In one of his homilies (29/04/2013), Pope Francis commented on the text: "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all" [1 Jn 1:5]. He pointed out that "we all have darkness in our lives, moments where everything, even our consciousness, is in the dark." But this does not mean we walk in darkness:
Walking in darkness means being overly pleased with ourselves, believing that we do not need salvation. That is darkness! When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back. Therefore, John continues, because this way of thinking made him reflect: 'If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us'. Look to your sins, to our sins, we are all sinners, all of us… This is the starting point. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful, He is so just He forgives us our sins, cleansing us from all unrighteousness… The Lord who is so good, so faithful, so just that He forgives.
Pope Francis urges us to stand in front of the Lord "with our truth of sinners," "with confidence, even with joy, without masquerading… shame is a virtue: blessed shame." This is the virtue that Jesus asks of us: humility and meekness.
The process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has brought about a painful awakening for so many Catholics, and we see our culpability much more clearly than we did before. Some of the darkness has been lifted and our "blessed shame" has occasioned many apologies, before and during the TRC process, and has taught us much about humility and meekness.
Although many priests, brothers, sisters and lay people served in the residential school with generosity, faithfulness, care and respect for their students, this was not always the case. The TRC final report rightly observes that when Christians, through the residential schools, belittled Indigenous students as pagans or demonized, and punished and terrorized them into accepting Christian beliefs, this was in fundamental contradiction to the core beliefs of Christianity. In addition to the reprehensible crimes of sexual abuse, the failures to respect the identity and freedom of Indigenous children outlined in the TRC report are saddening and must never be repeated.
The TRC's Call to Action, recommendation #48 states: "We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada who have not already done so, to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation."
Four Catholic organizations — the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Religious Conference, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace — in responding to the questions raised on the legal concepts known as Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius (no one's land) have issued two documents on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the principal saint of Canada.
The Catholic response to Call to Action #48 issues an appeal to all Catholics to make eight commitments in order to walk together in breaking open a future of acceptance, respect, justice, and reconciliation. I will cite four of those commitments that have particular relevance to our Diocese:
- Continue to work with Catholic educational institutions and programs of formation in learning to tell the history of Canada in a way that is truthful, ensuring proper treatment of the history and experience of Indigenous Peoples, including the experience of oppression and marginalization which resulted from the Indian Act, the Residential School system, and frequent ignoring or undermining of signed treaties.
- Work with centres of pastoral and clergy formation to promote a culture of encounter by including the study of the history of Canadian missions, with both their weaknesses and strengths, which encompasses the history of the Indian Residential Schools. In doing this, it will be important to be attentive to Indigenous versions of Canadian history, and for these centres to welcome and engage Indigenous teachers in the education of clergy and pastoral workers, assuring that each student has the opportunity to encounter Indigenous cultures as part of their formation.
- Encourage initiatives that would establish and strengthen a restorative justice model within the criminal justice system. Incarceration rates among Indigenous people are many times higher than among the general population, and prisons are not sufficiently places of reconciliation and rehabilitation. Such initiatives include the renewal of the criminal justice system through sentencing and healing circles and other traditional Indigenous ways of dealing with offenders where appropriate and desired by Indigenous Peoples.
- Support the current national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and work with others towards a healthier society where just relations flourish in families and communities, and where those most vulnerable are protected and valued.
The second document responds to the errors and falsehood perpetrated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called Age of Discovery. Both documents and appendixes can be found on the CCCB website, http://www.cccb.ca/site/index.php?lang=eng.
☩ Frederick Henry
As Catholic Christians we speak in terms that are informed by reason, ethical dialogue, religious conviction, and profound respect for the dignity of the human person. Our awareness is shaped by thousands of years of reflection, prayer, and by our actions as Christians following Jesus. He showed most fully what it means to love, to serve, and to be present to others. His response to the suffering of others was to suffer with them, not to kill them. He accepted suffering in his life as the pathway to giving, to generosity, and to mercy. In Jesus’ life and through his actions, we are offered a supreme example of humanity.
The values of Jesus of Nazareth are the basis for our views on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
In a spirit of collaboration in building a society that is more compassionate, more respectful of all human life, more just, and more generous, we have a number of issues to ponder, pray about, and discuss, for example:
- Euthanasia means killing someone - such as by a lethal injection to end his or her suffering. Physician-assisted suicide means a doctor provides the means for someone to kill oneself (proscribing a lethal dose of medication). The distinction lies in who initiates the process – the doctor or the patient.
- One of the most important principles of palliative care is to manage the pain, or illness, of patients while neither hastening death, nor prolonging the dying process. With proper palliative care, almost all requests for euthanasia would disappear.
- Euphemisms such as "medical aid in dying" or "mercy killing" or "dying with dignity" or "terminating the suffering" or "physician-assisted death" do not change the fact that allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia makes it legal to kill someone (euthanasia) or to aid in their suicide (assisted suicide).
- Physicians and other health care staff have a basic right to conscientiously object to hastening a patient’s death through assisted suicide or euthanasia and should never be forced to do so.
- Every person, at the end of life, would benefit from good palliative care, but in Alberta there are only a handful of qualified palliative care physicians and far too few palliative care and hospice beds.
- There is a huge difference between palliative sedation and euthanasia. With palliative sedation, the intent is to reduce consciousness to ease suffering. The intent of euthanasia, however, is to kill the person.
