English  ·  Français   ·   Italiano   ·   中文  

Pope Francis’ Homily for Corpus Christi

PopeFrancisCorpusChristi

On Thursday, May 26, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Below, find the full text of his homily:

« Do this in remembrance of me » (1 Cor 11 :24-25).

Twice the Apostle Paul, writing to the community in Corinth, recalls this command of Jesus
in his account of the institution of the Eucharist. It is the oldest testimony we have to the words of Christ at the Last Supper.

“Do this”. That is, take bread, give thanks and break it; take the chalice, give thanks, and
share it. Jesus gives the command to repeat this action by which he instituted the memorial of his own Pasch, and in so doing gives us his Body and his Blood. This action reaches us today: it is the “doing” of the Eucharist which always has Jesus as its subject, but which is made real through our poor hands anointed by the Holy Spirit.

“Do this”. Jesus on a previous occasion asked his disciples to “do” what was so clear to
him, in obedience to the will of the Father. In the Gospel passage that we have just heard, Jesus
says to the disciples in front of the tired and hungry crowds: “Give them something to eat
yourselves” (Lk 9:13). Indeed, it is Jesus who blesses and breaks the loaves and provides sufficient food to satisfy the whole crowd, but it is the disciples who offer the five loaves and two fish. Jesus wanted it this way: that, instead of sending the crowd away, the disciples would put at his disposal what little they had. And there is another gesture: the pieces of bread, broken by the holy and venerable hands of Our Lord, pass into the poor hands of the disciples, who distribute these to the people. This too is the disciples “doing” with Jesus; with him they are able to “give them something to eat”. Clearly this miracle was not intended merely to satisfy hunger for a day, but rather it signals what Christ wants to accomplish for the salvation of all mankind, giving his own flesh and blood (cf. Jn 6:48-58). And yet this needs always to happen through those two small actions: offering the few loaves and fish which we have; receiving the bread broken by the hands of Jesus and giving it to all.

Breaking: this is the other word explaining the meaning of those words: “Do this in
remembrance of me”. Jesus was broken; he is broken for us. And he asks us to give ourselves, to
break ourselves, as it were, for others. This “breaking bread” became the icon, the sign for
recognizing Christ and Christians. We think of Emmaus: they knew him “in the breaking of the
bread” (Lk 24:35). We recall the first community of Jerusalem: “They held steadfastly… to the
breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42). From the outset it is the Eucharist which becomes the centre
and pattern of the life of the Church. But we think also of all the saints – famous or anonymous –
who have “broken” themselves, their own life, in order to “give something to eat” to their brothers and sisters. How many mothers, how many fathers, together with the slices of bread they provide each day on the tables of their homes, have broken their hearts to let their children grow, and grow well! How many Christians, as responsible citizens, have broken their own lives to defend the dignity of all, especially the poorest, the marginalized and those discriminated! Where do they find the strength to do this? It is in the Eucharist: in the power of the Risen Lord’s love, who today too breaks bread for us and repeats: “Do this in remembrance of me”.

May this action of the Eucharistic procession, which we will carry out shortly, respond to
Jesus’ command. An action to commemorate him; an action to give food to the crowds of today; an act to break open our faith and our lives as a sign of Christ’s love for this city and for the whole world.


CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pray for Syria – Perspectives


On Today’s edition of Perspectives Pope Francis asks everyone to pray for Syria. Also, an Ottawa newspaper digs up the numbers about sex abuse cases on Ottawa.

Pope and Grand Imam meet at Vatican – Perspectives

For the first time in years a pope and grand imam have met formally. We have the details. Plus details have been released about the next World Meeting of Families, and we have a special invitation for viewers in Vancouver.

Christ at the Heart of the Family: Chapter Three of Amoris Laetitia

Family cross cropped

Reflecting on the Third Chapter of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

Jesus Christ is at the heart of the family. Only in the light of his love can the love of the family be fully illuminated. This is the message of Pope Francis in the third chapter of Amoris Laetitia. He uses the chapter to “summarize the Church’s teachings on marriage and the family.” Beginning with “the gaze of Jesus,” Pope Francis calls the Church to see and follow the way of the Lord, who “looked upon the women and men whom he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps in truth, patience and mercy as he proclaimed the demands of the Kingdom of God” (Amoris Laetitia, 60).

Jesus in Marriage and the Family

Jesus is the key to understanding family life because, “The mystery of the Christian family can be fully understood only in the light of the Father’s infinite love revealed in Christ, who gave himself up for our sake and who continues to dwell in our midst” (59). From this Christ-centered perspective, the Pope examines the beauty of married life and the family that is born of its fruitfulness. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has entered the human reality and human drama. Human love and divine love have met like never before. God descends to transform human love and enables it to reach divine heights. God has taken on flesh. Love itself has become incarnate. We thus realize that, “The sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one of us. Neither of the spouses will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way” (74). For in the midst of Christian marriage God is always present, strengthening the love of each spouse for one another by the power of His love for each of them.

Because of God’s grace at work in the sacrament of marriage, the sexual union of man and woman becomes a path of sanctity for the spouses (74). This is because through the sacrament, Christ sanctifies the loving union of woman and man. “Only in contemplating Christ does a person come to know the deepest truth about human relationships. ‘Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…’” (77). Christian marriage thus consists of “mutual support on the path towards complete friendship with the Lord” (77).

The Approach of the Pastor

In the midst of this beautifully Christocentric vision, Pope Francis remains ever aware of the “imperfect” realities of modern families and marriages, Christian and non-Christian alike. Since “the light of Christ enlightens every person,” the Pope stresses that “seeing things with the eyes of Christ” means not only caring for those in good, happy, healthy family situations, but is also the basis of the Church’s pastoral care for those “who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried” (78). In their pastoral care of those in “difficult situations and wounded families,” Pope Francis tells priests and bishops that “while clearly stating the Church’s teachings,” they are to “avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of various situations.” Moreover, pastors are “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition” (79).

Pastors are not to be turned off by the smell of their sheep! Rather, they are to care for their lambs as they are, seeking especially those most lost and in danger. To help them in this effort, Pope Francis reasserts the principle that Saint John Paul II outlined by in Familiaris Consortio: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of the truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations” (79; cf. FC 84). The typically Ignatian principle of discernment thus emerges as a key to Francis’ pastoral approach to the family.

