Program #0404 for Friday, October 26, 2012: Cardinal Seán’s homily on Assisted Suicide

October 26, 2012

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Cardinal Seán's homily on Assisted Suicide

Cardinal Seán’s homily on Assisted Suicide

Summary of today’s show: This Sunday, Cardinal Seán is taking the unusual step of asking every parish in the Archdiocese of Boston to play a video or audio of a special homily he’s written to talk about the attempt to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the November 6 ballot. Scot Landry, Fr. Mark O’Connell, Fr. Chip Hines and the listeners of The Good Catholic Life get an exclusive advance look at the homily and our panel discusses the Cardinal’s appeal to the moral law, the good of society, love of the most vulnerable, and our Christian duty to be a family of faith for those in need.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry, Fr. Mark O’Connell and Fr. Chip Hines

Links from today’s show:

Cardinal Seán’s Homily for October 28, 2012: “Our task is to help prevent suicide” (English) from Archdiocese of Boston on Vimeo.

Today’s topics: Cardinal Seán’s homily on Assisted Suicide

1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed everyone to the show and welcomed Fr. Mark O’Connell and Fr. Chip Hines back to the show. Fr. Chip is back for the first time since becoming pastor of St. Joseph parish in Medford. Fr. Mark said he had a pretty normal week. Scot said the Pastoral Center is busy getting ready for the Social Justice Convocation tomorrow. He said the Daughters of St. Paul are setting up their bookstall in the lobby of the Pastoral Center right now.

Scot said we’re starting this week with this Sunday’s Gospel and then hear Cardinal Seán’s homily that will be heard in all the parishes of the archdiocese this weekend.

  • Gospel for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:46-52)

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

Scot said Cardinal Seán pronounces Bartimaeus differently, probably the way it’s pronounced in one of the other languages he speaks. They now played the beginning of Cardinal Seán’s homily.

People often find beggars annoying. Some will cross the street to avoid them. A man who was raised during the depression told of how the hobos, the knights of the road, would constantly arrive at their kitchen door asking for a handout. His mom would prepare sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a cup of coffee. They wondered why their back door seemed to attract more beggars than the rest of the neighborhood. One day they discovered that there was a mark on the curb in front of their house that indicated that this family would give something. The little boy asked his mother if he should erase the markings. His mom told him to leave them alone. It was a lesson that the boy never forgot.

Today’s Gospel is about a Beggar named, Bartimaeus, which means Tim’s son. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar who has placed himself on the side of the road where all the pilgrims will pass on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. Everyone over 12 years of age who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem was expected to go to Jerusalem for the feast.

I cannot hear this Gospel without remembering a young man from South America by the name of Segundo who arrived at National Airport in Washington and was referred to the Travelers’ Aid Desk. Segundo did not speak English. He knew no one in Washington, he had no money and he was blind. Someone who worked for an airline had gotten him an airplane ticket and a visitor’s visa. Travelers’ Aid sent him to me at the Centro Católico Hispano. As politely as I could, I asked “What possessed you to come to Washington without knowing anyone, without a plan, with nothing?” He said: “Padre in my country there are no seeing eye dogs, no schools for the blind, and not much medical attention. Blind people in my town spend their whole life sitting on the steps of the Church begging from the people going to Mass.”” I said: “Segundo, welcome to Washington. Welcome to the Spanish Catholic Center.”

In today’s Gospel, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, is there hoping to get a handout from the Church goers. The Gospels often describe for us two categories of people; the crowd and the community. The crowd is a collection of individuals who are quite content to put their own personal interest first, and to mind their own business. This group is often portrayed as pushing people away from the Lord, like the crowd in today’s Gospel who keep telling the beggar to shut up. The community are those who share Jesus’ mission and are calling people to draw near, to be closer to the Lord, to be a part of their family of faith. The community are the ones in the Gospel who say: “Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.” We want to form not a crowd, but a community; a family of faith, a community that cares for the blind beggar, the helpless child, the sick and the dying.

Scot said Cardinal Seán will tie in the Church’s care of the needy with the need to care for the dying. Of the story of Segundo, Scot said it reflects our welcoming of the immigrant. Fr. Chip said Cardinal Seán often speaks about Centro Catolico and you get the sense that was some of the best times of his priesthood. Scot said from the time of Cardinal Seán’s ordination to the priesthood until becoming a bishop in the Virgin Islands, nearly every single Mass he celebrated was in a language other than English. The Centro Catolico was formed to help care for the influx of immigrants to the United States in that area.

Fr. Mark said the Centro is a safe haven. He said as a priest it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the people that need help. He told a story of a man approaching him after Mass one day and how he pre-judged someone as wanting to ask for money when all they wanted was to tell him what a good homily he had given. Even priests can become wearied of the work.

