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Medically Assisted Dying: What does the Church Say?

the-joy-of-love-960x540 For the last couple of weeks we’ve been paying a little more attention to issues of death, dying and suffering. These will touch all of us at some point in our lives and the Church has been journeying with people through these times for millennia.

As Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide become legal in Canada, I took the opportunity while in Edmonton, to speak with Archbishop Richard Smith and asked him to explain what the Church teaches, why and what’s wrong with these practices.

This conversation will air on Catholic Focus tonight, Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 at 7:05pm ET / 4:05pm PT and will repeat at 11:05pm ET / 8:05pm PT.

Hope you can join us!

Deacon-structing Ordination | Part 1

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In light of the fact that last week everyone became aware that the early Church had women in the role of deacons or deaconesses (or both, we’re not sure what exactly these roles were), I have begun to deaconstructing the diaconate. But before, let’s take a little detour and look at Ordination.

It seems appropriate that as we are delving into this topic of Holy Orders, it’s the time of the year when many men are being ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood. Perhaps we should begin by keeping them in our prayers.

Today I’d like to focus on some of the basics (very basic, so I apologize if it seems simplistic) of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and it’s good to be reminded at first, that we are not just talking about priests. There are three Orders: bishops, priests and deacons. This goes back to the Acts of the Apostles.

When Jesus sent his 12 apostles to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:16-20), they took him seriously (we wouldn’t be in the Church today if it wasn’t for that): They went and made disciples everywhere. As groups of people became Christian, churches were created and elders were put in place (often with the laying on of hands) to shepherd these churches since the Apostles couldn’t be everywhere. As these churches grew in size and in region, the apostles began appointing a supervisor of the elders. This person was usually appointed by one of the apostles (again with the laying on of hands) when they visited the various churches. The supervisor was called the Episkopos which means overseer, in Greek. (We know that St. Paul writes to Timothy and Titus. They were both “overseers”.)

The episkopoi, or overseers, became what today we call bishops. As the churches continued to grow the overseers also couldn’t be everywhere and they had priests representing them in various churches (in fact, some historians will say that these original Episcopal representatives were deacons).

The word priest comes from the Greek word Presbyteroi, which was the word used for elder. (The word in Latin is sacerdos.)

There were also other ordained ministers known as diakonoi. They existed even before there were elders.

The word diakonoi literally means server (as in the ones who served the food). The appointment (ordination) of the first deacons appears in Acts 6:1-6. These seven men were ordained to beg for food for the Greek-speaking Jewish widows, who in those days, they were the most marginalised group, because the Apostles didn’t have time to do that work. Two famous Acts of the Apostles deacons are Philip and Stephen.

Deacons originally had a very specific function in the Church, which was separate from the priesthood, serving the most marginalised. As things evolved, slowly the diaconate disappeared as a separate ministry and became merely a step toward the priesthood (which is why today, all priests are first ordained to the transitional diaconate. This is very, very basic, but we will look at the history of the diaconate later in this series.) The permanent diaconate as it existed in the first couple of centuries was renewed by the Second Vatican Council and so now many dioceses have married men (like me) who are ordained as Permanent Deacons. (Note: the diaconate was renewed not because there was shortage of priests, but because there was a shortage of deacons. The Church needs both priests and deacons!)

In the first centuries, in addition to bishops, presbyters and deacons (major orders), there were also other ministers in the Church who were not ordained. We call them “minor orders”.

These included:
• Subdeacons, who helped the deacons with their duties
• Exorcists, who assisted at rituals of initiation and repentance
• Lectors, who read the scriptures during worship
• Porters, who had janitorial and guard duties and
• Acolytes, who accompanied the bishops and acted as secretaries and messengers.
(Many of these still exist in the Eastern Churches.)

As priests began to perform many of these functions, these orders also began to disappear as separate from the priesthood. Most have still not been renewed. Although, still today, before ordination to the diaconate, all candidates are installed as Lectors and Acolytes. And we know that all priests are first ordained as deacons (and all bishops are first priests).

This is probably not the best way to approach the subject, because Holy Orders is not about function, but sometimes it’s easier to understand something when we look at the function. (I do hope, as we get deeper into this that you understand Holy Orders not merely as something functional but something theological.)

The reason why the Apostles ordained deacons was so they (the Apostles) could “devote themselves to prayer and to serving the Word.” (Acts 6:4) The deacons then dedicated themselves to the work of charity. In a way, today that is still the case. The priest’s primary function is to administer the Sacraments.

I had a priest once tell me that his job was to bring God to the people and bring the people to God. This is a perfect way to look at it since that is what the Sacraments do. If we go way back to look at where our whole tradition of priesthood originates from, the Old Testament, we’ll see that this is also what the Jewish priests did. They didn’t have Sacraments, but they were mediators between God and the people.

God’s chosen people, the people of Israel was considered a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation”, but within the people of Israel God chose one of the twelve tribes, the Tribe of Levi (which was the tribe Moses and Aaron belonged to), and set it apart for liturgical service. God said to Moses: “Consecrate your brother Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar, to be priests, to minister to me.” (See Exodus 28:1 and 30:30. For the first ever consecration or ordination of priests, look at Exodus 29)
Part of their job was to take care of the Tabernacle, the Holy place where they kept the Arc of the Covenant, which contained the Tablets of the 10 Commandments. The Tabernacle is where the Holy of Holies was. That is where God was present. The priest’s job was to act on behalf of the people in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. When Jesus came, He became the ultimate Priest, who offered the ultimate Sacrifice. So, we see Aaron’s priesthood as the priesthood of the Old Covenant and Jesus is the Priest and only Priest of the New Covenant. All priests today (and for the last 2000 years) participate in this one Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

But as we said earlier, we’re not just talking about priests: There are three Orders: The bishop represents the fullness of Christ for the Church. The priest shares in the bishop’s office; these two constitute the ministerial priesthood. The deacon is ordained to the ministry of service, not to the priesthood of Christ.