The Unity of Life and Love

The Holy Father likewise addresses the questions of life that arise from love in the family, specifically contraception and artificial means of procreation. Affirming that “sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman,” the Pope underlines the reality that this conjugal union is ordered “by its very nature” to procreation (80). “The child who is born ‘does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving as its fruit and fulfilment’” (80). Here the Pope beautifully states that, “From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself” (80). Pope Francis concludes that the sexual embrace of husband and wife must always remain open to the possibility of life, “even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life” (80).

Accordingly, new life finds its proper birthplace in the context of love between a man and a woman. “A child deserves to be born of that love, and not by any other means, for ‘he or she is not something owed to one, but is a gift,’ which is ‘the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of the parents” through which “man and woman share in the work of [God’s] creation” (81). Closedness to life robs the sexual union of its profound meaning. Removing the origin of life from the cradle of human love estranges it from its truest identity. The love of man and woman is meant to mirror the love of God, which is never closed in on itself, but springs forth from its very heart the beauty of new life.

In this way, love – and especially love between a man and woman – can be compared to water that overflows from a cup. The very nature of love is to overflow. If it ceases to overflow, no matter how much water is in the cup, the water will stagnate and gradually evaporate, and the cup will become dry. It no longer teems with fresh, life-giving water that flows outward beyond itself. So it is even in the spiritual life: God’s love is poured into us in order to flow out of us.

God has intended the married couple to be a fount where love overflows and gives life. God Himself is the Source of this love and the Giver of the life that flows from it. With Jesus Christ, Love incarnate, at its centre, the family is the place where, despite many difficulties, love and life overflow in abundance.

(Image: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Behind Vatican Walls: New Custodian of the Holy Land

CustonBVW

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

There is a new Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land. The Order of Friars Minor elected Father Francesco Patton, OFM as the new Custos. He replaces Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa who ended a 12 year term as Custos in April.

Father Patton is 53 years old and comes from the Trent region of Italy. He was ordained a priest in 1983. Since then he completed a licentiate in Social Communication at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome and is enrolled in the order of journalists. He has had a variety of posts within the Franciscan order and with his diocese. Most recently Fr. Patton has been Minister General (superior general) for the St. Anthony Province of the order, which includes all Franciscan Friars in northern Italy.

The Custos of the Holy Land is considered one of the Catholic ordinaries of the Middle East even though he is not ordained a bishop.His mandate lasts six years but can be extended if the Franciscans and the Holy See believe it is necessary. The Custos works with the heads of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Churches to maintain the status quo.

In regards to the Holy Land “status quo” refers to an agreement ratified in 1852 that lays out the ownership of the various christian sanctuaries and the spaces within them. The agreement also regulates the times and durations of religious functions celebrated in those sanctuaries by the different Christian churches. Any change to the status quo agreement requires the consent of all the churches represented by the agreement.

Given that the ownership of different sanctuaries is often linked to national interests of neighbouring countries, maintaining that status quo can be quite challenging.

New Custos, New Focus, New Story

The appointment of Fr. Patton could also signal a new approach to ministering in the delicate region of the Middle East. Father Patton holds a graduate degree in journalism and social communication while past custodians had extensive backgrounds in scripture and oriental churches.

During a recent visit to the Holy Land, representatives of various church organizations in the region told me one of the biggest challenges they face is telling the story of life in the Holy Land for Christians. The world is well aware of the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq but less so about the challenges faced by Arabs, especially Arab Christians in Israel and Palestine. Various officials told me the information that makes it out to the international community about either overlooks the hardship faced by Arabs, or paints the picture of a menacing threat from which Israel needs to defend itself at all costs. There is little talk of severe water restrictions to Palestine, long waits at checkpoints, a near impossibility of getting permission to go to Jerusalem, or the seizing of land from private Palestinians for the construction of new sections of the Israeli wall. Another official told me tourists believe it is unsafe or not possible to visit Bethlehem. In reality tourism in pretty much the one industry Bethlehem has going for it.

Because of the hardships in the entire region, every year hundreds of Christian families leave the Holy Land. According to the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, if emigration continues at current rates, within 50 years there will be no Christian community in the Holy Land.

Given the need to get the full story of the Holy Land in the public eye and stay on good terms with all the key players on the ground, the appointment of a Custos with a background in Social Communication could signal a shift in approach. While theology, scripture, and historical knowledge are important, in this modern mediatic age, knowing how to shape a message and get it out into the world is just as important.

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available below shortly.


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

 

Ignoring the call of worldly things – Perspectives

On today’s edition of Perspectives, Pope Francis has some pointed words about the lure of worldly things like power and vanity. We have an update on World Youth Day from the organizing committee in Krakow. And if you’re in Vancouver you’ll want to hear the details of our upcoming fundraiser in Vancouver.

Pope Francis’ Homily during Pentecost Mass

Pope Francis celebrates Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-PENTECOST May 24, 2015.

“I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18)

The central purpose of Jesus mission, which culminated in the gift of the Holy Spirit, was to renew our relationship with the Father, a relationship severed by sin, to take us from our state of being orphaned children and to restore us as his sons and daughters. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship, which enables us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father’”

(Rom 8:14-15). Here we see our relationship renewed: the paternity of God is re-established in us thanks to the redemptive work of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given to us by the Father and leads us back to the Father. The entire work of salvation is one of “re-generation”, in which the fatherhood of God, through the gift of the Son and the Holy Spirit, frees us from the condition of being orphans into which we had fallen.

In our own day also, we see various signs of our being orphans: in the interior loneliness which we feel even when we are surrounded by people, a loneliness which can become an existential sadness; in the attempt to be free of God, even if accompanied by a desire for his presence; in the all-too-common spiritual illiteracy which renders us incapable of prayer; in the difficulty in grasping the truth and reality of eternal life as that fullness of communion which begins on earth and reaches full flower after death; in the effort to see others as “brothers” and “sisters”, since we are children of the same Father; and other such signs.

