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Deacon-structing: A Memorial


I set out to deacon-struct Holy Week and soon found that I was faced with a monumental task. I looked at each of the key moments of the Passion: the entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the trial, the way of the Cross and crucifixion… the burial… there is so much there. I have always been drawn to the mysteries of Holy Week and the more I study and pray with these mysteries, the more I feel I am over my head.

I guess that’s why it’s a Mystery. When we use the word “mystery” in our Faith, we don’t mean it’s something that has to be solved, like an Agatha Christie novel. Rather, it means that it is something so profound, so amazing, so vast, that it cannot be fully understood in human terms; it cannot be fully explained in human language. And so we are called to understand it only in part and to stand at the foot of the Mystery and contemplate it; to gaze upon it and let it change us. As Pope Francis says so beautifully in Joy of the Gospel with regards to the neighbour: “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (EG 169). That’s what we do when faced with Mystery.

And that’s how we should approach Holy Week. It is not something to “understand” but something to behold: to gaze upon. We are called to walk with Jesus through his passion and death.

But that doesn’t mean that we are not meant to try to understand it as much as possible. This understanding can help us enter more deeply into the Mystery of the Passion.

For example, a few times I have been honoured to be part of a Jewish Seder meal. This is the Passover meal that Jesus would have been celebrating. I remember coming out from the meal with a whole new understanding of the Mass. Once we know what the ritual of the Seder is, we come to appreciate what Scriptures tell us about the Last Supper much more deeply. For example, why are they dipping bread in a dish (Mk. 14:20; Jn 13:26)? Which of the four ritual cups of wine is the cup that Jesus is says is “the cup of the New Covenant” (Mt. 17:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20)? What is the hymn that they sang when it says, “after they had sung the hymn…” (Mt. 26:30; Mk 14:26)? Or the fact that in the synoptic Gospels Jesus dies on the day after Passover (Mt. 26:17; Mk 14:12; Lk 22:7) , but according to the Gospel of John, it was the day of preparation for the Passover (Jn 19:31). There is so much there and I don’t think I could do it justice. It is certainly enough for a lifetime of prayer and meditation.

But today I can’t stop thinking about one thing: The Cross. We have no idea what people at the time thought about or felt about this instrument of torture and death. When Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24; Lk 9:23) what did people think? Was that a common expression at the time? Would he have said today, “pick up your electric chair and follow me?”

 And the fact that almost immediately, the followers of Jesus seemed to embrace this “Cross.” I’m sure they remembered Jesus saying “pick up your cross and follow me” but did they remember him saying “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19)?

Did they understand that it is through the Cross that Jesus saves us? That it is through the Cross that Jesus makes all things new: by destroying death forever and forgiving our sins. I wonder when they started signing themselves with this sign, the “sign of the Cross.”

I wonder if they began signing themselves with this sign as a reminder of who they were: As a reminder of the love of God. Did they remember what Jesus told Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he “gave” his only Son? (John 3:16?) Did they think that this thing that Jesus did for all of us they were called to do for others?

What did Jesus mean when He said, “do this in memory of me?” I don’t think he was just talking about eating bread and drinking wine. Was He speaking about washing each other’s feet? Did he mean going up on the Cross like him? I’m pretty sure He wasn’t talking about merely “remembering” him.

In Spanish, when Jesus said, “do this in memory of me,” He says, “hagan esto en conmemoración mia.” That means something closer to “do this to honour me.” It is not about remembering Jesus. That when we remember Jesus we are to do something or when we do something we are to remember Jesus. I suppose it could mean that, but I think it means that we are to do something so as to commemorate Jesus and what He did for us. Commemorate is not just to remember. It is not just to honour. According to the Oxford Dictionary, commemorate means “to keep in the memory by means of a celebration or ceremony” and “to be a memorial to.” But I don’t even think this is exactly what Jesus meant. After all, He didn’t say “do this to commemorate me” (hagan esto para conmemorarme). Perhaps, “do this so that it is a memorial to me and to what I have done.”

St. Paul refers to this very moment in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:23-26). To them he writes that, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Our “eating of this bread” (which symbolically can mean doing all the things I mentioned above) is a proclamation of the Lord’s death and a reminder and sign that He will come again.

It’s almost as if when we celebrate the sacrifice of the Eucharist, we are transported back in time to the foot of the Cross. Not that Christ dies again everytime we are at Mass, but that we are taken right back there and we are part of that sacrifice once more. I don’t know how to explain it better; we don’t recreate the sacrifice of the Cross. We don’t repeat the sacrifice of the Cross. Rather, it’s more like God makes us present to the sacrifice of the Cross, which it happening all the time in Kairos time. This is the commemoration, the memorial, the proclamation. It is more than just a memory, although a memory, more than just an honouring, although very much in honour.