In the past when I’ve deacon-structed Sacraments (and we did this in our show In Your Faith. To understand Sacraments better, check out all our episodes in Season 2 on the seven Sacraments.), I’ve looked at what I call the “metaphysical occurrence” that takes place. With every Sacrament something that is more than physical takes place – every Sacrament effects a change and this change is not just spiritual but also physical; it is metaphysical. For example, with the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ; with Marriage, the couple becomes one flesh; in Reconciliation, our sins are wiped clean.

With Holy Orders there is also a metaphysical occurrence that takes place. In simple terms, the ordained person becomes the person of Christ (Persona Christi Capitis), when he administers the Sacraments. But every also Sacrament mirrors how Christ is a Sacrament of God to the Church. In Holy Orders, Christ is ministering to our religious needs. That’s what priests, deacons and bishops do – just as Christ did. And the Sacrament of Holy Orders represents Christ the Servant, and Christ the Sacrifice and Priest.

And if you remember your catechism, a Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible Grace so every Sacrament confers Grace. In Holy Orders, the ordained minister receives the grace to be a servant, to offer sacrifice and the grace of being the person of Christ.

Next week we’ll go a bit deeper into the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Photo Credit: Pope Francis ordains one of 19 new priests during ordination Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican on April 27, 2015. CNS/Paul Haring


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Human Life Matters on Catholic Focus

Mark Pickup

I first heard of Mark Pickup, 10 years ago when we were working on Turning the Tide. At the time, it was not possible to interview Mark for the documentary. He would have been a great addition to the film.

Mark was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 30. He is one of Canada’s most out-spoken disability-rights advocates against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

But Mark was not always this way. In his personal blog, Human Life Matters he writes about how angry he was when he lost his health:

“Fear overcame me about what lay in store for me. I knew multiple sclerosis is a serious disease that often has a catastrophic impact of the lives of people it strikes. I knew people with MS: often their lives were torn apart as their marriages crumbled, careers shattered, and they were abandoned to a living hell.

“Multiple sclerosis devastated my life. It stripped away my health, layer by layer, like pealing an onion, and eventually left me triplegic and in an electric wheelchair.

“Looking back over more than twenty years of increasingly profound and crippling disability I must say that I have become one of those people I wrote about who lives with a sick and twisted body. Yes, there were times when my heart broke – along with the hearts of those loved me. There were times throughout the years when it was me (not someone else) who was on the verge of despair. Protracted suffering seemed to isolate me in sorrow – just as my wife’s sorrow seemed to isolate her. At other times we lived two solitudes rooted in the same overwhelming and inexpressible sorrow.”

He is a perfect candidate for Canada’s new Medically Assisted Dying Bill.

That is why when we were in Edmonton recently for the Every Life Matters series with Archbishop Richard Smith and I knew that Mark was one of the speakers, I asked if we could meet to speak further. He agreed and we spoke about his disease, about suffering, quality of life, disabilities, conscience rights and much more.

My conversation with Mark Pickup will air on Catholic Focus tomorrow, Wednesday, May 18 after Perspectives Daily, at 7:05pm ET (5:05pm MT). It repeats at 11:05pm (8:05pm MT).

I hope you can join us for this special Catholic Focus on end of life issues.

This mini series on end-of-life issues began last week with a conversation with lawyer Kate Faught, who explains how our legal landscape is changing, and will continue for the next three Wednesdays:

May 25: What Does The Church Say? with Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton.

June 1: Ending the Pain, with Lisa Daniels who suffers debilitating, chronic pain, and her doctor, Robert Hauptman.

June 8: Quality of Life, with Jeri and Chuck Marple, parents of Mary who has cerebral palsy.

Deacon-structing The diaconate: Part 1

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That was the tweet I put out two days ago when I heard the news that Pope Francis had announced a commission to investigate the ordination of women deacons. I have to admit, I heard the news and my heart sank. That tweet, in my humble opinion summarizes the heart of my argument: If the Church has no authority to ordain women to the priesthood; the Church has no authority to ordain women to the diaconate. It’s the same ordination. So either the Church ordains women to everything, or we don’t ordain deacons. That’s where I was two days ago. There are two questions we have to answer: ‘What is Ordination?’ And ‘What is the Diaconate?’

First, let’s look at what really happened when Pope Francis met with representatives of the International Union of Superiors General on Friday. If you read the full transcript, you can’t conclude that the “pope made an announcement.” What he said was closer to, “I think that yes, that would be a good idea; to have commission to look at what women deacons have been in the tradition of the Church.”

Pope Francis’ comments regarding the diaconate were part of a response to the second question that, by the way, did not have to do specifically with including women among permanent deacons, but with the greater participation of women in the Church: “Can you give an example of where you see the possibility of better integration of women and consecrated women in the life of the Church?”

