When Pope Francis announced a Holy Year — an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy — beginning on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and to conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King, 20 November 2016, I wanted to declare a “Time-Out!” Inside, I’m protesting: “Slow down! What’s going on? What happened to time?”
The latter question reminded me of the speed of life lived:
“When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept.
When as a youth I dreamed and talked, time walked.
When I became a full grown man, time ran.
And later as I older grew, time flew.
Soon I shall find while travelling on, time gone.”
[Inscription on the clock in Chester cathedral.]
At the beginning of the Year of Consecrated Life on 29 November 2014, the vigil for the first Sunday in Advent, Pope Francis selected three aims of the Year for Consecrated Life:
1. To look to the past with gratitude.
We have a beautiful graced history in which God called individuals to follow Christ more closely, to incarnate the Gospel into a particular way of life, to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith and to respond creatively to the needs of the church and the world.
2. To live the present with passion.
We strive to listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to be interiorly united to Christ – “For to me to live is Christ” [Phil 1:21]. The radical living of the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience empowers and witnesses to such a loving response. This loving response inspires in our hearts the desire to live in unity to be men and women of community.
3. To embrace the future with hope.
Amidst the many uncertainties, the call is to practice the virtue of hope, the fruit of our faith in the Lord of history, who continues to tell us: “Be not afraid … for I am with you” [Jer. 1:8].
In our diocese we have kept these three aims before us in celebration and pastoral planning.
However, rather than allow us to quietly conclude the Year of Consecrated Life on 2 February 2016, Pope Francis “jumped the gun” and declared a Holy Year — an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy — beginning on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and to conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King, 20 November 2016.
As a result we have an overlap of the “Years.” What’s behind all of this?
Pope Francis explains: “I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive. With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which for too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way. It was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning. It was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.
We recall the poignant words of St. John XXIII when, opening the Council, he indicated the path to follow: ‘Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity… The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.’ Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: ‘We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council… the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council… a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honoured, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed… Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channelled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need.’”
The documents of the Council are a compass guiding the ship of the Church in our time. The Second Vatican Council is the starting point for a new relationship between the Church and the modern age in order to show our world the requirements of the Gospel in all its greatness and purity proclaiming that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” By his words, actions and his entire person he reveals the mercy of God. Pope Francis describes the mercy of God as his loving concern for each of us. “He desires our well-being and he wants to see us happy full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.” [MV 9]
In keeping with the Year of Consecrated Life and the orientation of Pope’s Francis call for an Extraordinary Year of Mercy, I invited the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Merciful Jesus to establish a Calgary Novitiate at The Ranch in Balzac. Unfortunately, they were unable to do so. After consultation and prayer, I decided to establish a juridic person, the Public Association of the Christian Faithful in the Diocese of Calgary, the members will be known as Sisters of the Community of Divine Mercy. Sr. Katrina Le and Sr. Annunciata Cornelio will formally transition to this new community on November 15, 2015. They are both a contemplative and active community, and they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Their mission is to share in the work of redemption by glorifying and pleading for Divine Mercy for the whole world as witnessed by the life of St. Faustina Kowalska and St. John Paul II.
Our prayer is to look at the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope.
☩ Frederick Henry
Despite the great recent excitement about the resurgence and success of the Toronto Blue Jays, I want to focus on and apply something once said by Casey Stengel. Stengel was a longtime major league New York Yankee (and Mets) Hall of Fame baseball manager whose unique way with the English language became known as "Stengelese." He once said, "I've always heard that it couldn't be done, but sometimes it don't always work." That's typical Stengelese.
Casey held a position on the board of directors for a California bank. According to a story that originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Casey described his duties this way: "There ain't nuthin' to it. You go into the fancy meeting room and you just sit there and never open your yap. As long as you don't say nuthin' they don't know whether you're smart or dumb."
Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair are saying "nuthin" about many of the issues that Canadians are debating and trying to figure out how to address. Have they not heard that "man does not live on bread alone?" Are they smart or dumb?
The Supreme Court of Canada struck down S.14 and S.241b of the Criminal Code. It also created a new interpretation for Section 7—"right to life"—of the Charter, and used ambiguous language in its decision. I share the opinion of many that the Supreme Court decision was irresponsible and dangerous. The Supreme Court held the decision for 12 months. Therefore, the current law is in place until February 5, 2016. What's going to happen then? Hello, is anybody there?
The clock is ticking. Canada faces a decision of historic importance and potentially momentous change. Whether we support or oppose a lethal injection option, we need to talk and hear to what our leaders propose.
What are they prepared to do to increase access and provide quality palliative and hospice care?
What do they think about the protection of the conscience rights of health care workers?