In fact, memory is very important in Jewish tradition. For a Jew to “remember” actually had this significance: to make present again that which had already taken place. Many Jewish prayers and Psalms call us to “remember.” For the Jews at the time, and to this day, the Passover meal is a “participation” in the Exodus. The Passover for Jews is a memorial, a remembering, but also a “making present” the deliverance that God had granted their ancestors with the exodus from Egypt.

And we “do this” in a very special way every time we celebrate the Eucharist. But let me offer a very simple way that all of us can “remember” in a practical way, every day. We remember by making the Sign of the Cross. When I sign myself with the Cross, I am calling to mind all of this. Especially, I am calling to mind the sacrifice that I am called to do like Jesus on the Cross. I am reminded that I am called to die to my own petty ego needs; my own desire to be loved and to be special; my own needs to be right and to be needed. I am called to “die to myself.” I am called to sacrifice my own needs for the needs of others. As a husband, that is what I am called to do: put my wife’s needs before mine. Every time. As a father, I am called to place my children’s needs before mine. Every time. As a Christian, I am called to put others’ needs before mine. Of course, this doesn’t mean I become a throw rug for everyone to walk on but it does mean that I am called to consider other people’s needs to be more important than mine, every time. This, I believe, is true freedom: freedom from my own petty needs. And that is what Jesus did on the Cross: He set us free!

And when I remember, by making the Sign of the Cross, I do it in the name of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit – a reminder of another awesome Mystery – the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. Not only do I remember in my mind, but also in my mind, my thoughts, my knowledge, my head; and in my heart, in my feelings, in my emotions and soul; and with my arms, through my actions, my service. It also reminds me that I am to love God back; with all my mind; with all my soul and my heart; and all my strength, and to love my neighbour as myself.

This Holy Week, let us walk with Jesus and let us remember. When we do, at Mass and at daily prayer; every time we make the Sign of the Cross; every time you put other people’s needs before your own – when we wash others’ feet, when we “remove our sandals at the sacred ground of the other” – remember the memorial. Let Christ be present to you and let yourself be present to him.

Send me your comments – especially if you know what the original Aramaic is for “do this in memory of me.”


(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)


Pope says it’s OK to spank children if you don’t demean them


(CNN) Pope Francis has stirred up a hornet’s nest with remarks in which he said it’s OK for parents to spank children, so long as they do it with dignity.

The comments came in his general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, when Francis was talking about the importance of a good father within a family.

“I once heard at a wedding a father say, ‘I sometimes have to hit my children a little but never in the face, so as to not demean them.’ How nice, I thought, he has a sense of dignity,” the Pope said.

“When he punishes, he does it right and moves on.”

The principle of not humiliating the child while doling out the punishment appears to be central to the Pope’s justification of spanking, as is that of forgiveness.

“A good father knows how to wait and knows how to forgive from the bottom of his heart. Of course he can also discipline with a firm hand: he’s not weak, submissive, sentimental,” he said.

“This father knows how to discipline without demeaning; he knows how to protect without restraint.”

The issue of corporal punishment for children is divisive in many countries, and the Pope’s remarks prompted an outpouring of both support and criticism on social media.

Father Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, told CNN that it was important not to take the Pope’s words out of context — and that there was an important distinction to be made between discipline and punishment.

“It’s about time that we stop and allow the Pope to speak the language of most ordinary people, especially parents, who understand the Pope far better than those who parse every single word and statement that comes out of his mouth!” he said.

“Let us not read into the Pope’s words anything other than what is there. He speaks constantly of mercy and tenderness. He speaks as a pastor and loving father figure who loves children and wants the best for them.”

Francis showed this affection in a Google Hangout with disabled children from around the world Thursday, Rosica added, and “speaks about disciplining children and never punishing them.”

The pontiff also met with street children on a visit to a shelter in the Philippines last month.

According to the website of the Global Alliance to End Corporal Punishment of Children, children in at least 43 states are protected by law from all corporal punishment.

They include more than 20 European nations, as well as countries in Africa and Latin America.

The United States is not one of the nations where corporal punishment is banned, but an anti-spanking movement has gained momentum there.

The case of NFL star Adrian Peterson, given probation, a fine and community service in November after he admitted whipping his 4-year-old son, stirred up the debate. The NFL also suspended the Minnesota Vikings star running back for the rest of the season.

This article was originally published on CNN

My Personal Journey Through Lent



Rosina Di Felice

As Lent quickly approaches, I reflect on how it is one of the most thought provoking periods for me during the liturgical year. I must admit though, this has not always been the case.

My early recollections of Lent, as a young child growing up in an Italian family in Montreal are quite vivid. I recall a somewhat gloomy period of sacrifice that consisted of giving up red meat on Fridays. By contrast, Palm Sunday was joyful. I was mesmerized by the waving of palms during mass in our crowded church and carrying our palms home and learning to make pretty crosses that we proudly displayed in our home. Good Friday was a somber day. It was difficult watching outdoor reenactments of the stations of the cross and trying to fathom what it was like for Jesus. I remember wondering why it was called “good” Friday when Jesus suffered so much for us. But Easter Sunday came and we rejoiced. Jesus is risen! It was a special time – a rebirth – a celebration with family. We feasted on lamb, rabbit and made traditional delicacies – beautiful eggs wrapped in bread braids.


