'Thou shalt not kill,' even ourselves
Michael C. Barber, SJ
What is the definition of a Christian?
From the Second Century, we have the "Letter to Diognetus," written to a pagan who wanted to know "Who are these people?" The letter states:
• "The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life. The doctrine they profess is not the invention of busy human minds and brains, nor are they, like some, adherents of this or that school of human thought.
• Christians inhabit the world, but are not part of the world
• They repay calumny with blessings, and abuse with courtesy.
• They take their full part as citizens
• Any Christian is free to share his neighbor's table, but never his marriage-bed.
• Like other men, they marry and beget children, though they do not expose their infants [to death]."
And this week, we in California must add another codicil to this description:
• "Christians do not kill themselves when they get old."
This week a new law takes effect in California permitting physician-assisted suicide.
People think this law provides a way of mercy for those who are ill and suffering.
Friends, there is true mercy. And there is false mercy. This is false.
We Catholics believe that someone who is ill and suffering deserves care, support and medicine that can alleviate their pain.
We believe in accompanying people who are dying with our loving presence and support — and, if they are Catholic, with the Sacraments of the Church.
That is the approach that the Virgin Mary, St. John, St. Veronica and the other loyal women disciples of Jesus took when he was being crucified: They stood with him at the foot of his cross: with prayer, with love and with tears. They supported him to the end.
Some people think the Church teaches that we MUST use any and all means to stay alive, even at the expense of the quality of life.
NOT TRUE. The Church teaches that we are only required to use ordinary means to preserve our life: not extraordinary means. We are not required to use tubes and incubators and all manner of machines to stay alive at all costs.
In a word: We are perfectly allowed to die a NATURAL death.
One of the most beautiful sights I have seen in life is that of a mother or father holding their newborn baby for the first time!
Life is a gift from God: that baby is a gift.
And when we are old, and ill, we are just as precious in the eyes of God as the day we were born. We are LOVED by God: whether we are 1 day old, 25 years old or 85 years old.
Suffering is not easy. Terminal diseases are not easy. Luckily we live in a time when there are pain-killing drugs that can be prescribed to alleviate our pain. We call this "palliative care."
It is true people can become depressed in the midst of their suffering, and can be tempted to make rash decisions. In her final days, St. Therese of Lisieux suffered terribly from tuberculosis, which eventually took her life. She said that, if not for her faith, she would have been tempted to commit suicide. She did not say she was tempted to commit suicide, but that her faith saved her from this course of action.
When he knew his time on earth was coming to an end, St. Francis of Assisi asked his close friend Sister Clare to make him his favorite dessert. St. Clare and her nuns sorrowfully did so, knowing Francis was about to die.
Then Francis asked the friars to carry him outside the city of Assisi, down the hill and away from the town for a few hundred yards. He asked them to place him on the ground "Brother Earth." He did not want to pass away in a bed.
Most of all he wanted to gaze on the town he loved: Assisi.
And, surrounded by those he loved — his Franciscan brothers — he patiently waited for "Sister Death."
St. Paul said "to me death is a gain." It is not The End, but a door, waiting to be opened.
Death is when Christ and his Blessed Mother come to take us by the hand to the room in the Father's house prepared for us from the beginning of time.
Our MISSION as Catholics IS CLEAR:
To provide those who suffer with the medicine necessary to alleviate their pain, and more importantly, to accompany them with love, kindness, patience and support: until the Lord comes to take them by the hand.
He says to each one of us: "I will open a door for you that no one will be able to close." (Rev. 3:8). Our job is to accompany our loved ones right up to that door until the Lord himself opens it. Life is a gift from God. Death is a gift of God. We. Are. Not. God.
"Thou shalt not kill" applies even to ourselves.
back to top