Being children of God runs contrary to all this and is our primordial vocation. We were made to be God’s children, it is in our DNA. But this filial relationship was ruined and required the sacrifice of God’s only-begotten Son in order to be restored. From the immense gift of love which is Jesus’ death on the cross, the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon humanity like a vast torrent of grace. Those who by faith are immersed into this mystery of regeneration are reborn to the fullness of filial life. “I will not leave you orphans”.

Today, on the feast of Pentecost, Jesus’ words remind us also of the maternal presence of Mary in the Upper Room. The Mother of Jesus is with the community of disciples gathered in prayer: she is the living remembrance of the Son and the living invocation of the Holy Spirit. She is the Mother of the Church. We entrust to her intercession, in a particular way, all Christians, families and communities that at this moment are most in need of the Spirit, the Paraclete, the Defender and Comforter, the Spirit of truth, freedom and peace.

The Spirit, as Saint Paul says, unites us to Christ: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom 8:9). Strengthening our relationship of belonging to the Lord Jesus, the Spirit enables us to enter into a new experience of fraternity. By means of our universal Brother – Jesus – we can relate to one another in a new way; no longer as orphans, but rather as children of the same good and merciful Father. And this changes everything! We can see each other as brothers and sisters whose differences can only increase our joy and wonder at sharing in this unique fatherhood and brotherhood.

Behind Vatican Walls: Phoebe and the Deaconesses

PopeWomenDeacons

Pope Francis will ask the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation to study the issue of women deacons. The pope announced the decision during a question and answer session with participants of the International Union of Superiors General plenary assembly.

During a question and answer session with the nearly 900 religious sisters taking part in the meeting, Pope Francis was asked what prevents the Church from including women in the diaconate.

Speaking without a prepared text the pope said there is evidence that women were deacons in the early church.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul mentions “our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae” and asks that she be given a warm welcome. Deaconesses are also mentioned at the Council of Chalcedon. The council says deaconesses should not receive “the laying on of hands” under the age of 40. Once they do receive the laying on of hands, the council says they should not get married.

Pope Francis told the UISG members the evidence does not provide much detail about what women deacons did or if they were ordained ministers. It appears, he said,  the role of deaconesses in the early church was to help with the baptism of other women and to examine the wounds of abused women and report back to the local bishop.  

The pope went on to say he will ask the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to show him any studies that exist about the role of women deacons in the early church. He added that he will ask for a commission to be established to study the question of women deacons, “I think it will be good for the Church to clarify this point.”

At the same time Pope Francis warned against what he calls a desire to “clericalize” consecrated and lay women. He said when a lay person or a consecrated person shows a talent for pastoral work in the parish, has brains, and is organized, there is an instinctive reaction to want to give that person a clerical role. By that logic pushing for ordained women deacons is just another attempt to “clericalize” women.

Reaction to the pope’s comments were swift and divided. On social media three lines of thought were evident: those who were happy about the pope’s call to study the issue, those who were appalled he would consider such a thing, and those who were upset because they believe the pope did not go far enough.

After many news headlines proclaimed the pope is opening the door to women’s ordination, the Vatican issued a statement on May 13 saying “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.”  

Reading the transcript of the Pope’s meeting with UISG participants it appears clear Pope Francis is calling for clarity on specific points: what were deaconesses in the early Church? What did they do? How did they do it? Were they ordained? If so, why? Why did the role of deaconess fall out use?

The answers to those questions do not lead straight line to women’s ordination. However they could lead to a wider vision of the role of consecrated women. Not to mention such a study could produce a better understanding of what roles lay people can and should take on in today’s church.

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available below shortly.


AliciaHeadShot

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

UISG president issues statement on meeting with Pope Francis

PopeWomen

The head of the International Union of Superiors General on Friday shared details of the organisation’s meeting with Pope Francis, including his comments on women in leadership and the possibility of their being readmitted to the diaconate. Sr Carmen Sammut, the president of the UISG and superior general of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, spoke one day after the group of some 900 leaders of women’s congregations had a closed door meeting with the Pope in the Paul VI audience hall

She said that ahead of the encounter the sisters had asked for a dialogue with the pontiff, rather than simply listening to a speech, as happened on their previous meeting three years ago. The UISG then asked for input from their sisters across the globe and received around thirty questions which they were able to put to Pope Francis.

“We were quite excited by the fact that Pope Francis did not leave any question out – he really wanted to answer each of our questions”

Sr Carmen spoke about two of the questions that have been generating news headlines, including the Pope’s words on the need for more women in positions of leadership in the Church.

“He was very strong about the fact that women should be in decision making processes and positions of the Church and that this should not be linked solely with the priesthood or sacramental status”.

The UISG president noted that Pope Francis warned about two attitudes which do harm to the Church: firstly, what he called a “feminist” position of wanting to be leaders simply because we are women, and secondly, she said, he spoke at length about the problem of “clericalism”. All Catholics, the Pope insisted, should be involved in decision making at parish level and at higher levels including in the Roman dicasteries.

Regarding the question of a commission to study the readmission of women to the diaconate, Sr Carmen said the Pope accepted their proposal and agreed to carry the suggestion forward.

“And I hope that one day there will be a real decision about this – this is my hope”.

Meeting with the International Union of Superiors General May 12, 2016
(Vatican Working Translation from Italian)

First question
For a better integration of women in the life of the Church

Pope Francis, you have said that “the feminine genius is necessary in all expressions of the life of the Church and of society”, and yet women are excluded from decision-making processes in the Church, especially at the highest levels, and from preaching in the Eucharist. An important obstacle to Church’s full embrace of the “feminine genius” is the bond that both decision-making processes and preaching have with priestly ordination. Do you see a way of separating from ordination both leadership roles and preaching in the Eucharist, so that our Church can be more open to receiving the genius of women in the very near future?

Pope Francis
We must distinguish between various things here. The question is linked to functionality, it is closely linked to functionality, while the role of women goes beyond this. But I will answer the question now, then we will speak … I have seen that there are other questions that go beyond this.