Today, Lent takes on a much deeper purpose in my life. It’s truly a special time for spiritual growth. No longer do I think of it as only a period of sacrifice and abstinence. It is much more than that. It is also about reflection, repentance and almsgiving. I embrace lent, as it gives me the opportunity to get closer to God. It allows me to prepare for Easter, similar to how Advent prepares us for Christmas.

Lent is the time where I focus on God and make a more concerted effort to put Him first in my life. I spend much time thinking and reflecting on my relationship with God. It’s a challenging time where I take a hard look in the mirror and identify where I can make changes – where my walk does not match my talk.

Fasting and Abstinence

In addition to the usual abstinence and fasting on holy days, I gave long thought to what I would give up this year during Lent. Years ago, coffee, chocolate and sweets would have been contenders.  However, I needed to look deeper. I wanted to choose something that perhaps was taking me away from God. Giving something up is great, but taking action is even better.

When I identified what I wanted to give up during Lent, it made me become aware how much I depend on other things rather than God and how they are leading me away or neglecting Him. Inspired by Pope Francis’ humility, I’m giving up all personal shopping for things that I want – rather than things I need. And maybe at the end of the 40 day journey, I’ll depend on material things less, thus altering my behavior.


Lent is also a time to evangelize and do good. It’s a time to remember all those less fortunate and give back. I will redirect time and money that would have been spent shopping for material things, and instead will participate with my family in feeding people at a homeless shelter and donating a few grocery items every week to a food bank.

Reflection & Repentance

In this very noise-filled and media-cluttered world, it is becoming harder to hear God’s voice. Add to that how time-starved we are, with a growing list of to-do items every day. But where is God on my to-do list? How often do I spend quality time with God in silence, meditating, praying and repenting? This is why I vow to turn off all distractions and spend an hour in silence every day dedicated to prayer and reflection. After all, if my goal this Lent is to grow in my relationship with God, how can I do so without spending more one on one time? I look forward to the Holy Spirit guiding me further on what I am called to do.

Perhaps my thoughts will inspire you to share your own personal journey with others in your life. Even though Lent is a personal time, the peace and joy we feel is even greater when we share it with others in our lives. Not only does this strengthen our faith, but it strengthens our sense of community with our brothers and sisters.

Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

CNS photo/Octavio Duran

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life


What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.


Furthering the Common Good

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons… all of these things and more poison human society.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 5

Resident Priest blessed centenarian at Little Sisters home in Washington  (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (Sept. 30, 2009)

Resident Priest blessed centenarian at Little Sisters home in Washington (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (Sept. 30, 2009)

We’ve spent the last month looking at what it means to have euthanasia and/or assisted suicide legal in our country (see part 4, part 3, part 2 and part 1). Let me conclude by giving you some definitions to help you have this conversation with your family and friends.

  1. Passive Euthanasia: Some will claim that this is disconnecting someone from medical life-support equipment without which they cannot live. This is NOT euthanasia. Disconnecting someone from an artificial life support system is not euthanasia, passive or otherwise. It is called withholding extraordinary care. Disconnecting someone from a respirator without which their lungs (or heart) would not naturally function is not killing them. They are already dead without the machine. This is different than ordinary care, like a feeding tube. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the courts considered that she was receiving extraordinary care, even though she was breathing on her own and her heart was beating on its own. The “extraordinary care” in Terri’s case was a feeding tube. But feeding someone is not giving them extraordinary care – it’s feeding them. It’s no different than feeding a baby who can’t feed herself. Terri Schiavo didn’t die because they removed a medical life-support system without which she could not live. She died because she was starved to death. Tube or no tube, no one was even allowed to wet her lips with a towel. There’s no dignity, freedom or choice in that.
    NOTE: It is permissible to have someone on life support (extraordinary care) if there is hope of their recovery. It is permissible to withdraw extraordinary care if there is no hope of recovery.
  2. Self-Deliverance is suicide. It’s taking your own life.
  3. Assisted Suicide is Physician Assisted Suicide. A doctor prescribes drugs and then you take them yourself. He doesn’t assist you in taking them, he assists you by prescribing them. But you have to be able to take them yourself.
  4. Active Euthanasia: This is the only kind of Euthanasia there is (as opposed to passive euthanasia, which is not euthanasia). This is when the doctor (or someone else) injects the lethal drugs, because you can’t do it yourself. The current law in Canada calls this murder under the Criminal Code. Euthanasia can be voluntary (you asked the doctor to do it), or involuntary. Take note: 2400 or so cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide are reported each year in Holland. But in 1991, the Dutch Government conducted a study that found that there were actually closer to 12,000 assisted suicides that year. Of these, the patient did not request or consent to being killed in close to 6,000 cases. One of the doctors explained that it would have been “rude” to discuss the matter with the patients, as they all “knew that their conditions were incurable.” This is what could easily begin happening now in Quebec.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada defines Euthanasia as: to intentionally cause death by action or omission of an action, for allegedly merciful reasons. And Assisted suicide is to knowingly provide the means for a person to kill him or herself.