After sharing some thoughts about what the Pope knows about “deaconesses” in the early Church and saying that the role and meaning is obscure (“it is not clear how it was”), the Pope said,

“I think I will ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to refer me to some studies on this theme, because I have answered you only on the basis of what I heard from this priest, who was an erudite and able researcher, on the permanent diaconate. In addition, I would like to constitute an official commission to study the question: I think it will be good for the Church to clarify this point, I agree, and I will speak so as to do something of this type.”

The question that the commission would study is not the question of ordination of women to the diaconate; it is the question of what the role of deaconesses in the early Church was. The Pope said, “In the early times of the Church there were some “deaconesses”. But what were these deaconesses? Were they ordained or not? The Council of Chalcedon (451) speaks about this but it is somewhat obscure. What was the role of deaconesses in those times?”

After saying a few more things about better integration of women in the life of the Church he went back and said, “So, with regard to the diaconate, yes, I agree and it seems to me it would be useful to have a commission to clarify this well, especially with regard to the early times of the Church.”

In a statement the following day, Vatican spokesperson, Fr. Federico Lombardi clarified that “Pope Francis did not say in his remarks to the Heads of female religious orders and congregations that he intends to introduce the ordination of women.” In his statement, Fr. Lombardi said that the question of women deacons and deaconesses is not a new question and had arisen in the past (In fact under Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI as we will see in the following weeks). Fr. Lombardi said, “The Pope did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests. In actual fact, the Pope made clear in his preaching during the course of the Eucharistic celebration that he was not considering this (question) at all.” (I’m still trying to get my hands on the transcript of that homily.)

He ended the statement by saying, that it was wrong to reduce all the many important things said by the Pope during his meeting with the religious sisters to this one question.

I would say that the real question has to do with a better integration of women in the life and decision-making of the Church. What prevents us from this is an attitude of clericalism that is prevalent in the Church: among clerics and among the laity. Pope Francis has spoken extensively about this. Why does one need to be a cleric in order to have a decision-making role in the Church? Pope Francis said that there was nothing stopping the Church from having a woman as a head of a Dicastery (Pontifical Council); that’s a place to start. I would add that it is also possible to have a woman as a rector of a seminary or even as Vatican Spokesperson. Wouldn’t that be great?! As to women preaching, it is already possible for a woman to lead a liturgy of the word and to preach at one. It is also possible, in the context of a Mass for the presider or homilist, after saying a few words, to introduce a woman (or anyone) to share a reflection. The reason why these don’t take place more often is clericalism.

At the above-mentioned meeting with the religious superiors the Pope said that “clericalism is a negative attitude. And it takes complicity: it is something that is done by two parties, just as it takes two to dance the tango. … That is: the priest seeks to clericalise the layman, the laywoman, the man or woman religious, and the layperson asks to be clericalised, because it is easier that way.” He then shared a story from his time as Archbishop in Buenos Aires. “I had this experience three or four times: a good priest came to me and said, “I have a very good layperson in my parish: he does this and that, he knows how to organise things, he gets things done. … Shall we make him a deacon?” Or rather: shall we “clericalise” him? “No! Let him remain a layperson. Don’t make him a deacon”. This is important. It often happens to you that clericalism obstructs the correct development of something.”  Point well made.

Which brings me back to the question of deacons.

The Pope begins his response to that second question by saying that this “touches on the problem of the permanent diaconate.” I am not sure what he meant by this statement, but I can tell you that I do believe that theologically, the diaconate presents us with a problem. The diaconate is not clear – it’s easy to explain it in terms of function, but not so easy to understand or explain it further and make a clear distinction between the diaconate and the laity, and the diaconate and other ministers of service. If you swing in the other direction, it’s hard to explain the theological distinction between the diaconate and the priesthood.

That’s why I’d like to dedicate the next couple of weeks to exploring the question of the diaconate. But before I do so, I would like to point out that on May 26 this year, I will have only been ordained four years. There are many deacons who can probably shed more light on this question than I. I encourage you to read Deacon Greg Kandra, Deacon William Ditewig and Deacon James Keating. I don’t know if they read my column, but if they do, I’d love for them to share their opinions with us.

On this Pentecost Sunday let’s remember that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and no matter where she goes, we have to trust that’s where the Spirit is leading.

Next week we’ll make a detour by explaining Holy Orders before we take a closer look at the diaconate. In the meantime, read this article by Fr. Dwight Longenecker.


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Every Life Matters

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Recently, while in Edmonton during the Every Life Matters series, I overheard someone say that the Catholic Church had two preferential options. I had heard of the preferential option for the poor but had never heard of the preferential option for life. Life is the one inalienable right upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no liberty or security unless life is defended and promoted. Mother Teresa told the United Nations gathering in 1985:

“If we are sincere in our hearts that we really want peace, today, let us make that strong resolution that in our countries, in our cities, we will not allow a single child to feel unwanted, to feel unloved, to throw away a society.”

Indeed, there can be no peace, unless all human life is defended and protected from conception to natural death.

This week is a special week when we celebrate and recognize the value of every human life. Of course, this is something that we should do all the time, but in a special way, as the temperature is warming and plants are budding – there is new life everywhere – it’s good to make a point of reminding ourselves and those around us that we are a people of life.

