Sunday, August 12, 2012

Food for the Journey (19.B)

I’m sure most of you noticed on Friday that the B.C. Courtof Appeal upheld the so-called “right to die” of a woman in the Okanagan.

You won’t catch me preaching on the right to die, simply because almost every Catholic already understands that there is no such right, and that both suicide and euthanasia are gravely wrong

But what about something a little closer to home? Have you ever heard an elderly friend or relative say they wished they could die? Have you ever said it yourself?

At first glance, it seems a terrible thing to think or say. Yet in the first reading we just heard Elijah ask God that he might die, and God doesn’t seem to get upset with him. So what is the Christian view of wishing for death—is it wrong?

I have a book that gives an answer—a six and a half page answer, to be exact.   Since it takes Dr. Germain Grisez, a respected moral theologian, that long to respond to the question, I sure won’t succeed in the length of a homily. But in short, he says “yes and no.”*

Yes, it is wrong to wish for death ”by accepting and endorsing an unreasonable emotional desire to die.” If one judges that life isn’t worth living, and that pain is to be escaped at all costs, one “commits suicide in one’s heart,” Dr. Grisez says. Too much thinking of this sort can lead to neglect of our health or even to actual suicide.

But no, it is not wrong when we wish principally for life, but as part of our wish for life we welcome death also, as the gateway to the life to come. In this sense, “every faithful Christian, hoping for heaven, rightly wishes for death.” With this attitude, we can forego useless medical treatments or measures that prolong life unduly.

It is also quite acceptable for the terminally ill to seek adequate relief from pain, even at the risk of shortening life. Many of those who advocate euthanasia are unaware of the advances in palliative care in recent years, which have done a great deal to help people die without undue suffering

Sometimes, though,  the elderly or the sick desire death because they think there is nothing left for them to do on earth. Elijah felt like that—he’d done his best, and his best wasn’t good enough. Israel had turned against God despite his zealous preaching, and he was the only prophet who hadn’t been killed. What was left but to lie down and die?

Yet if you read to the end of the story, after the Lord restores his strength, Elijah heads to Mount Horeb for one of the closest encounters man has even had with God. He carries on his mission, anoints a new king for Israel, and finds a suitable successor in Elisha.

Whether we’re depressed or just plain old discouraged, it’s very easy to confuse how we feel today with what God has lined up for us tomorrow. To quote Germain Grisez again “God is a loving Father who always knows what is best for us. We would not remain alive if there were no good reason for us to be here.”

Today I want to suggest one of the best of all reasons for us to be here—because healthy or sick, happy or sad, we are able to eat the Bread of Life.

And that includes those who can’t come to church. I’ve never directed a Sunday homily to our parishioners who are housebound or in care facilities. But today I’m thinking very specially of them—this small group who eat the living Bread each week without being able to gather with us around the Lord’s Table

By receiving Holy Communion every week, these men and women can find meaning and purpose, even when they can no longer do the things they once did for others—and what a lot of good they can do for the rest of us, who are too busy sometimes to look beyond the Bread we eat to see the Saviour It has become!
United to the Lord in the Eucharist, they pray not only with us, but for us

We talk a lot about Sunday Mass being the high point of our week. But it’s hard—we’re in such a rush to get to church and to get out again. Those who are forced by circumstances to accept a quieter pace can spend time with the Lord after they have received Him at one of the nursing home Masses or during a Friday visit from Father Xavier, myself, or one of our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

Speaking of those dedicated Extraordinary Ministers, it’s time to say something about the service they provide our elderly and sick parishioners. Week in, week out, and in some cases over many years, they bring the Bread of Life faithfully and devoutly.

 In many cases, their ministry not only sustains people in pain or old age, it helps them prepare properly for death.  No doubt you all believed when you heard Jesus say in today’s Gospel “whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” But you can be sure his words “one may eat of it and not die” have an extra-special message for those whose natural lives are drawing to a close.

We must be grateful to our Extraordinary Ministers, these unsung heroes who so generously assist the priests in sharing the Bread of Life beyond the walls of our parish church. Just as important, we should ask whether our faith in this Sacrament is as strong as theirs—for surely their weekly sacrifice of time and energy demonstrates a very strong faith in the Eucharist and its saving power.

Let’s remind ourselves often of those worshippers who are the active part of our parish family that we do not often see. Jesus comes to them in the Blessed Sacrament every week as a sign of His faithfulness to all of us; their faith gives us an example of perseverance and trust.

We are called into a union of prayer with our parishioners who are sick or confined to home; that unity should be strengthened every time we eat the Bread of Life.  And like them, and like Elijah, we should trust that God will sustain us too, in all of life’s difficulties.
* Germain Grisez, Difficult Moral Questions, vol. 3, 196-202.

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