“These folk tales are full of simplicity and musical occurrences for they are literature of a class for whom every incident in the old rut of birth, love, pain and death has cropped up unchanged for centuries, who steep everything in the heart; to whom everything is a symbol….They have few events. They can turn over the incidents of a long life as they sit by the fire. With us, nothing has time to gather meaning.”
-Introduction to “Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland,” edited by W.B. Yeats
More on this coming…maybe sometime soon. For now. I enjoy the quotation, especially “the old rut of birth, love, pain and death.” It reminds me that things are not new; they are just new to me.
And I appreciate the value of turning incidents over slowly. Time has a value all its own.
“With these examples of non-terminal patients choosing death, and–startlingly–of children having death chosen for them, the protections around human life appear near to non-existent. Admittedly, the suffering involved is severe enough to give us pause, but as the slope of preferring death to life becomes steeper, I worry that the philosophical grounds undergirding these cases create more of cliff than a slope, a cliff that actually has no basis for affirming the value of life at all.”
In many countries today, terminal conditions are a requirement of the past in order to warrant euthanasia. In the Netherlands, “The suffering need not be related to a terminal illness and is not limited to physical suffering such as pain. It can include, for example, the prospect of loss of personal dignity or increasing personal deterioration, or the fear of suffocation.”
With these subjective guidelines, there are no longer functional, legal protections on any state of life in many states and nations. A person with severe Depression, for example, suffers great emotional anguish that he or she feels can only be resolved by death. There is nothing in principle to formally disqualify such a person from euthanasia. This actually happened to a woman only identified as Eva in Alexander Decommere’s documentaryEnd Credits.
If we cannot in principle rule out death for the physically sound, on what grounds do we have to argue for that any life is worth living?
I think we need to think very hard about what it is that makes life worth living even in the face of pain. Is a good human life really a life devoid of suffering? If not, what role does suffering play in human development?
“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”
“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts” Continue reading →
This reflection appeared originally on uCatholic.com; I was honored to be asked to participate in the Lenten reflection series. This short piece draws on the readings of March 9 and the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe to explain how God is with us even in the “bare heights” or difficult times of life.
In the reading from Isaiah we hear of the incredible promises the Lord makes to the people of Israel, that “on every bare height shall their pastures be,” and His reassurance of His love, though they feel “forsaken.”
Like the people of Israel, so many times we feel forsaken in life, faced with situations beyond our control. I think of St. Maximilian Kolbe who traded himself for the freedom of a fellow Auschwitz prisoner who had a family. Left to starve with other prisoners, Kolbe did not despair, but ministered to them until the end. Though his worldly situation was objectively terrible, he praised God, sowed hope and inspired others to faith and joy. He did this by giving himself over to the will of God for him in that specific circumstance of his life, just as Jesus did during His ministry and ultimately, His crucifixion.
The Gospel tells us about Jesus, and the Son’s relationship to the Father, and how the Father has appointed the Son to carry out His work. Yet, Christ says “I cannot do anything on my own… because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.”
When we can’t control things, it is easy to feel alone or like a failure. But even Jesus did not perform acts from His own will; He turned His will over to God, His Father. That is what we are called to do. Paradoxically, in releasing this control, we do not find that we are eviscerated or dispersed, but that we are free and able to become our true and best selves.
When we can let go of frustration at our inabilities, we can accept God’s loving providence, like St. Maximilian Kolbe did. Even on that bare height of a Nazi work camp, he found a pasture of fellowship and love.
One of the most troubling objections made to the Faith is regarding the instances in the Old Testament when God commands the killing of human beings who have committed no obvious wrong. There is the commandment that Abraham kill his son Isaac, though God ultimately rescues the young man (Gen. 22). There are also the commands to slaughter entire groups. In 1 Samuel, God commands King Saul as follows:
‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3).
Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult aspects of the Faith because it stems from a very natural proclivity towards valuing human life. And it bears mentioning that this is a secondary or even tertiary consideration after the question of the existence of God in general and the meaning of Scripture have been broached. To understand the Christian answer, both prior aspects are required. We believe in a loving God who is the source of all goodness and truth, even of all life and existence itself. The Catechism, drawing on the Old Testament and New, says:
“God, ‘HE WHO IS’, revealed himself to Israel as the one ‘abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. These two terms express summarily the riches of the divine name. In all his works God displays, not only his kindness, goodness, grace and steadfast love, but also his trustworthiness, constancy, faithfulness and truth. ‘I give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.’ He is the Truth, for ‘God is light and in him there is no darkness’; ‘God is love’, as the apostle John teaches (1 John 1:5, 4:8).” (CCC 214)
Theologically, the answer to the question about the supposed murders lies in the application of natural law, “If murder is always wrong, how can God command it?” Natural law is man’s guide to goodness through reason, which St. Thomas Aquinas says is “promulgated by the very fact that God instilled it into man’s mind” (ST I-II, 90, 4). By it, we know that killing innocents is wrong; this is also the fifth of the ten commandments.
However, the Natural Law has both primary and secondary precepts, the latter of which God can rescind according to specific circumstances, the former of which He cannot as it would create a contradiction in His unity (Summa I-II, 94, 5). As God is the source of the bindingness of laws, it belongs to Him to make these laws valid. In the case of killing innocents, killing is forbidden because God both creates and destroys all human life; it does not belong to man to take this upon himself. Because God is the true author of life, He can delegate that authority, to beyond that.
I recently did two posts for the Truth and Charity Forum on John Paul II’s 1995 Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life. It was an important document that fully explains the Church’s life ethic and applies it to modern times.
“Consider that forbidding murder does not make American citizens less free; on the contrary, it makes citizens free to thrive in a peaceful environment. Likewise, a prohibition on abortion does not abridge anyone’s rights or make anyone less free. On the contrary, it recognizes with love the humanity of the growing child and demands help for a struggling mother from the wider human community. Abortion, in contrast, leaves a woman alone and hurting when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.”
More at: http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/evangelium-vitae-false-freedom-at-the-root-of-abortion/
“Unfortunately, the sentence of lethal injection gives Tsarnaev drastically less time to reach the much needed sorrow for his crimes that the jury and defense hoped to find. As tragic as the deaths and injuries from the bombing two years ago were, Tsarnaev’s death will not heal any of those wounded or bring back any of those lost. John Paul II calls for the death penalty to be used only in a defensive framework, society defending itself, and therefore to avoid it where possible. The Boston bombing was obviously an emotional blow to the nation; it was home-grown terrorism. Our fears and passions are rightly inflamed, but it would be even more tragic if we fall down to the level of the perpetrators. With the weighty and trying crimes of the bombing on our hearts, we must still cling to truth that makes terrorism wrong in the first place: the value of life.”