It is true that women are excluded from decision-making processes in the Church: excluded no, but the integration of women is very weak there, in decision-making processes. We must move forward. For example – truly I see no difficulties – I believe that in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace the secretariat is managed by a woman religious. Another was proposed and I appointed her but she preferred not to accept as she would have had to go elsewhere and do other work in her Congregation. We must move forward, because in many aspects of decision-making processes ordination is not necessary. It is not necessary. In the reform of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, on the dicasteries, when there is no competence deriving from ordination – that is, pastoral competence – I have not seen it in writing that it can be a woman, I don’t know about a head of a dicastery, but … For example, for migrants: at the dicastery for migrants there could be a woman. And when it is necessary – now that migrants enter into a dicastery, into its competence, it will be for the Prefect to give this permission. But ordinarily, in the execution of decision-making processes, it can be done. For me the influence on decisions is very important: not only the execution, but also the development, and therefore that women, both consecrated and laywomen, enter into reflection on the process, and in discussion. Because women look at life through their own eyes and we men cannot look at it in this way. The way of viewing a problem, of seeing things, is different in a woman compared to a man. They must be complementary, and in consultations it is important that there are women.

I experienced a problem in Buenos Aires: viewing it with the priests’ council – therefore all men – it was treated well, but then seeing it with a group of religious and lay women it was greatly enriched, and this helped the decision by offering a complementary vision. This is necessary! And I think that we must move forward on this, then in the decision-making process we will see.

Then there is the problem of preaching at the Eucharistic Celebration. There is no problem for a woman – religious or lay – to preach in the Liturgy of the Word. There is no problem. But at the Eucharistic Celebration there is a liturgical-dogmatic problem, because it is one celebration – the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy, there is unity between them – and He Who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or bishop who presides does so in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a theological- liturgical reality. In that situation, since women are not ordained, they cannot preside. But it is possible to study and explain further what I have very quickly and rather simply said just now.
In leadership, instead, there is no problem: in that respect we must go forward, with prudence, but seeking solutions. …

There are two temptations here, against which we must be on guard.

The first is feminism: the role of the woman in the Church is not feminism, it is a right! It is a right through baptism, with the charisms and the gifts that the Spirit has given. We must not fall into the trap of feminism, because this would reduce the importance of a woman. I do not see, at this moment, a great danger of this among women religious. I do not see it. Perhaps previously, but in general it is not present.

The other danger, a very strong temptation I have spoken about several times, is clericalism. And this is very strong. Let us consider that today more than 60 per cent of parishes – of dioceses I don’t know, but marginally fewer – do not have a council for economic affairs or a pastoral council.

What does this mean? It means that the parish or diocese is led with a clerical spirit, by the priest alone, and that it does not implement the synodality in the parish, in the diocese, which is not a novelty under this Pope. No! It is a matter of canon law: the parish priest is obliged to have a council of, for and with laymen, laywomen and women religious for pastoral ministry and for economic affairs. And they do not do this. This is the danger of clericalism in the Church today. We must go ahead and remove this danger, because the priest is a servant of the community, the bishop is a servant of the community, but he is not the head of a firm. No! This is important. In Latin America, for example, clericalism is very strong and pronounced. Laypeople do not know what to do, if they do not ask the priest. It is very strong. And for this reason an awareness of the role of the laity has been very delayed. It is saved in part only through popular piety, as the protagonist of this is the people, and the people have done things as they come to them, and priests in this regard have not been very interested; some have not seen this phenomenon of popular piety in a positive light. But 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. And this is curious. 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.

I will ask – and perhaps the President will communicate this – for the Congregation for Divine Worship to explain well and in depth what I said rather briefly on preaching in the Eucharistic Celebration, as I do not have sufficient theology or clarity to explain it now. But it is necessary to differentiate clearly: one thing is the preaching in a Liturgy of the Word, and this can be done, but another thing is the Eucharistic Celebration; here there is another mystery. It is the mystery of Christ’s presence and the priest or the bishop who celebrate in persona Christi.

For leadership it is clear. … Yes, I think that in this there can be my general answer to the first question. We will see for the second.

Second question
The role of consecrated women in the Church

Consecrated women already do much work with the poor and the marginalised, they teach catechism, they accompany the sick and dying, they distribute the communion, in many countries they lead common prayers in the absence of priests and in those circumstances they pronounce the homily. In the Church there is the office of the permanent diaconate, but it is open only to men, married or not. What prevents the Church from including women among permanent deacons, as was the case in the primitive Church? Why not constitute an official commission to study the matter? 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?

Pope Francis
This question goes in the direction of “doing”: consecrated women already do much work with the poor, they do many things … “doing”. And it touches on the problem of the permanent diaconate. Some might say that the “permanent deaconesses” in the life of the Church are mothers-in-law [laughter]. In effect this exists in antiquity: there was a beginning. …I remember that it was a theme I was quite interested in when I came to Rome for meetings, and I stayed at the Domus Paolo VI; there was a good Syrian theologian there, who had produced a critical edition and translation of the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian. One day I asked him about this, and he explained to me that 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? It seems – I was told by this man, who is now dead but who was a good professor, wise and erudite – it seems that the role of the deaconesses was to help in the baptism of women, their immersion; they baptised them for the sake of decorum, and also to anoint the body of women, in baptism. And another curious thing: when there was a judgement on a marriage because a husband hit his wife and she went to the bishop to complain, deaconesses were responsible for inspecting the bruises left on the woman’s body from her husband’s blows, and for informing the bishop. This, I remember. There are various publications on the diaconate in the Church, but it is not clear how it was. 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.

Then you say: “We agree with you, Holy Father, that you have on several occasions raised the issue of the need for a more incisive role for women in decision-making roles in the Church”. This is clear. “Can you give me an example of where you see the possibility of better integration of women and consecrated women in the life of the Church?”. I will say something that comes after, because I have seen that there is a general question. In the consultations of the Congregation for men and women religious, in the assemblies, women religious must be present: this is certain. Another thing: better integration. At the moment concrete examples do not come to mind, but there is always what I said earlier: seeking the judgement of the consecrated women, because women see things with an originality that is different to that of men, and this enriches, both in consultation and decision-making, and in practice.

These works that you carry out with the poor, the marginalised, teaching catechesis, accompanying the sick and the dying, are very “maternal” tasks, where the maternity of the Church is expressed the most. But there are men who do the same, and well: consecrated men, hospital orders … and this is important.

