Sunday, 10 April 2011

Death and Life - Sacramental Suffering, A Question of Euthanasia

Lazarus  John 11:1-45

Mens' Health ran an article about Nick Chisholm, a 27 year old New Zealander who through a traumatic injury while playing Rugby, found himself “locked in”.  Being locked-in is a medical condition in which a quadriplegic is still very much conscious.  His doctors wrote him off as brain dead, and advised his mother to pull the plug.  She declined.  Locked in, fully conscious and completely unable to communicate his agony, Nick Chisholm heard every word. His friend offered to kill him...

The man who might have been the instrument of Nick's death, instead became the reason he lives.

Our Gospel today, of Lazarus rising from the dead,  tells much the same story, an act of love in which sisters Mary and Martha pray to their Lord Jesus Christ for help.   Jesus doesn’t come right away.

Have we ever felt that way?  We call for God’s help, and does it ever feel like he doesn’t hear us?  In my ministry of Palliative care, in working with families living with life threatening illnesses, people tell me all the time, “I’ve prayed and I’ve prayed, and it seems like God just doesn’t hear me!”  Of course He does, and of course he will answer our prayers, but not always in the time and method we would like.

In the coming years our country will face the question of Euthanasia.  Well-meaning people will use the argument that we should do all we can to relieve people of their suffering, but I ask:  “Whose suffering are we talking about?”  It is very difficult to see someone you love suffering – it was for Boyd Carter, and it was for Mary and Martha.  The misguided arguments in favour of “mercy” killing are the same, I would suggest, in support of better palliative care for all Canadians, not just the few.

What is our Catholic response to the looming Euthanasia debate?  I refer you to today’s Gospel, the Gospel according to John; John the apostle; John, the beloved disciple.  John, who with Mary, was the only apostle at the foot of the cross.

Mary and John, family and friends, kept vigil as their loved one suffered to the end.  Mary and John, seemingly helpless, giving all that they had to give, in two ways – they were there, and they prayed.

How many of us have kept that same vigil at the foot of the bed as our loved one, made as comfortable as possible, awaited for God’s will to be done?  

Christ, by his submission to it, makes suffering a sacrament, not a shameful fact of life to be hidden or denied.

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