I’m sorry this is so long but we need to let Canadians know the dangers of having a euthanasia mentality. Once we legalize something, it becomes part of our collective belief system. I truly believe that. So, legalizing it today, means that three generations from now, it will be commonly accepted that it’s ok to resort to killing in order to deal with difficult situations. That’s the slippery slope. And there are no safeguards that will work. Once we accept that killing is OK in order to relieve suffering, killing will be the norm. Once we accept that killing is OK under certain circumstances, we’ll soon begin to think that killing is OK under ANY circumstances. And next thing you know, killing will be acceptable to rid us of other inconveniences.

For more information you can contact the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 4


Priest offers Communion to elderly man in Chile (CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters) (April 15, 2010)

 I had been explaining some red-flags that I found in the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry (see Part 3, and also Part 2), and ended up talking about relativism: You may not want euthanasia for yourself, but don’t impose your beliefs on someone else, which is the number one flaw with this book, and with the thinking of anyone who is actually considering that euthanasia or assisted suicide are viable options. We can’t all come up with these things on our own. Your personal autonomy shouldn’t be permitted to trump the safety and well-being of society. In the words of disability-rights-activist Catherine Frazee (she used to be the chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission), “It’s not about the particularities of a law and what it prevents and prohibits. It’s much more about the messages of the law and how those messages get translated into a social and cultural order.” (Catherine is featured in our documentary on Euthanasia, Turning the Tide, which I produced for S+L Television back in 2006.)

I spoke to Derek Humphry at the Right to Die Conference in Toronto in 2006. I said to him that I found his book compelling (which is true). But I had one difficulty and that was his use of the word “dignity.” I said that when people who believe in God use the word “dignity” I understand what they mean. But when someone, who doesn’t believe in God uses that word, it’s meaningless. I don’t know what they mean. So I asked, “what do you mean when you say “dignity?” He couldn’t answer me. He said that we all have to come up with our own definitions.

But I looked it up:

Dig•ni•ty Pronunciation: ‘dig-n&-tE Function: noun Etymology: Middle English dignete, from Anglo-French digneté, from Latin dignitat-, dignitas, from dignus 1 : the quality or state of being worthy, honoured, or esteemed 2 a : high rank, office, or position b : a legal title of nobility or honour 3 archaic : DIGNITARY 4 : formal reserve or seriousness of manner, appearance, or language

I don’t think he means “high rank, office or position” or anything about manner or language. He means “the quality or state of being worthy.”

If you don’t believe in God, from where does your dignity come? Nowhere. That’s where. There is no reason to consider human life has any value whatsoever if we believe we are the result of an accidental primordial blast and if we don’t believe there is anything after this life. I’m not saying you have to believe in God or in the afterlife, but if you don’t, don’t go around pretending that human life has value and worth. I’ve said this before, without God, we would be subject to entropy, which only leads to disorder and death. As soon as you accept that there is dignity in life, you have to accept that there is dignity in all life. I’m not going to decide which life is valuable and which one isn’t. Is Teague Johnson’s life valuable? Is Tracey Latimer’s not valuable? Was Terri Schiavo’s life not valuable (her brother, Bobby Schindler is also featured in Turning the Tide)? Are we suggesting that laws can be formulated to tell us whose life is valuable and whose isn’t? I currently working on Creation, a six-part series looking at the Catholic Church’s teachings on the environment and ecology. What I’ve discovered while working on Creation is that we can’t even come to the point of believing that we must care for the environment if we don’t first treat human beings and all creation with respect and all life with the dignity that comes with being created.

This leads me to my last point which has to do with the concept of quality of life. According to Humphry, self-deliverance should be an option when our quality of life has been reduced to mere existence. What are the criteria for life? Are some lives more valuable than others?

If you have life, then you have quality and value. Is it right for a depressed teen-ager that believes his life has no quality to kill himself? When I worked at Covenant House-Toronto, we did everything we could to help that teen-ager. We offered counseling and help. If we tell a person who is terminally ill that it’s OK to end their life, then we are actually saying that their life is not as worthy as another life. Your quality of life does not come from what you are able to do or not do; it comes from who you are. It comes from your relationships; how you relate to others. It comes from your ability to love and be loved. Compassion means giving them the proper emotional and physical pain control and being with them, loving them, caring for them, making them feel worthy. What we need in Canada is not legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide, what we need is better palliative care.