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.

With regard to better integration, I repeat what I said earlier.
If there is something to be made clear, please ask me now: are there any further questions on what I have said, that may help me to think? Go ahead.

Third Question
The role of the International Union of Superiors General

What role could the International Union of Superiors General play, in order to have a word in the thinking of the Church, a word that is listened to, from the moment that it carries with it the voice of 2,000 institutes of women religious? How is it possible that quite often we are forgotten and not included as participants, for example in the General Assembly of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life [CICLAVA], where consecrated life is discussed?

Can the Church afford to continue speaking about us, instead of speaking with us?

Pope Francis
Sr Teresina have a little patience because it just came to mind what had escaped regarding the other question, on “the role of consecrated women in the Church” It is a point that you must review, which the Church must also review. Your work, my work and that of all of us, is that of service. Very often I find women consecrated who perform a labour of servitude and not of service. It is somewhat difficult to explain, because I would not to suggest a concrete case, which might be a bad thought, because no one really knows the circumstances. Let us consider a parish priest, a priest who to be sure we might imagine: “No, no, my rectory is in the hands of two nuns” — “Are they the ones who run it?” — “Yes, yes!” — “What do they do as far as pastoral care, catechesis?” — “No, no, only that!”. No! This is servitude! Tell me, Mr Parish Priest, are there no good women in the city, who need work? Take on one or two who could perform that service. Let these two sisters go to the schools, the neighbourhoods, with the sick, with the poor. This is the criterion: a labour of service and not of servitude! When you Superiors are asked something that is more servitude than service, have the courage to say ‘no’. This is a rather helpful point, because when a consecrated woman is asked to perform work of servitude, it demeans the life and dignity of that woman. But no servitude!

Now then, [I’ll respond to] Teresina: “What, in your opinion, is the place of woman’s apostolic religious life within the Church? What would the Church be lacking if there were no longer women religious?”. [It would be as if] Mary were missing on the day of Pentecost! There is no Church without Mary! There is not Pentecost without Mary! But Mary was there, she may not have spoken…. I have said this, but I like to repeat it. The consecrated woman is an icon of the Church, an icon of Mary. The priest is not an icon of the Church; he is not the icon of Mary; he is an icon of the Apostles, of the disciples who were sent to preach. But not of the Church or of Mary. When I say this I want to make you reflect on the fact that “she” the Church is feminine; the Church is woman: it is not “he” the Church, it is “she” the Church. But she is a woman married to Jesus Christ, she has her Bridegroom, who id Jesus Christ. When a bishop is chosen for a diocese, the bishop — on behalf of Christ — marries that particular Church. The Church is woman! And a woman’s consecration makes her the very icon of the Church and icon of Our Lady. We men cannot do this. This will help you to deepen, from this theological root, a great role in the Church. I hope this does not elude you.

I completely agree [with the conclusion of the third question]. The Church: you are the Church, we all are. The hierarchy — as we say — of the Church must speak of you, but first and in the moment it must speak with you. This is certain. You must be present in the ciclava. Yes, yes! I shall tell this to the Prefect: you must be present in the Assembly! It is clear, because to speak about one who is absent is not even evangelical: one must be able to hear, to listen to what is thought, and then let us do so together. I agree. I did not imagine such separation, truly. Thank you for have said it so courageously and with that smile.

Allow me to joke. You did so with a smile, which in Piedmont is described as the smile of the miller’s facade [with a sincere expression]. Well done! Yes, you are right about this, I shall speak about it with the Prefect. “But this General Assembly will not speak about nuns, it will speak about something else…” — “It is important to hear the nuns because they have another way of looking at things”. That is what I was saying before: it is important that you always be included…. I thank you for the question.

Shall I clarify this further? Is something further needed? Is it clear?

Remember this well: what would the Church be lacking if women religious did not exist? Mary would be missing on the day of Pentecost. Women religious are the icon of the Church and of Mary.

The Church is woman, married to Jesus Christ.

Fourth Question
The obstacles we encounter within the Church as consecrated women

Beloved Holy Father, many institutes are facing the challenge of revising their Constitutions in order to innovate their way of life and their structures. This is proving to be difficult due to obstacles in canon law. Do you foresee any changes to canon law in order facilitate this process?

Moreover, young people today have difficulty thinking about a life commitment, be it matrimony or religious life. Can we be open somehow to trial commitments?
And another aspect: In carrying out our ministry of solidarity with the poor and marginalised, we are often mistaken for being social or political activists. Some ecclesial authorities would prefer that become more mystical and less apostolic. What value ought certain sectors Church hierarchy give to the consecrated life as apostolic and women in particular?

Pope Francis:
Firstly, the changes that need to happen to take on new challenges: You spoke about innovation, innovation in the positive sense if I understood correctly, new things on the way. In this the Church is an expert, for she has had to change so very much throughout history. Yet in every change discernment is needed, and discernment cannot be accomplished without prayer. How does one undertake discernment? Prayer, dialogue, then shared discernment. One must ask for the gift of discernment, to know how to discern. For example, an entrepreneur has to make changes in his business: he makes concrete assessments and that which his conscience tells him to do, he does. In our lives another character plays a role: the Holy Spirit. In order to make a change we must evaluate all concrete circumstances, this is all true, but in order to advance in discernment with the Holy Spirit what is needed is prayer, dialogue and shared discernment. I believe that on this point we––and by this I mean priests as well––are not well formed in the discernment of situations and we must try to experience those things and those people who can explain well what discernment means: a good spiritual father who knows these things well and explains them to us, that is not a simple “for and against” or summation and so forth. No, it is something more than this. And this will give you greater freedom, greater freedom! Regarding canon law: there is no issue here. Canon law in the last century was changed––if I am not mistaken––twice: in 1917 and then under John Paul II. Small changes that can be done, are done. But these two changes were instead of the entire Code. The Code is a disciplinary help, a help for the salvation of souls, for everything: it is the juridical help of the Church for all processes, so many things, but last century twice it was totally changed, remade. And just so, parts of it can be changed. Two months past a request arrived asking for a canon to be changed, I don’t remember exactly [the details]. I studied it and the Secretary of State made the proper consultations and everyone was in agreement that yes, this must be changed for the greater good, and it was changed.

