Facing the End of Life

(Homily for Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Recently I read a book called Rare Earth. The authors (both of them University of Washington professors) argue that it requires an incredible string of lucky circumstances for a planet to be habitable - and that, even though the universe is unimaginably enormous, it is still quite likely that Earth alone supports complex life. They also point out that the extinction of life on our planet is inevitable. It could happen at any time by some catastrophic event - and even if we dodge the kind of catastrophe that doomed the dinosaurs, the changes in the sun will eventually do us in.

Scientists often talk in terms of millions of years, but Jesus implies that the end of our world will come sooner than that. For sure our individual end is very near. In the face of these inevitable events, Jesus tells us to maintain our calm. God will not allow the destruction of even a single hair. Ultimately he moves every particle in the universe.

Today we face a particular challenge in maintaining our calm in the face of the death. The thought of death holds a new terror for people today. We have all seen the terminally ill hooked up to machines, with IV's in the arm and tubes going down the throat or nose. It is important to point out that our faith does not require these measures - that each person can and must choose what medical treatment they will use or not use. We are subjects, not objects of medical care.

Choosing the type of medical treatment one will receive does not mean that one can directly terminate his own life - or the life of another person. In this regard the Holy Father has clarified that food and water cannot be considered extraordinary means. Therefore, they should not be withheld from a dying person. Dr. Janet Smith has explained this papal teaching very clearly, but has also discussed the kind of dilemma it presents in modern medicine. One possible alternative, she has suggested, is that the food and water do not necessarily have to be delivered by tubes, but that it is possible to slowly spoon them to the dying person, even though it is not as efficient as tubes - and may consequently hasten death. I don't know all the medical and ethical ramifications, but I do know that I would hope, if someone I loved were dying, that I would have the care to attend to them in that way - and would also hope that someone would have the love to do that for me.

Death is inevitable, but we should strive to avoid the depersonalization which has crept into medicine, indeed into our entire society. If God can care for even the hairs of our heads, how much more does he care for our person? And how much should we care for our own person, our own soul - and the souls of those near us?


Spanish Version

From Archives (33rd Sunday, Year C):

2010: The Virtue of Hope
2007: Night and Day We Worked
2004: Facing the End of Life
2001: The Coming Catastrophe
1998: The Choice is Yours

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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