I hope that you can join us for the following programs airing this week on S+L TV:

Wednesday May 11

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – The Law
7:05PM ET / 4PM PT (repeat at 11PM ET / 8PM PT)
Our legal landscape is changing in Canada with the legalization of medically assisted dying. What does the criminal code say? What is being changed and how did we get here? These questions and more are addressed by Kate Faught, a lawyer in Edmonton.

Turning the Tide
9PM ET /6PM PT (repeats at 10PM PT).
This is our award-winning documentary that looks at dignity, compassion and euthanasia.

Through the lives of 5 individuals, this production explores how the legalisation of Euthanasia would affect society, in particular those who are most vulnerable: the disabled, the elderly and those who are chronically ill. Made in association with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, this powerful documentary looks at the concepts of compassion, dignity, quality of life, personal autonomy and choice, and explores how the law works in shaping a society. The documentary includes Canadian disability rights activist, Catherine Frazee and Palliative Care Nurse Consultant, Jean Echlin, as well as Wesley Smith, attorney for the International Task Force Against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide and Terri Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler.

A People of Life
9:30PM ET (repeats at 10:30PM PT)
Made in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus, A People of Life explores what it means to be Pro-Life, looks at the Pro-Life issues: abortion, euthanasia and stem-cell research in both the U.S. and Canada, and focuses on the work done by the Knights of Columbus in these areas. A People of Life includes interviews with Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson; March for Life Founder, Nellie Gray; Project Rachel Founder, Vicki Thorn, Democrat Member of Congress, Bart Stupack and President of Life-Athletes, Chris Godfrey, among others.

Thurs. May 12 (March For Life Day)

Love is a Choice
9:30AM ET
The official documentary of the life of St. Gianna Beretta Molla with excerpts of the Canonization ceremony on May 16, 2004. Includes interviews with Pietro Molla and their children.

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – The Law – 12 noon ET / 9AM PT

Turning the Tide – 12:30PM ET / 9:30AM PT

Chiara Luce Badano: A Beautiful Plan
1PM ET / 10AM PT
Chiara Badano, called Chiara “Luce” (which means “Light”), was an Italian teenager who belonged to the Focolare Movement and died prematurely at eighteen after succumbing to osteosarcoma, an aggressive and painful form of bone cancer. She was beatified in September 2010 in the Sanctuary of “Our Lady of Divine Love” in Rome.

A People of Life – 2PM ET / 11AM PT

Every Life Matters EP 1 What’s it All About?
9PM ET / 7PM MT

I also encourage you to watch the Every Life Matters series. All episodes are online, but also re-airing on S+L TV. Also watch my series of new Catholic Focus episodes on end-of-life issues Wednesdays throughout the month of May:

Every Life Matters: Ep 2 What’s Wrong with Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia?
Sat May 14
9PM ET / 7PM MT

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – Human Life Matters
Premier Air Date: May 18, 2016
7:05PM / 8:05PM PT
Canada’s laws concerning assisted suicide and euthanasia are changing. What does this mean and why should we be concerned? What is wrong with assisted suicide and euthanasia? Disability Advocate, Mark Pickup answers these and questions on dignity, compassion, quality of life and other end of life issues.

Every Life Matters: Ep 3 It’s My Body, My Choice
Thursday May 19
9PM ET / 7PM MT

Every Life Matters: Ep 4 I Don’t Want to Suffer
Sat May 21
9PM ET / 7PM MT

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – What Does the Church Say?
Premier Air Date: May 25, 2016
7:05PM / 8:05PM PT
Issues of death, dying and suffering touch all of us and the Church has been journeying with people through these times for millennia. As Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide become legal in Canada, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton explains what the Church teaches and what’s wrong with these practices.

Every Life Matters: Ep 5 What  Must We Do?
Thursday May 26
9PM ET / 7PM MT

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – Ending the Pain
Premier Air Date: June 1, 2016
7:05PM / 8:05PM PT
Many people who support the idea of medically assisted dying do so on the basis that some people live with unbearable, intolerable pain. Can all pain be managed? How are we to respond to the question of pain? Lisa Daniels lives with chronic pain. Together with her doctor, Robert Hauptman, they address these and other questions.

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – Quality of Life
Premier Air Date: June 8, 2016
7:05PM / 8:05PM PT
People with disabilities are most concerned about the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Charles and Jeri Marple are the parents of a child with Cerebral Palsy and they address these concerns and explore questions about value, dignity and quality of life.

Deacon-structing Relativism

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Almost three months ago I ended this column by mentioning that someone had sent me a comment about another post. I had said something about the permanency of doctrine and that person was challenging (I think) my use of the word doctrine. Perhaps (I surmise) I should have used the word “dogma.” At any rate, since then, I have had several conversations with many people who know more about this sort of thing than I do and it’s made me want to deacon-struct doctrine. What does it mean? What do Church people mean when they use the word doctrine? But, before I do, I need your help. What do you mean when you say “doctrine”? What do you think that word refers to? Does doctrine refer merely to Catholic “teaching” or is it specific teaching? What’s the difference between doctrine and dogma? Help me out. What do you think? I want to hear from all of you – whether you are an expert or not, but, especially I want to hear from some of you who know more about this than I do. I’ll write the column once I’ve heard from enough of you. Write to me at pedro@saltandlighttv.org.

