Many of you probably read the Associated Press article that ran on the cover of The Seattle Times and The Olympian on August 26, 2019 regarding physician-assisted suicide. After a couple of press releases from the Archdiocese of Seattle and an interview from America magazine with the priest who appeared in some of the photos, a clearer vision of the situation has been reached (See the links below). Firstly, I wanted to clarify the inflammatory photographs that many of you may have seen, and give a context for the Church’s teaching on suffering, suicide, and death.
During a Sunday Mass, a priest who helps the pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Seattle on the weekends was asked by a dying man to give him a blessing. The priest says he had no idea of the man’s intention to commit physician-assisted suicide later that day—that the man, who definitely does look sick in the photographs—did not mention to the priest that he was going to commit physician-assisted suicide. A full interview with the priest can be found on our website, along with the two statements from the Archdiocese.
The What and the Why of the Church
Sufferings sucks. It just does. St. Paul reminds us that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). What St. Paul is saying is that sin is the alienation from, or disintegration of, relationship with self, with others and with God. And sin has real effects in the world. The brokenness of relationships spills over into every aspect of our lives, physical and spiritual. And it might not even be our sins that cause the brokenness or suffering (cf. Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3), but our own decisions of sinfulness don’t help the situation, either; unless you repent something much worse will happen! (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).
Jesus came to sanctify all aspects of life, even the most difficult and painful, like being scourged, crowned with thorns, and dying on a cross. This was not a suicide mission, but the living out of the will of the entire Trinity to unmask the emptiness of suffering and infuse it with meaning—an active participation in the suffering of Christ for the sanctification of the entire world. This might be where you have heard “offer it up.” Not because suffering is good, but that God can even use the most horrendous suffering “so that the glory of God might be revealed” (John 9:3). We see examples of this in saints like Maximilian Kolbe, Rose of Lima, Rocco, and indeed the martyrs. Modern examples of this look like Blessed Chiara Lucce Badano,Chiara Corbella Petrillo, Gloria Strauss and even examples in our own parish family.
As Christians we have a duty to support those who are suffering, not dismiss them as expendable or unworthy of care. We get to help Christ carry his cross and to learn to ask Christ for patience, compassion, and fortitude. Caring for the sick is a corporal work of mercy. The way that we honor those who suffer is by upholding their dignity. Celebrating those who suffer means recognizing their inherent value for us and for the world. We can never consider it just to allow others to end their lives. Jesus gives us a reasonable expectation that He will sanctify our sufferings for ourselves and for the world. This gives us an intimate share in His life and entering into a true communion of saints. Jesus never wants evil, but He can and will use it!
The Church, from the first documents we have—such as the “Didache”—up until this day consistently proclaims the dignity and sanctity of life from natural conception until natural death. These doctrines do not discount the complexity of human life or the immense pain that happens because of suffering, but that Jesus Christ is Lord. In His Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he came to sanctify all of these aspects of our own lives. As Christians, we always remember that our lives are not our own—they belong to an Other by whom we have been sealed and chosen to live in His love. This is a life marked by constant conversion, prayer, and even a peaceful joy in the midst of our circumstances that the world cannot give. Our lives are marked by a dependence on God and that also means a dependence on one another.
Avoiding unnecessary evil and working to eradicate it is an intrinsic good; remember, God does not want His little ones hurting! However, when we try to control even the minutiae of our destiny, we are trying to take on a roll much larger than ourselves, one that God wants us to place trustingly in His hands: “unless you have the heart of a child. . .” (Matthew 18:3).
The Church exists to be a place of healing, conversion, and peace. God calls us together to live in a new way, where we can support one another in mutual love, animated by the love of Christ through the Holy Spirit. If you or a loved one are struggling with terminal illness, please let Benedetta Reece at the parish office know, so that we can support our brother or sister and help them to see that “they are chosen to be saints,” and that Christ suffered and died to sanctify even our most painful sufferings.
If you would like to read more, please consider reading Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering by Pope St. John Paul II from 1984!