Scot noted that the beggars and hobos and Segundo and Bartimaeus were able to advocate for themselves. But Cardinal Seán will speak to those who are unable to speak for themselves, like the unborn or the terminally ill. The family of faith, the People of God, the Church needs to be their voice. He distinguishes between two categories of people in society and in the Church. Sometimes we’re the crowd and sometimes we’re the community of faith. We could sit back and be judgmental of many things and of people. Other times we can be a family of faith caring for the blind, the helpless child, the sick, and the dying. Over the next 11 days we need to ensure we’re going to be a family of faith. Fr. Chip said the people expect priests to be available and it’s part of who they are. There are times he’s in the middle of something, but he makes the time for the person.

St. Francis loved beggars and became a beggar himself and wanted us his friars to be beggars because being a beggar reveals a lot about our human condition, our dependence upon God, and our interdependence among ourselves. At periods of our life, we are completely dependent on others for our basic needs; at the beginning and at the end of life. Somewhere in between, we get to be caregivers.

The Elizabethan poet, John Donne, wrote that no man is an island, that we are diminished by each death because we are part of humanity. The poet bids us: “Inquire not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

We cannot ignore the impending legalization of Physician-Assisted-Suicide as if it did not affect us. It would bring spiritual death, a cheapening of human life, and a corrupting of the medical profession. PhysicianAssisted-Suicide means making the pharmacists, doctors, nurses, family members, friends and society itself, accomplices in a suicide. Our task is to help prevent suicide and provide the very best palliative and hospice care for our terminally ill loved ones. You will hear many emotional arguments in favor of Assisted-Suicide. We all get emotional when we talk about the death of those whom we love the most. Laws must not be born out of emotions.

Laws need to reflect the moral law, the common good and the protection of the most vulnerable.

Scot said what jumps out to him that in periods of our life we are completely dependent on others, but in the middle of our lives we often get to become caregivers. Being dependent is not a bad thing. When your children are dependent on you as a parent because it gives an opportunity to share love. At the end of life, even if in a diminished physical capacity, you can experience that love. Fr. Mark said before the show he was with his father, just holding his hand for 20 minutes and reflected on the doctors and nurses caring for him so well. That’s how our seniors should be treated; with love and a place to call home and freed from pain.

On the fact that we can’t ignore assisted suicide as if it doesn’t affect us, the Cardinal is saying it impacts us because it affects others and affects society. Fr. Mark said the Church has a duty to speak up against immorality because we are part of society. The cardinal then outlines how it would affect society. Fr. Chip said at funeral Masses, the last caregivers are there. How would they deal with contributing to the death of the person? How would we be able to comfort them? The people who care for others at the end of life need to be cared for too. Scot said suicide by those we know affects us deeply even if we don’t think it will. This law would allow someone to kill themselves without even notifying their spouse or children. How would that leave them after death? Fr. Chip said he celebrated his own uncle’s funeral who took his own life and he remembers seeing his father and his siblings and his cousins and wondering how it will affect them all.

Fr. Mark pointed out that it’s not going too far from the topic to talk about all suicide, not just assisted suicide. In Oregon, the overall suicide rate has gone way up and it’s because of the cheapening of human life. Scot said assisted suicide sends the message that suicide is sometimes a solution to our problems. Fr. Mark said there is a copycat effect.

Scot said we’re hearing the Question 2 advocates are emotional arguments. Cardinal Seán is saying that laws must not be born out of emotions. Your heart goes out to some of the key spokesmen for Yes on 2, because they obviously went through difficulty with a loved one who wanted to take their life. But the emotion in those individual cases should not make laws for everyone. Laws should reflect the moral law and common good for the most vulnerable. Fr. Chip said the response to suffering is not death, it’s love. Jaymie Stuart Wolfe wrote that in her column in the Pilot this week. Our response should be love to those who are elderly, dying, going through a hard time.

There are many citizens of this State who do not share our faith and for whom the clear Biblical teaching is not a convincing argument. To them, we make an appeal to reason: that this is bad legislation because it puts vulnerable people at risk and it promotes suicide.

Some of the perilous flaws of this legislation that need careful reflection even by those persons who favor physician assisted suicide are:

  • Doctors agree that terminal diagnoses of 6 months or less are often wrong. Many people with a terminal diagnosis live for years.
  • Patients requesting suicide do not need to be examined by a psychiatrist before receiving a lethal prescription, despite that many of them are suffering from the depression. This prescription is for about 100 capsules of Seconal. Of course, people can’t ingest 100 capsules all at once. So they pour the contents into juice or applesauce to consume it. Poisoning is never a dignified way to die, especially with no doctor present.
  • There is no requirement that the patient notify family members. Compassionate care at the end of life should involve the loving support of family members.
  • We should be supporting improved hospice and palliative care statewide, not legalized suicide.