Not entirely unrelated is the topic for today. Recently I posted an article on assisted suicide on my Facebook page. Now, I am not ignorant about the issues related to euthanasia and assisted suicide – my first major documentary, Turning the Tide is about those two topics.  I also just finished working on a 5-part series with the Archbishop of Edmonton, Richard Smith called Every Life Matters and have just finished a series of five Catholic Focus programs on these topics (first one airs next Wednesday. See below for other air dates). But I also have many personal friends who do not share my worldview on these and other issues. Needless to say, there were many comments on my wall.

And this is what always happens when I post anything about abortion, euthanasia or sex education. These seem to be the polarizing issues. But they are not polarizing because (as someone posted on my wall) the “f@#$% Catholic Church keeps trying to impose its views on everyone,” but because they are emotionally charged. Everyone who is passionate about these issues is probably so because they are emotionally connected to the issue: they know someone who’s suffered greatly at the end of life; they themselves had an abortion or paid for one; they or someone they know was molested by a priest. Not usually do they disagree with the logic of the arguments; they just don’t see any logic because they are so emotionally involved.

This makes it very hard for those of us who feel we must explain what the Church teaches on these topics. We have to share the Truth and at the same time we have to do so gently and with compassion. I’ve said many times before that I think that every Christian has to be able to have these conversations – we have to be able to explain our beliefs – and when having these conversations we have to stay logical and sometimes it’s best to stick to ideas. Personal stories are good, but ideas are always clear.

Which leads me to this determination: There is one fundamental reason why the Church and the secular world disagree on most of these issues: It’s called relativism.

Relativism is very easy. It refers to the idea that Truth is not absolute. The Church and those who follow Church teaching (and we could say who have a biblical or Christian world-view, although I am sure there are many Christians who sadly, have a relativistic view of the world) would say that Truth is absolute. That means that if something is Truth, it is Truth for everyone. It is universal. It is not subjective.

On the other hand, those who subscribe to a relativistic point of view believe that truth is relative; it is not absolute. In other words, what’s true for me is true for me and what’s true for you is true for you.

What’s interesting is that many of these “relativists” would agree that some truth is absolute; mathematical truth, for example. Two plus two is always four. That’s absolute. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with it or whether I’ve subjectively experienced it or not, two plus two is always four. We generally accept many scientific truths as absolute, but when it comes to moral law, that’s where people fall into relativism. (These relativists are also pretty “absolute” about the fact that their “truth” is absolute and that their relativistic view of the world is absolute; which is a contradiction.)

But relativism doesn’t make any sense. If something is Truth, then it has to be Truth for everyone. I don’t need to subjectively experience that Truth in order to know that it is Truth. Truth is always objective. (That’s why the question that people have been asking for centuries, whether a tree makes a noise if it falls in the forest and no one hears it, makes no sense; of course it makes a noise!)

And so, when we look at issues like euthanasia, abortion or human sexuality for example, the Church accepts a certain absolute Truth: That all human beings are sacred, valuable persons with inherent dignity and that this sacredness, value and dignity begin at conception. A human being is not a person only if the law says it has the rights of a person or can be called a person. A human person has value and dignity that is inherent; its value is not utilitarian; it’s not based on what you can or cannot do. It doesn’t matter whether you are short, fat, under-developed, male, female, same-gender-attracted, aboriginal, Asian, young or old, African American, unemployed, disabled, homeless, distracted, confused, alone, ignorant or uneducated, psychotic, angry, or even criminally deranged; it doesn’t matter if you have committed horrible, horrible crimes or if you are lying in a coma; you have value and dignity because you are a human being. Because you are a human being, you  and your life are sacred.

This dignity and value is not determined arbitrarily or subjectively by someone or some authority; it is not relative to how you feel about it or to what someone may or may not think is what makes a human person valuable or not; it is absolute. You don’t have to agree with it or understand it; it is Truth.

How do we know that this notion (that every life is sacred and has inherent value and dignity) is Truth and therefore absolute (ie. a Truth that applies to every human person)? We know because if it wasn’t, who determines what’s Truth and what isn’t? Are certain behaviours accepted as morally good according to the culture or social norms of a particular time? Is that how 50 years ago same-sex marriage would have been considered wrong, but today it is considered to be good in some places? Is that how 23 years ago the Supreme Court could determine that Medically Assisted Dying is not good, but today they can determine that it is? Is that why some people keep saying, “keep up with the times”? Does that mean that helping a little old lady crossing the street one day may not be considered a good thing? The danger, of course, is that it’s always the powerful and the strong who will decide for the weak and vulnerable.

Absolute Truth says that if something is morally good, it is always morally good, no matter the times or the culture. If something is morally bad, it is always bad, no matter where or when.

Even though relativism is not part of our Christian world-view and definitely not part of our Catholic Teaching, relativistic ideas creep into our thinking all the time. It’s important, as Christians, for us to have a clear sense of what is absolute and what isn’t. Moral Truth is absolute.

No wonder we have basic problems communicating what we believe when it comes to emotionally charged topics such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion, Marriage and gender issues.

I hope you can watch our series, Every Life Matters on euthanasia and assisted suicide (you can now watch them all online), and also that you tune in for the next five Wednesdays for a series of Catholic Focus episodes that I did on end of life issues. The first one is on all the legal aspects with lawyer Kate Faught and it airs on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:05pm ET.