- A government advisory panel in December of 2015 and a joint committee in February 2016 recommended the widest possible access to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. One of the panel’s recommendation was to eventually allow terminally ill children ("mature minors") the right to ask their doctor to hasten their death.
- Doctors who are against euthanasia and who care for terminally ill children argue that virtually all pain and other symptoms can be managed to minimize suffering. If pain is not being managed well, a new doctor should be consulted. Don’t kill the patient.
- In jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized, the initial restrictions have eroded. Belgium, for example, now allows euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age, with the consent of parents and doctors.
- No human being dies in a social vacuum. Consider how other people will be impacted by assisted suicide and euthanasia. Consider the impact on the person who is responsible for ending someone’s life.
- Many doctors and other health professionals who want nothing to do with killing their patients may feel forced to leave the profession. Young adults considering a medical profession may choose another path if they are expected to become killers instead of healers.
- The legislation of assisted suicide could lead to the natural process of dying being recast as a process to be avoided. This could lead to pressuring patients or their families to choose a hastened death as a cost-saving measure.
- The normalization of suicide through legislation of physician-assisted suicide could significantly impact suicide prevention programs. What happens if suicide, instead of being a tragedy to avoid, becomes an acceptable option or a "responsible" choice?
- All persons deserve protection against discrimination, but especially those who are vulnerable and may not have a voice, including those living with disabilities, mental illness, or dementia. Allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia entrenches the idea that some lives are not worth living.
Let us pray:
Mary, woman of listening, open our ears; grant us to know how to listen to the word of your son Jesus among the thousands of words of this world; grant that we may listen to the reality in which we live, to every person we encounter, especially those who are poor, in need, in hardship.
Mary, woman of decision, illuminate our mind and our heart, so that we may obey, unhesitating, the word of your son Jesus; give us the courage to decide, not to let ourselves be dragged along, letting others direct our life.
Mary, woman of action, obtain that our hands and feet move "with haste" toward others, to bring them the charity and love of your son - Jesus, to bring the light of the Gospel to the world, as you did. Amen.
~Pope Francis, 2013
☩ Frederick Henry
Good Friday 2016 Jubilee of Mercy Message
Headline in the Windsor Star - September 27, 2013 - "Removal of Cross Triggers Sadness"
A large steel cross which loomed high above the Ouellette Avenue entrance of Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital since the building's 1962 grand opening came down Friday, while a group of about 50 protesters expressed their sadness by reciting prayers, psalms and the rosary… The religious artifacts were removed because starting Tuesday the downtown medical site will become Windsor Regional Hospital's Ouellette Campus and will no longer be connected to its roots of the past 125 years with the Catholic religious community.
Many today cannot bear to look at the cross and the crucified one. They regard displays of the cross in public to be no longer appropriate and they want to remove them.
But such attitudes of advanced secularization in a pluralistic society must be questioned -it is not only a denial of the importance of history but it raises a series of questions:
Has suffering no longer a place in a world of wellness?
Do we push suffering away and suppress it?
What would our world be missing, especially what would the many who suffer be missing if this sign of love and mercy were no longer permitted to be publicly visible?
Should we no longer be reminded that: "By his wounds we are healed?"
To believe in the crucified son is to believe that love is present in the world that it is more powerful than hate and violence, more powerful than all the evil in which human beings are entangled.
"Believing in this love means believing in mercy"
Calvary sets in consoling relief the experience of all who suffer, whether the nightmare of physical pain or the emotional trauma of significant loss or the prospect of imminent death.
The human Jesus, struggling to come to terms with the reality of his predicament, echoes every human experience of suffering and of loss and reflects the complexity and confusion of emotions that attend all those caught in the slipstream of pain and loss and death.
Today, in homes and in hospitals all over Canada, those who experience pain and desolation in whatever form, all those who like Mary stand at the foot of the cross, will sense something of the complexity of emotions that were present on Calvary: the same confusion, the same disillusionment, the same desolation, the same anger, the same reproach.
How many indeed this Friday will, in whatever shape or form, echo the great lamentation of Jesus as he died on the cross: My God, what have you done to me, answer me?
All who are suffering in whatever form this Good Friday, all who struggle to make sense of what, by any human estimate, seems to be senseless will find an echo of their pain in the sufferings of Jesus because the contradiction of the cross is that what it represents, the sufferings of Christ, continues to save and to heal and to comfort.
Contemplating Jesus on the cross brings comfort and resilience and strength to those who need it. And it reminds us that it is through his suffering that everyone and everything is redeemed, that the power and the presence and promise of God are now accessible to us in our suffering and in our need.
In the pierced heart of his son, God shows us that he went to extremes in order to bear, through his son's voluntary suffering unto death, the immeasurable suffering of the world, our coldheartedness, and our lack of love, and sought to redeem them.
By means of the water and blood streaming from Jesus' pierced heart, we are washed clean in Baptism of all the dirt and muck that has accumulated in us and in the world; and in the Eucharist, we may always quench our thirst for more than the banalities that surround us and, in a figurative sense, satisfy our thirst for more than the "soft drinks" that are offered to us there.
Thus with Ignatius of Loyola's prayer Anima Christi (the Soul of Christ) we can say:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
Good Jesus, hear me
Within the wounds, shelter me
from turning away, keep me
From the evil one, protect me
At the hour of my death, call me
Into your presence lead me
to praise you with all your saints
Forever and ever
Kiss the cross on this Good Friday, not for God's sake but for your own.
☩ Frederick Henry