Come back next week for some final thoughts and definitions that will help you have this conversation with your family and friends.

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 3


An extraordinary minister of holy Communion, visits with patient for World Day of the Sick (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic) (Feb. 10, 2012)

In Part II, I gave a background on the author of the book Final Exit, Mr. Derek Humphry and a bit about the Right-to-Die movement. I do believe that the book is very compelling, but it contains some red flags. Here are some of them:

Choice: We have been brought up to believe that freedom means choice. But freedom doesn’t mean choice. Freedom means not being imprisoned. Recently I watched a wonderful documentary, Irreplaceable, produced by Focus on the Family. In it, one of the experts explained that the three generations have been the most permissive and “free”. It is not coincidence that it is these three generations that also have been the most addicted and depressed. That’s because we think that freedom is doing whatever we want when in fact the one thing that holds us most captive are our own desires. That’s the problem with freedom and choice. And when it comes to life and death, once we accept that it’s legally OK to kill another human being, it is not a long way until we will claim that it is our basic human right to have options in how we kill each other.

For those of us who believe in God, ultimately choice is about control and the minute we take control, we take control away from God. If you don’t believe in God, of course that it makes sense that you should have control over everything that you do. But I can’t even think of one aspect of my life over which I should have control. In all things, God should be in control.

A Good Death: This is what Humphry says the dilemma is: “should you battle on, take the pain, endure the indignity and await the inevitable end, or should you take control of the situation and resort to some form of euthanasia which in modern language means, ‘help with a good death’?” According to Merriam/Webster, euthanasia is defined as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”. I guess a “painless” way for reasons of mercy, equals a “good death”. I would claim that a good or bad death is directly related to whether you lived a good or bad life, not to the manner in which you die.

Suffering: Ask yourself this question, says Humphry, “Is your God willing to accept your suicide as a justifiable escape from further terminal suffering?” I suppose a non-Christian could consider this question. But if you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, find a crucifix and look at it. Is God willing to accept any human-controlled escape from any suffering? (Not to mention that there is only one God, not “your” god or “my” god).

Compassion: “This is compassion.” Humphry compares it all with putting an animal “out of its misery.” Someone endorsing the book is Isaac Asimov who says, “it’s cruel to allow humans to live in pain in hopelessness, in living death.” The truth is that compassion means, “to suffer with.” Killing you so you don’t have to suffer is not compassion.

Freedom and autonomy: This is one of the most common arguments for euthanasia: If you don’t want it for yourself, that’s OK, but don’t impose your set of beliefs on those who would want it for themselves. But if we applied that argument to everything, what kind of world would we have? Or does it only apply if it’s doing something to your own body? Humphry says that “life is personal responsibility” and “we must decide for ourselves”. But truth is not relative. Truth is absolute. Whether killing (or suicide or self-deliverance or whatever you want to call it) is right or wrong is not relative. Either it’s wrong for everyone, no matter the circumstances, or right for everyone, no matter the circumstances. We can’t make that decision by ourselves. And you certainly can’t draw out a charter delineating when it’s ok to kill and when it isn’t. That would never work.

I’ll continue in a couple of days. Again, for more resources on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide visit our Turning the Tide page, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family site.

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 2


Respecting End of Life: Part 2

As many of you know, on May 6, members of the Quebec national assembly voted in favour of Bill 52, the “Act of Respecting End-of-life” making “assisted dying” legal in that province. I recently wrote about that.

I had already written a bit about this in the past explaining why we should be concerned. I promised to write a bit more about it to help clarify some of the issues and to explain why I am concerned.

Four years ago, while we were producing the documentary Turning the Tide, I read a book titled Final Exit by Derek Humphry. I found the book to be completely shocking and even today am amazed at the fact that it is real.

In 2006, almost to reassure myself that these people are not fictional, I walked around the display tables at the Right to Die conference in Toronto. What I saw and learned gave me the chills. Let me explain. The book’s subtitle is “The practicalities of self-deliverance and assisted suicide for the dying.” In case you’re new to this, “self-deliverance” means, killing yourself.

So there you have it.

Derek Humphry is the founder of the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization — ERGO — and the founder of the National Hemlock Society, an organization that has redefined itself as “Compassion & Choices”. The Hemlock Society was an end-of-life care organization for those suffering from incurable illnesses. In 2003 they changed their name to End of Life Choices. In 2005 they joined forces with the Compassion in Dying Organization to become what they are now: Compassion & Choices. Their vision is to help build a society where everyone receives state-of-the-art care at the end of life, and a full range of choices for dying in comfort, dignity and control. What this means, of course is that if it is your choice to end your life, because you can’t deal with the pain, suffering and the “indignity” of disease and dying, you should be able to. They believe that to allow people this choice is treating them with compassion.

