At a concert put on by friends, a song brought me back to another time and place, as only songs can do: “This land is parching, this land is burning. O healing river, send down your waters.”
The year I first joined an RCIA team, this song was part of our reflection as we prepared people to be baptized at Easter. The water of life is for our thirsty souls, and the suffering and need inside us all is not hopeless. God generously pours out life upon us, a gift we receive and which bears fruit. So we taught; so we learned.
At that Easter Vigil I felt like a midwife. Watching someone come up from the healing waters of baptism is like watching a baby born out of water and blood. Through death to life: this is our faith. It’s a risk, an embrace. If we allow, it changes us. It sets us on the path of discipleship; not the path of ease, but the path of life.
Our lenten time is given us to take in these realities. We become disciples. We come closer to suffering and death, because Christ went through them. In the Garden of Gethsemane he stood before suffering and death with agony, perhaps fear, foreboding. He felt the pain of suffering and dying, and of the human tendency to reject God, reject love, flee from pain. He knew it’s hard for us to drink from the living water that’s within, and that we tend to make decisions out of fear, hurt and confusion — as his disciples did that same night. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, love triumphed over pain and suffering. It didn’t end them, but revealed their meaning and purpose.
The dignity of life, the life of each of us, is that it’s gift of God. The dignity of death is in the return of life to God. Our freedom is not whether to live or die, but how we receive our lives and offer them back to God. In life, suffering and death, Christ is our teacher. He shows us their value and purpose, giving the capacity to make them meaningful.
We don’t worship suffering. We seek to alleviate and end it, as Christ did in his ministry. When we’re brought to a place or given a work leading through suffering, we stand with him in the garden. When an aged man, alone, weak, vulnerable, says pleadingly, “Why am I still here?” When we hold the hand of a sick child, and are wrenched by her tears. When a woman brings all her faith to God, begs for healing of a chronic illness and doesn’t receive it, and still loves him enough to ask, “Don’t you love me? Don’t you care?” When your grownup son tells you his life is unbearable and you haven’t given him what he needs. Such moments come to us all, and we find ourselves under the olive trees in the garden. “My God, must I suffer this?” We’re helped here by Christ who didn’t inflict pain or commit violence but suffered, love and forgave.
Shortly before Lent began, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide, giving Parliament a year to draft new legislation. How will we respond?
On grounds of reason alone, this ruling is dangerous and urges opposition. It places relative value on life: some lives, at some times and in some conditions, are not worth being lived. It abrogates the government’s responsibility to protect the vulnerable, those who aren’t “productive” by society’s standards. It tells us death is an acceptable tool in our toolkits, and can be competently wielded by human authority. It misguidedly encourages us to let people dole out life to some and death to others.
When life becomes a commodity rather than a sacred thing whose value comes from itself and not from some external standard of usefulness or pleasure, what quality does it have? When suffering is meaningless, vulnerability and weakness intolerable, dignity interpreted as control, energy and resources put into legislating death rather than improving life, will all our lives be of better quality?
How will we respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling?
As we walk together through the lenten desert, we learn anew the meaning of love in face of suffering, sin and death. It’s a greater power than we know. Life is stronger than death: it could not hold Christ in the grave, but was shattered like glass. How will we witness that power of life and love entrusted to us who bear his name?
Our actions or inactions now affect the lives of Canadians present and future. “Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).
Marrocco is a marriage and family therapist, teacher of theology, and writer, and co-ordinates St. Mary of Egypt Refuge. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org