The rest are:

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – Human Life Matters with disability-rights-advocate Mark Pickup.
May 18, 2016 | 7:05PM / 8:05PM PT

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – What Does the Church Say? with Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton.
May 25, 2016 | 7:05PM / 8:05PM PT

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – Ending the Pain with Lisa Daniels who suffers from debilitating, chronic pain and her doctor Robert Hauptman.
June 1, 2016 | 7:05PM / 8:05PM PT

Catholic Focus: End of Life Issues – Quality of Life with Chuck and Jeri Marple who have a daughter with cerebral palsy.
June 8, 2016 | 7:05PM / 8:05PM PT

I also hope that, whether you can attend the National March for Life on May 12, or not, you celebrate life, all human life, this week. (And why stop there? We should be celebrating, defending and protecting life all the time!)

Write to me and tell me what you think. And remember to tell me what your thoughts are on those two words, “doctrine” and “dogma”. I would say that “doctrine” cannot change because it is absolute; it deals with faith or morals. Perhaps I should be using the word “dogma” to mean that. Not sure. What do you think?


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

The Joy of Love on Catholic Focus

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On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis released the long-awaited post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (the Joy of Love), on the family. A few days later, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton joined me to explore various themes from the document, as well as to share his experiences in journeying with families through the many challenges they face. We spoke about the impact of social media, how the economic downturn has affected families in Alberta, family violence, and how the Archbishop sees end-of-life issues affecting the family. I hope you can join us for this insightful conversation about the state of the family in Canada.

Catholic Focus: The Joy of Love will air today,Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 7:05pm ET / 5:05pm MT with a repeat broadcast at 11:05pm ET / 9:05pm MT. Watch the full episode below!

Archbishop Smith also wrote a statement on Amoris Laetitia:

Amoris Laetitia (On Love In the Family) is not only a beautiful and welcome reflection on marriage and the family; it is also a particular call to pastors, parishes, and Catholic institutions to work in concrete ways to support families and help them grow. In this way Amoris Laetitia underscores the importance of the ministry to families that unfolds daily throughout the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

With this exhortation, the Holy Father has demonstrated a deep understanding of the challenges faced by all families. As a bishop who was privileged to participate in the 2015 Synod on the Family, I can say that my first glimpse into the exhortation confirms my observation that he listened very carefully to the concerns raised by bishops and other Synod participants from all over the world.

Ministry to families is one of the key pastoral concerns that we have identified here in the Edmonton Archdiocese, and so this teaching by Pope Francis will be invaluable to us. We know that many of our social ills stem from unhealthy, often violent, family situations. Here in Alberta, we have one of the highest rates of family violence in Canada. The importance of ministry to the family simply cannot be overstated.

As a Christian community, we are called to share the Gospel message of the beauty and dignity of marriage, the inexpressibly wondrous gift of children, and the home as the place of love, nurture, safety, and identity. Pope Francis illustrates this call in great detail in his exhortation.

This papal document does not change Church teaching or discipline regarding marriage. It does underline the need for pastors to listen attentively and deal sensitively with single people, couples, and families who experience difficult situations.

At more than 260 pages, Amoris Laetitia is lengthy, and I plan to follow the Holy Father’s advice to give it the proper time and attention before giving any more detailed response.

In the meantime, I encourage all Catholics to join me in studying and reflecting on his words. Pope Francis has given us some important and timely teaching on issues that affect us all.

Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton 8 April 2016

Deacon-structing: The Voice of Christ

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A reflection for the 6th Sunday in Easter, Year C. The readings are Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14; 22-23 and John 14:23-29.

Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them… (Jn 14:23) Let’s get this straight: If you love me; you will keep my word. That’s a no-brainer! If you love someone you care about what they think, what they say and what they want. If you love them, you do what they ask you to do. And for Christians who love Jesus, we want to keep his word.

Two weeks ago the readings at Mass told us about the Good Shepherd who says that His sheep know His voice. But Jesus’ voice is but one voice among many: The voice of pleasure and the voice of power; the voices of pride and despair, of fear and doubt. How do we know the voice of Christ? We listen. That’s it. We have to make quiet time for listening so we can tune in to the voice of Jesus. If our prayer time is consumed with speaking: Thanksgiving prayers and petition prayers and asking for forgiveness and offering praise – all the while listening to praise and worship music – then it’s a bit one-sided. We have to be quiet; silent, so we can listen. We need to start this today. Set aside quiet time each day. Be silent and listen. And when you do, how do you know you’re listening to the voice of Jesus so that you can keep his word? How do we discern His voice among all the voices in the world? And how do we recognize his voice when it’s about something that Jesus didn’t speak about? It’s easy to keep His word when it’s about something that Jesus spoke about, but how do we keep His word about stuff that Jesus never spoke about?

Let me make a proposal: The voice of Jesus is the voice of the Church. Or rather, the voice of the Church is the voice of Jesus. Jesus gives His voice to the Church. He gives His voice to the apostles; He gives them His authority and that’s the way it’s been from the beginning of Christianity.