Mr. Humphry’s first book is called Jean’s Way, where he tells the compelling story of his first wife Jean’s debilitating illness and subsequent assisted death by him. Since then, he’s assisted his father-in-law and made the call to disconnect his brother from life support. (Mr. Humphry claims that this is euthanasia – however, let me be clear: The removal of extra-ordinary care is not euthanasia. Mr. Humphry’s brother died a natural death without the extraordinary care (life-support) that kept him alive.)

Mr. Humphry is also the author of Let Me Die Before I Wake and now has several editions of Final Exit. This book is the how-to book. It is very complete. It even includes a checklist. It explains how to handle your financial affairs, how to make sure you don’t hurt your loved ones, what pill combinations to take, which ones not to take and what their effects are. There is even a diagram showing step-by-step how to kill yourself using a helium tank in combination with non-prescription sleeping pills and a bag covering your head. He even includes the address of where you can order this “exit bag” kit for $50.

To be fair, Mr. Humphry does try to make it clear that he doesn’t believe this book is for everyone. He is very clear to warn us that if we believe in God, or any higher power, or if we believe that we don’t have a choice or that death is bearable no matter what, or if you are depressed, then this book is not for you. This book is for competent people who are enduring hopeless physical suffering, who are in a hopeless medical condition, whose illness is unbearable and who wish to have control over their death, so as to do so with dignity and comfort. The Australian Right-To-Die group’s motto is, “I have a right to a peaceful death.” The aim of the book is, in Humphry’s words, to “allow terminally ill persons painlessly and legally to end their suffering.” This is a book for (rational) people looking for options.

He says that he doesn’t advocate the killing of the disabled. He also says that many depressed people, some teen-agers even, have used his book to assist them in committing suicide. He says this is unfortunate, but that he cannot be responsible for those people. It’s interesting to note that when this book first came to Canada, it was banned, the ban was challenged in court and the challengers won. I guess the winning argument was that we have an “intrinsic human right to choose the manner, form and time in which we are to die.”

I must admit, the book is very compelling. Mr. Humphry makes a very good case for his arguments. However, if you read carefully, you will note some flaws in his arguments. You will also note some red-flags. Tune in for my blog installment on Wednesday, and I’ll tell you all about them.

Until then, check out our Turning the Tide page for more resources on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, or visit the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family site.

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 1


May 6 this year will go down as one of the saddest days in the history of the province of Quebec. On that day, members of the Quebec national assembly voted in favour of Bill 52, the “Act of Respecting End-of-life.” Supporters call it “medical aid in dying”. I call it what it is: Euthanasia. It is now legal in Quebec. Very sad, indeed.

What’s interesting is that Euthanasia and Assisted suicide are illegal under Canadian Law, but because health is a provincial matter, Quebec pro-Euthanasia activists have managed to convince legislators that Euthanasia is a health issue. The bill says that medical aid in dying is part of “end-of-life-care” and so it was passed under the province’s health care act.

It is sad, because we know how this goes: A law like this gets passed in one province or state and that empowers others somewhere else to move for a law in their province and slowly, the slope gets slipperier and slipperier until, inch-by-inch they take over the country, and before we know it, we’ll be euthanizing children as in Belgium.

Unless we speak out. Those of us who respect the dignity of every human person, from conception to natural death need to take a stand in defense of the most vulnerable, especially the elderly and the disabled. We also need to insist that our country provides quality palliative care for all, not just for those in big cities or those with resources. Palliative care experts assure us that the pain is treatable. Palliative care should be the first response to dealing with suffering and pain. For those of us who are Christian – especially if you are Catholic – we have to be absolutely clear that killing another human being is never acceptable. We must educate ourselves on the issue so we can have these conversations with our friends and loved ones who may be swayed by the side that tries to convince us that it’s ok to kill someone to ease their suffering.

This may be the appropriate time to remind you of what the Church teaches regarding euthanasia.

A lot of people think that the Church teaches that we must prolong life no matter what. But that is not what the Church teaches. The Church instead says that we must not do anything to hasten death or in effect, kill the patient. If the patient is dying, then we are called to make them as comfortable as possible, ease their pain but not necessarily keep them alive by extraordinary means. However, if the person is not dying, breathing on their own, heart beating, as was the case of Terri Schiavo, then withdrawing food and water is, in effect, murder. Terri Schiavo was not dying – she was not on a respirator – she was healthy. Food and water were administered through a feeding tube, but feeding a patient who cannot feed him or herself is not considered extraordinary care. Food and water are very much ordinary care.

This was the reasoning behind the Canadian Supreme Court ruling last October in the case of Mr. Rasouli.

Mr. Rasouli was misdiagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state since October 2010. According to his family – and apparently this is the case- he is conscious and able to communicate. He relies on the use of a ventilator.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the unanimous decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal that requires doctors to obtain consent from patients or substitute decision-makers before withdrawing life-sustaining treatment where such a decision is anticipated to result in the death of the patient.

