The readings of the liturgy for the opening days of Lent invite us to focus on some basic questions as we begin our journey through this sacred season. What does it mean to repent and believe the Good News? What difference should faith make to our living and dying? How do we convert hearts and lives?
The Old Testament reading for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday has particular significance this year for us as God’s people and as a country: I call heaven and earth to witness . . . that I have set before you life and death. . . . Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live. . . . (Dt 30:19)
The Supreme Court of Canada a year ago, in its decision in the case of Carter vs. Canada, invited those in our land to choose death. Any adult suffering from an illness, disease or disability would have the option of physician-assisted suicide. Already, various voices in our country have argued in favour of this even being extended to minors.
Appalling as that is, it is not surprising. Children as well as incapacitated adults are being euthanized in the handful of other countries where assisted suicide and euthanasia are now legal.
Throughout the church’s funeral rite, we are reminded that each life and each death has an important impact on the life of others. In the words of Saint Paul, We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves (Romans 14:7). A consequence of this for Christians is that our mission and our glory is to defend and protect life from conception to natural death as a sacred gift from God, Source of all life.
This year, the Thursday after Ash Wednesday is also the World Day of the Sick. In his message for this day, Pope Francis reminds us that when we experience suffering, pain and vulnerability, our faith in God is on the one hand tested, yet at the same time can reveal all of its positive resources. Not because faith makes illness, pain, or the questions which they raise, disappear, but because it offers a key by which we can discover the deepest meaning of what we are experiencing; a key that helps us to see how illness can be the way to draw nearer to Jesus who walks at our side, weighed down by the cross. And this key is given to us by Mary, our Mother, who has known this way at first-hand.
During this lenten season, together with my brother bishops, I invite our community of faith and all its members to ponder deeply on this important and crucial juncture which our country is facing. Will we prefer palliative and home care, or assisted suicide and euthanasia?
The choice is simple. Do we collaborate as communities of loving concern, supporting and encouraging one another to live our lives fully and in Christ’s footsteps until God calls us to our heavenly reward? Or do we abandon the vulnerable, the elderly, the sick, the handicapped, the dying and the depressed, leaving them to stumble through loneliness and despair into the tragedy of dying by suicide?
Do we defend health care practitioners and institutions from being forced into becoming collaborators, obliged to condone or administer death by suicide? Or do we instead provide a system of social well-being and health care that protects the dignity of human life and the inviolability of conscience?
In urging you to be in full communion with the Holy Father and your bishops on this fundamental question, I invite you:
— to pray that the Holy Spirit enlighten and persuade the hearts and consciences of our members of Parliament, provincial, territorial and municipal leaders, and those engaged in providing health care, so the lives of all the vulnerable are protected from conception to natural death;
— to become more knowledgeable about the negative moral and social consequences that euthanasia and assisted suicide will inevitably have on society and on individual lives;
— to express to your political representatives your concerns and your convictions about the necessity for palliative and home care, the need for national and local strategies to prevent suicide, and the evil of euthanasia and assisted suicide;
— to share with your family, friends, community and coworkers the resources developed as part of the Life-Giving Love National Campaign for Palliative and Home Care: Against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (http://www.lifegivinglove.com/);
— to sign the ecumenical/interfaith Declaration on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide which has been endorsed by Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders, together with more than 13,000 other Canadians (http://www.euthanasiadeclaration.ca/declaration/ / http://www.euthanasiadeclaration.ca/fr-declaration/).
The fullness of life means choosing to be merciful and attentive to the needs of others; to pray and care for the sick, the suffering and the dying; and to accompany and comfort each of our brothers and sisters until death does us part.
By choosing to be witnesses to and collaborators in God’s saving mercy, we then choose — as Pope Francis reminded us earlier in this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy — to be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing. Through the grace of Christ, we can co-operate with him in building an ever more just and fraternal world, a world in which every person and every creature can dwell in peace, in the harmony of God’s original creation (Homily for the Solemnity of Mary and the 49th World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 2016).
My brothers and sisters, as with Adam and Eve at the beginning of time, ours is the choice of eating of the tree of life, or from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which will surely lead to death. Just as Moses put before the Hebrews entering the Promised Land the life-altering choice of deciding to live as children of the living God, the One who is Lord, so we too, at the brink of such societal change, are called to choose life, truth, goodness and true mercy. The choice is set before us.
Crosby is Bishop of Hamilton.