See what’s happening in the Book of Acts (15:1—29): The disciples are doing what Jesus asked them to do: They are keeping His word. They are going to the ends of the earth making disciples. And Paul and Barnabas are disciple-making machines. And most of their converts are gentiles: People of non-Jewish background. But what happens? They’re in Antioch and to Antioch comes a group of Jewish-Christians (converts from Judaism; called the Judaizers) and they tell the gentile-Christians that in order for them to be Christian, they have to follow the Law of Moses: All the Jewish Levitical laws. Remember that the Jewish people had strict laws about what they could eat and not eat, about washing, about rituals and sacrifice and other things. And the main issue was the issue of circumcision. These Judaizers said that in order to be saved you had to be circumcised. But they had a “not small dissent or debate” with Paul and Barnabas. That means they had a big dissent and debate with Paul and Barnabas. They duked it out because Paul and Barnabas are pretty sure that this teaching is wrong. But is it up to Paul and Barnabas to make this decision? No. They are not the Church leadership. They are important but they are not the Church leadership. So they take the matter to Jerusalem to the Church leadership, the Apostles. And we have the first Church council. We call it the Council of Jerusalem. And ever since then, when the Church encounters a matter that needs to be defined or clarified, they gather as a council in order to define doctrine or teaching. We’ve heard of the Council of Trent and the Council of Chalcedon and the two Vatican Councils. Well, in the Book of Acts we have the first council in Jerusalem. They had a problem that had to be solved; a teaching that had to be defined. And it’s something that Jesus never spoke about: Circumcision. Jesus never spoke about what Gentiles should or shouldn’t do if they became Christians. So the Apostles and Church leaders gather and make a decision. And we know that they decide that you do not have to be Jewish, in order to be a Christian.

How do they decide? With the Holy Spirit. The letter they send back to Antioch says, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us…” (Acts 15:28) It doesn’t say they decided under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit inspired them to decide. No. They decided together with the Holy Spirit. And that’s the way the Church has been since then. Together with the Holy Spirit, doctrine can be defined because the Church speaks with the authority and the voice of Jesus.

Look at the Gospel (John 14:23-29): Jesus says to the Apostles: “The Father will send you the Holy Spirit in my name and He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything that I have spoken.” What does that mean? It means that of the things Jesus spoke about, the Spirit will remind us; but of the things Jesus didn’t speak about, the Spirit will teach us. So we are guaranteed that the Church leadership will always, together with the Holy Spirit, speak with the authority and voice of Christ, whenever they speak as a whole. Jesus does not give His Spirit to 12 individual people; He gives His Spirit to them as Church and so it’s not whatever an individual Bishop says, but when the Bishops and the Holy Father speak as the College of Bishops or in the context of a Ecumenical Council.

I believe that this happens whenever the Holy Father, together with the College of Bishops speak as a whole. In the last couple of years we’ve all heard of Synods of Bishops. This is another occasion when Bishops come together with the Holy Father and they look at a situation that may need to be defined. Out of the Synod comes an Apostolic Exhortation (the latest one, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love, on the challenges faced by the family). With an Exhortation the Holy Father gives some pastoral advice to the people. This is exactly what the Apostles did at that first council. Interesting that some translations refer to the letter from the Council of Jerusalem as an exhortation; The Apostles exhort the people in Antioch.) We have to trust that to this day, the Bishops who are the successors of the Apostles, together with the successor of Peter, still make decisions together with the Holy Spirit.

Church leadership is important and it’s always been this way. The Book of Revelation (21:10-23) presents us with a beautiful and immense city: The New Jerusalem. And many scholars agree that when the Book of Revelation speaks of the New Jerusalem it refers to the Church. See what this city looks like: It has a wall with 12 gates and over each gate are written the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. That’s where we came from. That’s our heritage; the old Jerusalem, the first Covenant. But there are 12 foundations and over each foundation are written the names of the 12 apostles. Jesus said to Peter, you are a rock and on this rock I will build my Church. (Mt 16:18) The foundation of the Church is the 12 apostles and it’s always been that way. That foundation continues today with the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops and our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

So, if we want to love Jesus and keep his word we have to listen to the Church. If we do we will keep His word and the Father will come to us and the Father, Son and Spirit will come to us and make their home with us. (Jn 14:23)

Not entirely unrelated, I want to ask you your opinion on the words “doctrine” and “dogma”. What do they mean? When the Holy Father speaks together with the Bishops and the Holy Spirit to define a particular Church teaching, is that dogma or doctrine? Write to me and tell me what you think. I would say that “doctrine” cannot change because it is absolute; it deals with faith or morals. Perhaps I should be using the word “dogma” to mean that. Not sure. What do you think? I’ll explain better next week.

Photo Credit: Bishops and cardinals attend a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing end of life issues: Life, liberty and security

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As we explore the issues of end of life and medically assisted dying, we can’t ignore the question of freedom and human rights since one of the basic arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide is that of autonomy: “it’s my body; my choice.”

In Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you haven’t read it, you should. This is the law in Canada. I am not an expert, nor have a really studied the Charter, but sometimes I think that this is not the best thing to have since it’s vague and open to many interpretations.

As an example, the Supreme Court of British Columbia determined in 1993 that the request made by Sue Rodriguez for assisted death violated Sections 7 (the right to “life, liberty, and security of the person), 12 (protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”), and 15(1) (equality) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two decades later, using the same Charter, this ruling in Rodriguez was overturned in the 2015 decision in Carter v Canada, by the Supreme Court of Canada.

How is it that 22 years ago Supreme Court judges can look at the Charter and determine that legalized assisted dying is unconstitutional and today, the Supreme Court of Canada can look at the same Charter and determine that to deny assisted dying in fact, violates the Charter? I think that if it was clear, no matter the individual values of the judges making the ruling, the decisions would always be the same.