The establishment of a panel, prior to the dissolution of parliament, is not enough. Why are our prospective leaders so mute? Is there some kind of agreement or conspiracy not to raise this issue?
I would hope that before we vote, our leaders will say "sumthin."
☩ Frederick Henry
In a recent homily, following the proclamation of the Gospel story of Jesus, Jairus and his little twelve year old daughter, and the woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years, I told the following story:
A friend was visiting the chaplain of a hospice. In the course of the conversation, the chaplain said that on the past weekend eight, of the hospice's 30 patients had died. The visitor asked about the effect of so many deaths on the staff. The chaplain explained that it was tough, and shared one particular story from the weekend.
On Saturday, a woman who had been at the hospice for a couple of months had a visit from her teenage son. It was a great visit, filled with laughs and fun and hugs. At noon the boy told his mother that he was going to have lunch with his friends but that he would be back later in the afternoon.
Shortly after the son left, the mother called the nurse on duty, a wonderful young woman who was the patient's favourite nurse. She said, "I think this is it. I may be dying," The nurse checked her vital signs and replied honestly, "it's possible that you are."
The patient then asked the nurse, "Will you hold me? I think if you hold me I can do this well." The young nurse did not hesitate, she reached across the bed and began to cradle the emaciated body of the woman in her arms, and held her into eternity.
The visitor then asked the chaplain, "What about the nurse? What did it do to her?" And the chaplain replied that the nurse had taken four days off to go to the mountains to think, and feel, and decide whether to come back to work again.
"Do you think she'll be back?" the chaplain was asked. "She'll be back. You learn in a place like this that caring hurts - but when you really care, you offer something special - and become special yourself."
We are all going to die. The number of people requiring end of life care is growing as the population grows and the baby boomers reach an age where terminal illness and age increase the number of patients entering the health care system. The health care system is geared to healing not dying. Often, patients and their families are unable to manage pain and symptoms at home and, often, unnecessary tests and treatments are prescribed to dying patients, leading to unnecessary and unwanted hospital stays and undue complications. We need more palliative care.
Palliative care involves a comprehensive plan for serving the needs of persons who are ill, who usually are living with a terminal illness or chronic diagnosis for which care can be provided but for which a cure is not anticipated.
The World Health Organization calls palliative care an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psycho social and spiritual.
Quality-of-life considerations are a relevant aspect of moral reflection when considering whether a patient may abandon a particular treatment. For example, a patient who is already suffering multiple complications, such as congestive heart failure, stroke, and persistent bed sores, will not be a good candidate for a risky course of surgery. Even if the patient survived the surgery, the prospects for a reasonable quality of life are so greatly diminished by the complicating factors that the surgery would be inadvisable. The potential benefits simply do not outweigh the burdens.
This is very different from saying that those who are seriously disabled do not have lives worth living. Talk about quality of life should never suggest that the life of any patient has no value. Life itself is an intrinsic good and so always possesses value. What is at issue is the condition of the patient, the state of disease, and the resources that are available to combat it, or if necessary, continue to live with it. If we distinguish between the good of life that always belongs to the patient, and the condition of life that the patient currently experiences, it is possible to make a quality-of-life assessment without denigrating the person.
The problem arises when the value of the person is called into question by those who would say that life becomes "worthless" when it is not of a sufficient quality, usually meaning that the patient has lost some or all higher cognitive abilities. We cannot associate loss of consciousness with the loss of value.
Another difficult area for judgment concerns patients whose lives can be saved after a traumatic event but who are not likely to return to a meaningful level of recovery. Here again it would seem unnecessarily rigorous to hold that measures must always be taken so long as there is any possibility of continued life.
If the means to preserve the life of the patient require minimal effort, then these means must be employed. But it is also reasonable to hold that if the patient cannot hope for a meaningful level of recovery, then the measure of an ordinary course of treatment diminishes considerably. Although a permanent loss of consciousness is not a reason to diminish the value of a person, the decision to restrict care to comfort measures can be an appropriate and justifiable response to this diminished quality of life. Cognitive powers are vital to our personal identity; their loss cannot help but affect an assessment of what treatment options should be pursued.
Returning to my opening story, I can?t help but wonder if the woman prayed for a happy death. Part of my upbringing was the prayer to St. Joseph:
O Glorious St. Joseph, behold I choose thee today for my special patron in life and at the hour of my death. Preserve and increase in me the spirit of prayer and fervor in the service of God. Remove far from me every kind of sin; obtain for me that my death may not come upon me unawares, but that I may have time to confess my sins sacramentally and to bewail them with a most perfect understanding and a most sincere and perfect contrition, in order that I may breathe forth my soul into the hands of Jesus and Mary. Amen.
☩ Frederick Henry