The case of Mr Rasouli highlights another concern which illustrates the slippery slope argument, that of consent. If Euthanasia and Assisted suicide were legalized, the fear is that doctors would be making decisions based on misdiagnosis or even on what’s more convenient or cheaper, rather than on what’s in the best interest of the patient. For some patients, their best interest is to let them die naturally and comfortably. Doing things to hasten their death or killing them is never in the patient’s best interest.

No matter what assisted death and euthanasia supporters say, human nature shows that no matter what we do, there’s always a slippery slope. And in matters of life and death, once we begin to believe that killing is acceptable under certain circumstances, we’ll begin to believe that killing is acceptable under any circumstances. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s ok.

Come back on Sunday to learn a bit about the right-to-die movement.

The Family at the Heart of Human Development

 Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of Pontifical Council for the Family

Below is the address given by His Excellency Most Reverend Vincenzo Paglia Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Terni-Narni-Amelia President of the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family On the Occasion of the 2014 International Day of Families United Nations Headquarters, New York City May 15, 2014.

The Family at the Heart of Human Development

The 20th anniversary of the United Nations International Year of the Family

 It is a great honor and a pleasure to address you in this Event being conducted in conjunction with the celebration of 2014 International Day of Families organized by the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to mark the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 to raise awareness of the importance of families, promote knowledge of socio-economic and demographic trends affecting families and stimulate efforts to respond to challenges faced by families.

I offer my sincere thanks to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Francis A. Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, for all he has done to make our meeting today possible.

As we read in the Declaration of the Civil Society on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family, “…as basic and essential building blocks of societies, families have a crucial role in social development, bear the primary responsibility for the nurturing, protection, education and socialization of children, as well as instilling values of citizenship and belonging in the society, and provide material and non-material care and support to its members….”

In that context, I am in agreement with Resolution 2012/10 adopted by ECOSOC that stresses the need “for undertaking concerted actions to strengthen family-centered policies and programs as part of an integrated, comprehensive approach to development”; and that invites States, civil society organizations and academic institutions “to continue providing information on their activities in support of the objectives of and preparations for the twentieth anniversary.”

While, however, I am in full agreement with the Theme of the International Day of Families, that is, “Families Matter for the Achievement of Development Goals,” my message today is that the family not only “matters,” it is rather at the very heart of human development, indispensable and irreplaceable, and at the same time beautiful and welcoming. Truly, it is a precious resource, an incomparable font of life for the affective, spiritual, other-serving and generative aspects of our human existence.

The Catholic Church is an enthusiastic participant in the initiatives that the United Nations undertakes to enable each people, within itself, and all peoples, as a world community, to develop as a family where the members, while maintaining their own individuality, live together in harmony and peace.

The fact that with me today on the dais are representatives of the three great Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, each harking back to one great Patriarch, Father in Faith and Prophet, shows that diversity does not make us foreigners to each other, or worse yet enemies, but rather offers us a chance to develop all the richness and harmony of which the human family is capable.

Moreover, the decision of the United Nations to ask all governments and all Civil Society Organizations to rediscover the central place of the family in society and human development is not only timely, it is inspired. The family – if I may say so from the very beginning of my presentation – is the right road to travel on the journey to human development, so allow me to offer some reflections that have led me to that conclusion.

1) There is nothing quite like the family

First, the family is a unique social phenomenon in that it combines in a lasting fashion two kinds of relations characterized by radical differences, one being male and female, and the other being parent and child. Unlike the individualism, with its ideals of autonomy and independence, that rules society today, and unlike procedural and abstract concepts based on a “quantitative” notion of equality and rights, in the family we find both “elemental and formational interdependence” as well as “asymmetrical reciprocity.” That is, we find a difference between members that is qualitative and irreducible but that is protected and accompanied by ties that bind and by reciprocity.

Next, in today’s world, where choices are always and only temporary, the family is the locus of strong relationships that deeply affect, for good or ill, the lives of its members. In the family “otherness” loses its connotation of that instability that it now has in most social milieus, and not just digital ones. Change channel, friends, political party? No problem! When we look only for someone who is like us, we avoid any confrontation with “otherness,” and life becomes one big hall of mirrors, one big echo chamber. In the family, however, the “other” cannot be ignored. The family – male/female and parent/child – is a unique social structure, a very special school of education in “otherness.” In that sense, it is not only a resource, it is as well a flowing spring that empowers social interaction between us and those who are different from us, but without swallowing up our differences. Parenthood itself, understood as openness to the transcendence of the child, in fact implies “otherness” and non-preferential love. The individual child, happily and at least to date, is not selected. And the child does not select its mother and father.

