying that death is better?  By consoling ourselves with the idea that since we do not want to suffer, we know our loved ones would not want to suffer, and therefore it is the most merciful thing we can do to kill them to prevent such suffering, what values are highest?  Is this not the same idea that says it is better to kill a child than to have that child born into a world that does not want them?

Instead of dying well, we are focused solely on living well.  The most noble deaths are not those which happen to the person suddenly, before suffering is endured, but the death that comes after a long suffering life.  I am daily impressed with those in my own parish who suffer great pain and affliction and yet who remain the most cheerful people, content in their faith, and at peace with God even within such suffering.  I think here of one woman who has ALS and yet whose demeanor and faith humble me every time I see her struggle with things she once did without a hitch.  There is something we have lost when we focus only on living well and forget that it is also possible to die well, to die in the faith, trusting in the Lord, and content with the measure of His grace in their hour of great need.

Judging by the typical funeral message preached today, the oddities that pass for new funeral rituals, the obligatory eulogies or story telling that happens at wake and funeral, and the lack of much mention of the resurrection of the body or the life everlasting, we only want to celebrate this life.  Period.  Even Christians.  And this, friends, is a problem of great magnitude.  In the shift of funeral focus from mortality and its answer in Christ's resurrection to the sufficiency of memory and yesterday to console us, we have been robbed of real hope and have gutted the Gospel of its most transcendent gift.

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