Section 7 of the Charter says that, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice” but nowhere does it define what those terms, life, liberty and security, mean. Would someone define “life” as a state wherein the person is useful and competent? If your life does not have liberty or security, can it be considered a life? Is a “life” defined by merely as someone who is alive? Who decides? Are these decisions based on the whim of the fleeting societal values of any particular time?

We also get into trouble because sometimes the secular world and Christians use the same words, but we have completely different meanings.

Take the word “Liberty”. What does it mean? Does it mean “freedom”? Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, during the Every Life Matters series made a very clear distinction between the words, “freedom” and “license”.

Archbishop Smith said, “License is refusal of all limit and constraint in order to do what I want. Freedom is liberty within limit to do what I must. This “ought” flows from my pledge of fidelity to the love of God. The limit within which we exercise freedom is truth: the truth of our creaturely dependence upon God, the truth of our relationship of interdependence with others, and the truth that I am not my own.”

And so, what most people refer to when they speak of freedom or liberty is not freedom at all; it’s license. “I should be able to do whatever I want” is not freedom; it’s chaos. (For more on freedom read Pope Francis’ homily from this morning’s Jubilee for young people.)

But more importantly, if all Canadians are endowed with the inherent rights of life, liberty and security – and those rights are equal – what happens when one of those rights comes up against the other? What happens when your right to liberty or security goes up against your right to life? What happens when my right to life goes up against your right to liberty?

This is where a bit of logic can be of assistance. These three inherent rights are equal, but they are hierarchical in fundament. That means that one is more fundamental than the other two.

Take a house, for example. In order to be a house, a house needs a foundation, it needs walls and it needs a roof. All are equally important. Without a foundation, without a roof, or without walls, the building ceases to be a house. They are equal. But, can you have walls without a foundation? Can you have a roof without walls? Therefore even though all three are equally important, the foundation is more fundamental than the walls and the roof. The walls are also more fundamental than the roof. The roof is the least fundamental of the three because it needs the other two in order to exist.

It’s the same with life, liberty and security: You can’t have security without life and liberty and you can’t have liberty without life. Therefore life is the more fundamental of these three inherent rights. Liberty is more fundamental than security. This means that when security or liberties go up against life, life should always win. If my right to security goes up against my right to liberty, my right to liberty should always win, because it is more fundamental.

Our laws may say this thing or that thing, but that doesn’t make it necessarily right. We have to be clear as to what we believe and have to be able to explain it to others.

Now there may be lawyers among you reading this and there may be some among you who have indeed studied the Charter. I welcome your comments on my little musing for today.

Again, I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca. The TV broadcasts began last night, April 23 on Salt + Light TV. Here’s the broadcast schedule if you prefer to watch them on TV.
And again, I invite you to watch my award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or a parish study.


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Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Every Life Matters

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Canada is facing the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia and for many people, Catholics especially, this raises very serious concerns: About our respect for the principle of the sanctity of human life; what will this mean for the protection of our vulnerable people? How will this affect our healthcare professionals who may be forced to participate in these practices against their conscience? We need to discuss all of this and that is why Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton has invited all of us to join him for the series that he’s titled Every Life Matters.

The series included a series of five conversations with Archbishop Smith and several other legal and medical professionals, as well as parents and people suffering from disabilities. These took place all over the Archdiocese of Edmonton and were streamed live on the Internet.

Every Life Matters will begin airing on S+L TV Saturdays and Wednesdays, starting this Saturday, at 9pm ET / 7pm MT.

1. What’s it all About? Airs Saturday, April 23 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, April 24  – 1 am ET / Saturday, April 23 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Kate Faught, a lawyer specializing in estate litigation, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a physician specializing in palliative care.

2. What’s Wrong with Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia? Airs Wednesday, April 27 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Thursday, April 28 – 1 am PT / Wednesday, April 27 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Lisa Daniels, a young mother who tells her own personal story of finding meaning, purpose and happiness in life despite suffering debilitating pain; and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician who speaks about the need for improved access to palliative care for all Canadians. Archbishop Smith explains and illustrates Church teaching around suicide and euthanasia.

3. It’s My Body, My Choice – Airs Saturday, April 30 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, May 1 – 1 am PT / Saturday, April 30 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Father Eamonn McNerney, a hospital chaplain who shares his personal experience with a family whose loved one requested euthanasia, and Dr. Robert Hauptman, a specialist in pain management who maintains that with modern medical care, no patient should have to suffer intolerable pain. Archbishop Smith explains and illustrates Church teaching around freedom, choice, and personal autonomy — concepts that are often used to justify assisted suicide and euthanasia.

4. I Don’t Want to Suffer – Airs Wednesday, May 4 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Thursday, May 5 – 1 am PT / Wednesday, May 4 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Jeri and Chuck Marple, who tell us how their disabled daughter Mary has been a blessing in their lives, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician speaks on caring for the caregivers and families of those with severe illness or disability, or nearing end of life. Archbishop Smith teaches on the Christian understanding of the mystery of suffering.

5. What Must We Do? Airs Saturday, May 7 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, May 8 – 11 pm ET / Saturday, May 7 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Mark Pickup, who tells of a very dark time when he came close to losing the will to live, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, who asks us all to defend doctors, nurses and pharmacists who refuse to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia. Archbishop Smith offers four concrete ways we as Catholics can defend human life against such attacks.

And once again, let me invite you to watch our award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with all these issues and questions related to the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. With its study guide, this 28-minute film is perfect for classroom or a parish or home study.