The Code is an instrument, this is very important. But I insist: never make a change without a process of discernment, both personal and communal. And this will give you freedom, for you place the Holy Spirit there in the change. St. Paul did the same, as did St. Peter, when he felt the Lord urging him baptize the pagans. When we read the book of the Acts of the Apostles we wonder at such a change, such a change…it is the Holy Spirit! This is very interesting: in the book of the Acts of the Apostles the protagonists are not just the Apostles, but also the Spirit. “The Spirit moved him to do that”; “the Spirit said to Phillip to go here and there, find the minister of economic affairs and baptize him”; “the Spirit does”, “the Spirit says no, do not come here”––it is the Spirit. It is the Spirit who has given the Apostles courage to make this revolutionary change to baptize the pagans without taking the approach of Jewish catechism or Jewish praxis. It is also interesting: in the first chapters there is the Letter that the Apostles sent to the pagan converts after the Council of Jerusalem. It tells of all that has been accomplished: “The Holy Spirit and we have decided this.” This is an example of discernment, prayer and even the concrete evaluation of situations. And for the Code this is not an issue, for it is an instrument.

Regarding young people and life commitments. We live in a “culture of the provisional”. A bishop told me, some time ago a young university student came to him – he had just finished university, 23/24 years, and he said to him: “I would like to become a priest, but only for 10 years”. That is the culture of the provisional. In marriage it is the same thing. “ I will be married to you as long as love lasts and then it’s ‘goodbye’”. But that is love taken in the hedonistic sense, in the sense of today’s culture. Obviously, these marriages mean nothing; they are not valid. They have no awareness of the permanence of a commitment. Marriage is not like that. In the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia you read about the problem in the first chapters and you read about marriage preparation. A person said to me: “I don’t understand this: to become priests you have to study, prepare for eight years, more or less. And yet, if it doesn’t go well, or if you fall in love with a beautiful girl, the Church gives you a pass: go, get married, begin a new life. To get married – which is for life, which is “for” life – preparation in many dioceses are three or four meetings…. But this isn’t enough! How can a parish priest attest that these two are prepared for marriage, in this culture of the provisional, with just four conversations? This is a very serious problem. In consecrated life, was has always struck me – in a positive way – is the intuition of St Vincent de Paul: he saw that the Sisters of Charity had a job that was so demanding, so “dangerous”, on the front lines, that every year they should renew their vows. Just for one year. But he did this as a charism, not in the culture of the provisional: in order to give freedom. I believe that in consecrated life temporary vows facilitate this. And, I don’t know, you will see, but I would rather prolong temporary vows a little, because of this culture of the provisional that has young people in its grasp these days: it is like, prolonging the engagement before marriage! This is important.

[Now the Pope answers a part of the question that was written but not read]

Requests for money in our local Churches. The problem of money is a very important problem, both in consecrated life and in the diocesan Church. We must never forget that the devil enters through our pockets: the pockets of the bishop and the pockets of the Congregation. This touches on the problem of poverty, which we will speak about later. But greed for money is the first step towards corruption in a parish, in a diocese, in a Congregation of consecrated life: it is the first step. I think that in this respect there has been payment for sacraments. Look, if someone asks you for this, then report the incident. Salvation is free. God sent us freely. There is no salvation by payment, there are no sacraments by payment. Is this clear? I know, I have seen corruption in this during my life. I remember one case, when I had just been appointed as bishop. I had the poorest area of Buenos Aires, divided into four vicariates. There were many migrants from American countries there, and often when they came to get married the priests would say, “These people have no certificate of baptism”. And when they requested them from their countries they were told: “Yes, but first send a hundred dollars – I remember a case – and then I will send it to you”.

I spoke with the cardinal, and the cardinal spoke with the bishop of the place. … But in the meantime people were able to marry without their certificate of baptism, with guarantees from their parents or godparents. And this is payment, not only for the sacrament but also for certificates. I remember once in Buenos Aires that a young man came to ask for a nulla osta to marry in another parish, a simple matter. The secretary told him: “Yes, if you come by tomorrow it will be here, and it will cost a certain price”, a large sum. But it is a service: it is a question of ascertaining and compiling data. And he – he was a lawyer, young, good and a very devout and good Catholic – he came to me and said, “Now what shall I do?”. “Come tomorrow and say that you have sent the cheque to the archbishop, and that the archbishop will give her the cheque”. The trade in money.

But here we touch upon a serious problem, which is the problem of poverty. I will say something to you: when a religious institute – and this is also valid for other situations – but when a religious institute feels that it is dying, it feels that it no longer has the capacity to attract new elements, it feels that perhaps the time has passed for which the Lord had chosen that Congregation, there is the temptation of greed. Why? Because they think, “At least we have money for our old age”. This is serious. And what is the solution that the Church can give? To unite the various institutes with similar charisms, and to go ahead. But money is never, ever a solution for spiritual problems. It is a necessary aid, but just that. St. Ignatius used to say about poverty that it is the “mother” and “wall” of religious life. It enables us to grow in religious life like a mother, and protects. And when poverty is missing,

then decadence takes hold. I remember, in the other diocese, when a very important college of nuns had to renovate their house because it was old, and they did a good job. But in those times – I am talking about the years 1993, 1994 more or less – they said, “Let’s have all the comforts, the room with a private bathroom, and everything, and a television too…”. In that college, which was so important, from 2 to 4 in the afternoon you could never find a nun: they were all in their rooms watching a soap opera! Because there was a lack of poverty, and this leads to the comfortable life, to fantasies. … It is an example, maybe the only one in the world, but helps us understand the danger of too much comfort, of the lack of poverty or a certain austerity.

[Other part of the question, not read but written]

“Women religious do not receive a stipend for their services, as priests do. How can we show an attractive face of our subsistence? How can we find the financial resources necessary to fulfil our mission?”