It is also important that some people in Massachusetts oppose Question 2 because they believe that a ballot initiative process is not a good way to deal with a complex, ethical issue involving life and death. The legislature exists to be able to review proposals, hold public hearings and build consensus on complicated issues.

Scot said that the Cardinal is saying we are a people of life. To defeat assisted suicide, we need people who may not be pro-life to be with us. We as mass-attending Catholics need to have the facts and arguments that would be persuasive to those who won’t hear this homily. It’s bad legislation because it puts vulnerable people at risk without safeguards. Scot said every newspaper in Massachusetts that’s taken up Question 2 in its editorials has said Vote No. One of the major arguments has been that such an important law should be taken up by the Legislature. If there’s going to be a real discussion, make it a real discussion.

Fr. Chip said it’s not really physician-assisted suicide. You fill a prescription and go home alone. This law is so flawed with so many problems that even appealing to just logic and sense and the process will work. Scot points out that most doctors in Oregon want nothing to do with this and so doctors affiliated with the pro-suicide group Compassion in Dying write the prescriptions and they barely know the patients. In Massachusetts, the people go to the neighborhood pharmacy and get a lethal dose in between all the flu medication and asthma inhalers. Fr. Chip asks what happens if they change their mind halfway through. Fr. Mark points out that the law doesn’t prohibit someone with a financial or other interest in spooning the poison into the patients. He said in many cases people get the prescription to keep around in case they want it and so the pills are laying around with the possibility of someone else getting them. Scot pointed out that no one is saying most people would do this, but if it happens once, it’s too many times.

We are asking our Catholic parishioners to help in this very challenging time. We feel confident that if the voters have a chance to hear about the flaws in this proposed legislation, they will vote No on Question 2. It all hinges on our ability to get the message out. Please take copies of the hand out cards, and distribute them to your family, friends and neighbors at the events you attend over the next week. You might ask people if they have heard about Question 2, and tell them you would like to read the card with some of the reasons that medical organizations, disability groups, and other community leaders are voting no. There are also sample texts on SuicideIsAlwaysATragedy.org that you can use to e-mail folks, post on Facebook, Twitter or Google-Plus. I would not be asking this of you if it were not so critical. I would hope that each of us would try to reach at least 10 people with this message.

This is not partisan politics, it is simply exercising our right to contribute to the exchange of ideas that the Constitution of the United States guarantees. The Churches perform an important service by weighing in on moral and ethical issues. Many people objected to Archbishop Romero advocating for the poor and objected to Reverend Martin Luther King’s work on behalf of social justice. They both gave their lives to make their countries better places where human dignity was respected.

We are all called to work for a more just society where the weak and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected. Our faith demands that we not be guilty bystanders. That’s why I am asking you to join me and partner with so many medical and disability groups to stop assisted suicide by Voting No on Question 2 on Election Day.

Scot added that if you’re on Twitter follow @CardinalSean and retweet what he posts there. He said the Cardinal is specifically asking everyone who hears this to reach out to one person per day until the election that Question 2 would be a tragedy if passed. You don’t have to persuade or convince them. Just let them know, send them a link, and ask them to consider this.

Fr. Mark said we need the Catholic vote, but we need more as well. Our neighbors need to hear about this. We can pass out the literature and even talk to those leaning in that direction. Fr. Chip said people can follow him on Twitter too @chines.

The beggar Bartimaeus was ignored by the maddening crowd. They tried to silence him, but Bartimaeus refused to be intimidated. It took courage to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” It was interpreted as a political statement by some, no doubt. It was rather a cry to escape from the world of darkness. Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cry and called him over and asked what he wanted. Bartimaeus said: “Lord that I might see.” Jesus who spent his ministry trying to heal blindnesses of minds and hearts says to the beggar: “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” The Gospel said, he immediately received his sight and followed Jesus on the way. What a beautiful ending to this Gospel. Bartimaeus did not disappear when he received what he asked for. With faith and gratitude he became Jesus’ disciple and followed the Lord to Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified ten days later – and three days after that, rose from the dead.

Let us beg the Lord to cure all our societal blindnesses and help us to follow Jesus with the faith and gratitude of Bartimaeus. Following Jesus is never easy, but it always leads to deeper love and joy. Just ask the beggar.

Fr. Chip said he sometimes wonder if assisted suicide is more for the people around the sick person to relieve their burden. Scot said with the exception of the main signatories of the ballot question, he’s yet to see any doctor appear on TV or in print in favor of it. Doctors he talks to say that a massive majority of doctors are strongly opposed to this. Fr. Mark pointed out that there are great advances in palliative care in our day and we have compassionate ways to treat people with love.

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  1. Compassion means to “suffer with” | St. Angela's/St. Matthew's Parish Family - October 28, 2012

    […] The Good Catholic Life, Program #0404 for Friday, October 26, 2012: Cardinal Seán’s homily on Assisted Suicide […]