2) The Family at the Heart of Development

History shows it is the family that has made possible what we commonly call development. In cultures where the two formational aspects of the family – “male/female” and “parent/child” – have not been integrated with each other, development has been more difficult. For example, in countries where a man’s responsibility for his children is not a structural element of society, the process of social development is adversely affected, particularly with respect to women and children. On the other hand, think of the role that the family plays in the education of children, in the creation of family economic resources, in the starting of family businesses, and in mutual assistance (particularly intergenerational) among family members. The family, by making possible a delicate but stable community of life among different persons, has been able to foster and protect the sensitive relations between individuals and diverse social realities, thus allowing for the harmonious development of society as a whole. Is was not by chance that families, open to joining with other families, were responsible for the formation of cities as alliances between families, and subsequently for the notion of citizenship, which is based on the recognition of the value of every single individual. In this regard, Cicero, a great thinker in ancient Rome said that “The family is at the beginning of the city and is, as it were, the seed-bed of the republic.” We can summarize this point by saying that without the capacity for self-organization found in the family, the development of society as we know it would scarcely have been possible.

3) Changes in the Configuration of the Family over Time

Over time, the family has organized itself in very diverse ways, but always within its two formational dimensions, “male/female” and “parent/child,” each of which has had its limits and problems. We can see that only over the course of centuries has the family learned to respect individual freedom and create the conditions necessary for a more
effective mutual respect. In a certain way the family has “purified” itself little by little. In particular, family relations have over time been freed from the idea of “possession” and from a facile acceptance of the models of inequality accepted without thinking in certain cultural milieus. It is enough to mention how the relationships between men and women and parents and children have profoundly changed over time, and have allowed families to become more able to progress in their own development.

Nevertheless, these changes, which evidence real human development, are in no way an abrogation of certain characteristics that have always been identified with the family and with respect for the dignity of every individual. The first, as Pope Francis pointed out in his address to the leadership of the United Nations in Rome last May 9, is that human life is sacred and inviolable from conception to its natural ending, and the second is that protection of the family is an essential element of any sustainable economic or social development, particularly as regards societal opposition to an “economy of exclusion,” a “throw-away culture” and a “culture of death.”

On the other hand, we cannot overlook the risk of “familyism, ” that is, the inability to think of a larger group and the tendency to favor, even in matters not affecting the family, the members of the family nucleus. This tendency has been the cause of numerous “amoral” abuses, where the good of the smaller family group prevails over that of the larger community. Maintaining intra familial warmth and affection without compromising the public good and the “universalism” necessary in an advanced society has been and still today is, at least in certain areas, a difficult challenge. Proof of this is found in the oscillation between persistent forms of regressive “familyism” on the one hand and the affirmation of a radical individualism on the other that, by destroying the family reverses the progress of humanization, heedless of the long-term consequences of so doing.

4) The family regenerates society

It is true that in recent decades the family is in crisis, and the increase in divorce rates, the increase in out-of-wedlock births, the multiplication of one-parent families, and the decrease in the number of marriages are only the most evident results of that crisis. Some are even asking whether the moment has come to abolish the family altogether. This crisis is the result of two factors: hyper-individualism and “hyper-technological” culture, both of which are putting great pressure on this (and others) fragile institution, and risk destroying it. The negative consequences of this crisis for society are evident: from demographic anomalies to failed socialization and education, from the abandonment of the elderly to the spread of affective disturbances that lead to violence.

But the crisis that the family is going through now could also be an opportunity for growth. It all depends on us, and we should be decidedly more attentive to the deepest desires of today’s men and women. In fact, in spite of today’s hostile cultural environment, a clear majority of persons want a family at the center of their life, and it would be mistake to think the family can be done away with. If anything, we should foster a renewal of family models, a family more understanding of itself, more respectful of the ties that bind it to its surroundings, more attentive to the quality of its internal relationships, more concerned for, and more able to live in harmony with, other families. We could even say that if on the one hand there are fewer families, on the other hand there is more “family” in a qualitative sense, and for that matter there is no better place than the family for the complete humanization of those born into this world. We have to be much more cautious than we have been about weakening this fundamental unity that is not only the bearing wall of social life but that can also help us avoid the inhuman consequences of a society that has become hyper-individualistic and hyper-technological. The family remains – thanks paradoxically to its defects and limits – the locus the mystery of life and of history. Its vocation is to be the special place where the individual is protected in his individuality and society is protected against fragmentation. It is this unique character that renders it truly a patrimony for all humanity.

5) The Catholic Church and the Synod on the Family

The Catholic Church, for its part, never ceases to support and assist the family. Pope Francis –aware of the indispensability and dynamism of the family – has called a Synod which in two sessions will examine the role of the family today and the challenges it faces. The Pope’s clear intention is to put the family at the center of the Church and of all human reflection. There will be no question of ideological debates but rather of a consideration of the reality of the family today and of its mission in contemporary society. The Synod intends to discuss family questions and take decisions that will empower Catholic families to become active participants in a society-wide ferment that will move all peoples to a culture of solidarity. In this context we might even say that there is a necessary link between “the family” and the “family of peoples”: that is, the prospect of peaceful life together among different peoples – something that is learned in the family and extends to the city, the nation, and the whole family of nations.