Pope Francis
I will say to things to you. First: see how your charism is, the content of your charism – everyone has their own – and what the role of poverty is, because there are congregations that call for a very, very strict life of poverty, and others less so, and both types are approved by the Church. Live poverty according to the charism. Then: savings. It is prudent to have savings; it is prudent to have good administration, perhaps with some investment, that is prudent; for the houses of formation, to run works for the poor, to manage schools for the poor, for apostolic works. … A foundation for one’s own congregation: this is what should be done. And just as wealth can do harm to and corrupt a vocation, so can destitution. If poverty becomes destitution, this too causes harm. There you see the spiritual prudence of the community in common discernment: the bursar informs, everyone speaks about whether it is too much or not. That is motherly prudence. But please, do not let yourselves be fooled by friends of the congregation, who then fleece you and take everything from you. I have seen so many cases, or others have told me about cases in which nuns have lost everything because they trusted someone or other, a “great friend of the congregation”! There are many cunning people, so many. Prudence means never consulting only one person: when you need something, consult various different people. The administration of assets is a very serious responsibility, very serious, in consecrated life. If you do not have the means to live, tell the bishop. Tell God, “Give us this day our daily bread”, the true one. But speak with the bishop, with the Superior general, with the Congregation for Religious. For the necessary means, because religious life is a path of poverty, but it is not suicide! And this is healthy prudence. Is that clear?

And then, where there are conflicts for what the local Churches ask of you, you need to pray, to discern and to have the courage, when necessary, to say “no”; and to have the generosity, when you need to, to say “yes”. But you see how discernment is necessary in every case!

Question (resumed)
“While we carry out our ministry, we are in solidarity with the poor and the marginalised, and are often mistakenly considered as social activists, as if we were assuming political stances. Some Church authorities look on our ministry negatively, underlining that we should concentrate more on a kind of mystical life. In these circumstances, how can we live our prophetic vocation?”

Answer (resumed)
Yes. All religious women, all consecrated women should live mystically, because yours is a marriage: your is a vocation of maternity, it’s a vocation of being in the role of Mother Church and of Mother Mary. But those who tell you this, they think that being a mystic is being a mummy, always praying like that… No, no. You have to pray and to work according to your own charism, and when the charism brings you to work with refugees, to work with the poor, you should do it, and they will call you “communist,” that’s the least they will say about you. But you should do it. Because the charism brings you to this. In Argentina, I remember a nun, she was provincial of her congregation. A good woman, and she’s still working… she’s about half my age. And she works against those who traffic youngsters, who traffic people. I remember, with the military government in Argentina, they wanted to put her in jail, putting pressure on the archbishop, putting pressure on the provincial superior, before she became provincial, “because this woman is a communist.” And this woman saved so many girls, so many girls! And yes, it’s the cross. What did they say about Jesus? That he was Beelzebub, that he had the power of Beelzebub. Calumny, be prepared for it. If you do good, with prayer, before God, taking on all the consequences of your charism and you go ahead, prepare yourselves for defamation and calumny, because the Lord has chosen this way for himself! And we bishops, ought to watch over these women who are an icon of the Church, when they do difficult things, and are slandered and persecuted. To be persecuted is the last of the Beatitudes. The Lord said: “Blessed are you when you are persecuted, insulted” and all these things. But here the danger can be: “I do my thing” – no, no: hear this: they persecute you – speak. With your community, with your superior, speak with everyone, ask for advice, discern: once again this word. And this nun of whom I was speaking now, one day I found her crying, and she said, “Look at the letter that I received from Rome – I don’t know from where – what should I do?” – “Are you a daughter of the Church?” – “Yes!” – “Do you want to obey the Church?” – “Yes!” – “Answer that you will be obedient to the Church, then go to your superior, go to your community, go to your bishop – that was me – and the Church will tell you what to do. But not a letter that comes from 12,000 kilometres away.” Because there a friend of the enemies of the nun had written, and she was slandered. Be courageous, but with humility, discernment, prayer, dialogue.

Conclusion
“A word of encouragement for us leaders, who carry the weight of the day”.

Pope Francis
But take a breather! Rest, because so many sicknesses come from a lack of healthy rest, rest in the family… This is important to carry the weight of the day.
You also talk here about old and sick nuns. But these nuns are the memory of the institute, these nuns are those who have sowed, who have worked, and now are paralysed, or very sick, or left off to the side. These nuns pray for the institute. This is very important, that they feel involved in the prayer for the Institute. These nuns also have a very extensive experience: some more, some less. Listen to them! Go to them: “Tell me, sister, what do you think about this, about this?” That they feel consulted, and from their wisdom will come good advice. Be sure of it.

This is what I would like to tell you. I know that I always repeat myself and say the same things, but life is like that. … I like hearing questions, because they make me think and I feel like a goalkeeper who stands there, waiting for the ball from wherever it comes. … This is good, and you also do this in dialogue.

The things I have promised to do, I will do. And pray for me, I will pray for you. Let us go ahead. Our life is for the Lord, for the Church and for the people, who suffer greatly and need the caress of the Father, through you! Thank you.

I would like to suggest something: let us finish with the Mother. Each one of you, in your own language, pray the Hail Mary. I will pray in Spanish.
Hail Mary…

[Blessing] And pray for me, so that I might serve the Church well.


(CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted

PopeElderly1

There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted
A reflection on Euthanasia

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
May 12, 2016

The Supreme Court of Canada decided on February 6, 2015 that Canadians have a legal right to ask for and receive a doctor’s help in killing themselves. Originally the court gave Parliament one year to pass a new law to replace sections of the Criminal Code which had previously forbidden assisted suicide. A fall election and a slow process of review made it impossible for the politicians to meet the original deadline, which was then extended six months. Bill C-14 “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)” passed second reading April 22, 2016. Bill C-14, no matter how it may be amended, is an affront to human dignity, an erosion of human solidarity, and a danger to all vulnerable persons. It is a fundamentally unjust law. Why should we absolutely and categorically disagree with any attempt at justifying or supporting a ‘right’ to assisted suicide or euthanasia? In light of the very sad and deeply troubling decision of the Supreme Court of Canada overturning Canada’s euthanasia law, I offer you these reflections.  

There is nothing new about people becoming terminally ill, suffering, wanting to die, and our being able to kill them. Right-to-die movements have gained momentum at a time of anxiety about aging populations; people who are older than 65 represent the fastest growing demographic in the United States, Canada, and much of Europe.

Let’s look beyond our borders to witness the ambiguous and destructive powers of the proponents of a right-to-death. In Belgium, a country that some are justifiably calling “the killing fields”, euthanasia is now embraced as an emblem of enlightenment, liberation and progress, signs that the country has freed itself from its deeply Catholic roots and heritage. Belgium was the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to decriminalize euthanasia; it was followed by Luxembourg, in 2009, and, this year, by Canada and Colombia. Switzerland has allowed assisted suicide since 1942. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that citizens have legitimate concerns about prolonged deaths in institutional settings, but in 1997 it ruled that death is not a constitutionally protected right, leaving questions about assisted suicide to be resolved by each state. Several months after the ruling, the state of Oregon passed a law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who have less than six months to live. In 2008, the State of Washington adopted a similar law; Montana decriminalized assisted suicide the following year; and Vermont legalized it in 2013.

In Oregon and Switzerland, studies have shown that people who request death are less motivated by physical pain than by the desire to remain autonomous. In Belgium and in the Netherlands, where patients can be euthanized without even having a terminal illness, the laws seem to have permeated the medical establishment more deeply than elsewhere, perhaps because of the central role granted to doctors: in the majority of cases, it is the doctor, not the patient, who performs the final act. In the past five years, euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths in the Netherlands have doubled, and in Belgium they have increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent. Although most of the Belgian patients had cancer, people were euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression.

Laws allowing euthanasia or doctor-assisted-death seem to be motivated less by the desires of the elderly than by the concerns of a younger generation, whose members derive comfort from the knowledge that they can control the end of their lives. Belgian laws have created a new understanding of suicide as a medical treatment, totally divorced of its tragic and moral dimensions.

Why is the case against euthanasia so hard to establish? When personal and societal values were consistent, widely shared and based on shared religion, the case against euthanasia was simple. God commanded: “You shall not kill.” In secular societies based on intense individualism, the case for euthanasia is simple: Individuals have the right to choose the manner, time and place of their death. In contrast, in such societies the case against euthanasia is complex. Is anyone concerned any longer about harm caused to the entire community rather than being obsessed with personal and individual preferences?

Death has now been professionalized, technologized, depersonalized and dehumanized. Facing those realities makes euthanasia seem an attractive option and easier to introduce and accept. Conversations about death used to take place in religious conversation and in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples during worship services.  Such conversations were serious and always had moral dimensions. No so any longer. Death talk is on radio and TV talk shows and in unreflective media.  It is so often cheap conversation for such a serious topic.  And the moral dimension is absent.

Our parliaments and courts have replaced our religious centres. That has resulted in the legalization of societal ethical and moral debates, including in relation to death. It is not surprising, therefore, that the euthanasia debate centres on its legalization. The vast exposure to death that we are subjected to in both current-affairs and entertainment programs might have overwhelmed our sensitivity to the awesomeness of death as well as inflicting it.

Mainstream media has caused great confusion about the topic of euthanasia and has been extremely deceptive in its portrayal of human suffering and compassion.  Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life.  Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity.  They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other.

There are solid secular arguments against euthanasia: legalizing euthanasia would harm the very important shared societal value of respect for life, and change the basic norm that we must not kill one another. It would also harm the two main institutions – law and medicine.  These pillars of society are more important in a secular society than in a religious one for upholding the value of respect for life. And, it would harm people’s trust in medicine and make them fearful of seeking treatment.

Our society has lost sight of the sacred nature of human life. As Catholic Christians we are deeply committed to the protection of life from its earliest moments to its final moments. When people today speak about a “good death,” they usually refer to an attempt to control the end of one’s life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Christian notion of a good death, however, is death not as a good end, but a good transition, that requires faith, proper acceptance and readiness. The dimension of the Paschal mystery of suffering, death and resurrection has been absent from our end of life conversation and discussion.

PopeSick1

When life is not respected, should we be surprised that other rights will sooner or later be threatened? Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Pope Francis has criticized those who support a right to euthanasia for people suffering painful or terminal illnesses, saying that they spread a “lie” that lives affected by such illnesses are not worth living. In his annual message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated by the Catholic church each February 11, Francis criticizes the phrase “quality of life,” frequently used by those who advocate for euthanasia rights to emphasize the pain suffered by some ill persons who might choose to medically end their lives if given the chance by law. Francis makes the critique in a section of the message that emphasizes the importance of spending time with those who are sick or ill. Pope Francis first asks that the Holy Spirit “grant us the grace to appreciate the value of our often unspoken willingness to spend time with these sisters and brothers who, thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more loved and comforted.” In his 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes (#48): “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide; in many countries, they have been legalized. The Church, while firmly opposing these practices, feels the need to assist families who take care of their elderly and infirm members”.

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. Nor can we 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 has arrived on our shores and it has invaded our lives. 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. The best way to know if we are still in any way a Christian society is to see how we treat our most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty, strength or intelligence.

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. 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. In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread: frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

Suicide as a mode of euthanasia contradicts the fundamental responsibility that human beings have to protect one another and to enhance the quality of health and social care which every human life deserves, from conception to natural death. The proposed Canadian legislation for physician-assisted-death or suicide threatens to throw non-complying doctors and nurses out of their jobs and risks closing Catholic hospitals. Second, it does nothing to limit the ways in which assisted suicide may be proposed or offered to vulnerable people.

An absence of conscience protections at the federal level for those health-care professionals and institutions who refuse to take part or directly refer for assisted suicide means provincial regulators could set up a patchwork of conflicting policies that would result in fewer doctors and hospitals available to Canadians. Just when our health-care system requires more resources, not less, the federal government must not allow lower jurisdictions to drive conscientious health-care practitioners from their professions. Laws that would make medicine the agent of death on demand, are a clear violation of the sacrosanct duty of health-care providers to heal, and the responsibility of legislators and citizens to assure and provide protection for all, especially those persons most at risk.

We have a responsibility to confront the intrusion of euthanasia in our society – especially if we are to understand our moral obligation as caregivers for incapacitated persons, and our civic obligation to protect those who lack the capacity to express their will but are still human, still living, and still deserving of equal protection under the law.  There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted from conception to natural death, from womb to tomb.