May 17 — Sixth Sunday of Easter
Revelation Through Love
In the gospel for this Sunday, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate sent by the Father and the Son to strengthen us in our pilgrimage of life. Our Lord says that the world does not know the Holy Spirit because knowledge of him does not come principally from science but by love. Loving God is the first and most important way of knowing him. If we seek to know God apart from love, we will never find our way to him.
Worldly knowledge certainly has its place in life. We need scientific knowledge that comes through experimentation. But God cannot be a science experiment and he cannot be known this way, which is why science is never enough. What makes up for the lack of scientific certainty when it comes to God is love. There are very few things in life that we can have certainty about. We must learn how to love and trust to continue through uncertain times. Jesus tells us that loving him, trusting him is the only way to the Father. By loving God and trusting him we open ourselves to the supernatural influence of the Holy Sprit and his gifts of wisdom, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord, knowledge, understanding and counsel.
May 10 — Fifth Sunday of Easter: Deacons
In this Sunday’s first reading we see in the Acts of the Apostles the creation of the diaconate. The first seven deacons we called and ordained by the Apostles to assist them in carrying out the work of the early Church. Specifically, the role of the deacons was to administer the charity of the Church. It continues to be a very important part of a deacons vocation to be a servant of charity especially to those most in need.
Deacons also assist the bishops and priests at the altar of sacrifice of the Mass but are not concelebrants. They do not posses the spiritual power to confect the Eucharist. Neither are deacons able to hear confessions or anoint the sick. When a deacon is serving at Mass it is he who proclaims the gospel of the Mass and may be invited by the celebrating priest to preach the homily.
There are two “types” of deacons. One is a transitional deacon and the other permanent. A transitional deacon is a man who has been ordained a deacon but is on his way to becoming a priest. These are usually seminarians. A permanent deacon is a man who has been ordained a deacon and will remain so. Permanent deacons are permitted to be married but they must be married prior to ordination. God bless our deacons.
May 3 — Fourth Sunday of Easter: Faith and Science
Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York lauded the work that has been done in his state to combat the Covid-19 virus. While doing so the Governor mentioned that it was not God or faith that brought the number of infections down, but “we” did. We people of faith, of course, acknowledge the very hard work being done by doctors and other first responders and by our civil leadership in addressing the current health crisis. But the Governor’s contemptuous statement about God and faith was an unnecessary and hubristic act for one who still claims to be Catholic. There is no opposition between faith and science. The two together make an incredible partnership in fact. How many hospitals are there in our country that are Catholic or Christian from another confession? How many doctors, nurses, policemen and firemen are there who are people of faith? The very reason that there can even be something called “science” is because we are able to discover natural laws in our world that are consistent and able to be studied and organized into a body of knowledge that can be shared by many generations. These consistent laws that do not change are the work of God who holds all things together at every moment. It is God who sustains every single thing in existence. Consistent natural laws point to a Mind that is consistent and benevolent. What do we people of faith have to say for all the hard work being done by our medical professionals and this time? Thank God for them! Amen.
April 26 — Third Sunday of Easter: Medical Care
Rosa* knew from experience the difficulties and expenses of watching a loved one die. She was totally devoted to her husband as he suffered and died from cancer eight years earlier. The idea of high medical bills, “tubes” and pain upset her, and even though she had not viewed her husband as a burden, she feared being one to her family.
Then, Rosa was hospitalized with a terrible urinary tract infection which made her dehydrated, weak and confused. Her daughter Teresa had been appointed as her health care agent. Teresa met with the medical staff, who helped her understand that the proposed treatments would not cause an undue burden to her mother. In fact, they would be temporary and appropriate care in Rosa’s situation. Teresa was grateful that the medications, nutrition and hydration that Rosa was given, all through “tubes,” cured her infection. Rosa is now as active as she has ever been and realizes that there are certain situations that can’t be anticipated when illness comes. It’s best not to refuse future care that may turn out to be very welcome.
Human life is good and to be protected. All medical decisions ought to reflect this core belief. Yet black-and-white answers to our questions about end-of-life issues are not always possible, and it can be very difficult to know how to make medical decisions. Each and every human person is distinct and unrepeatable, and each medical situation may be unique. In each set of circumstances we need to judge whether a given treatment will provide real benefit to the patient, without causing harm or other burdens that are out of proportion to the good being done.
We should each be prepared for those difficult situations when medical decisions must be made. We can safeguard our Catholic values by appointing a responsible and trustworthy person now to make decisions for us, in the event that we are incapable of doing so, either physically or mentally. It is important to be aware of the different legal or medical documents that are available or are often used to define a patient’s care. Depending on how they are crafted, some documents can be counter to Catholic morality and more harmful than we might realize.
Options for Catholics
The safest option is to designate a health care agent who not only understands our Catholic values but also shares them and can apply them to current situations and respond to questions as they arise. This person, usually a close family member or friend, acts as a proxy decision maker if the patient is not able to make his or her own decisions. In choosing an agent or proxy, a person can declare in writing that all treatment and care decisions made on their behalf must be consistent with and not contradict the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
Less flexible is a living will, which simply lists treatment options or care that the patient wishes to accept or reject. No matter how well-crafted, such a document can never predict all the possible problems that may occur at a later time or anticipate all future treatment options. A living will can be misinterpreted by medical providers who might not understand the patient’s wishes.
Some states and healthcare systems have been implementing a troubling document known as a “Physician Order for Life- Sustaining Treatment,” also called by a confusing array of acronyms (POLST, MOST, MOLST, or POST). The POLST document is filled out by a doctor or other medical professional to define treatments to be withheld or administered in a future situation. It has been criticized for placing more power in the hands of physicians than in patients’ hands. Indeed, in some cases the patient need not even sign the document. Once signed by the physician, it becomes a doctor’s order to other medical staff, and may override the patient’s own past advance directives and even the patient’s appointment of a health care agent. It may be applied to patients who are not in a terminal situation and who might only need antibiotics, nutrition and hydration, or other proportionate care. Yet a POLST document signed months or years before, stating that the patient should not receive antibiotics, could still be followed even if the patient, like Rosa, faced a simple urinary tract infection which is easily cleared up by antibiotics.
Of course there are times when failing health is not so easily remedied as in Rosa’s case. In some situations, procedures are appropriately refused. One should consider the benefits and burdens of a prospective procedure and conscientiously judge whether or not to accept it. However, because of the inherent dignity of the person and our moral obligation to protect each human life, our Church teaches that we should take reasonable steps to preserve life and should never withhold or administer treatment with the intention of ending the life of the person.
A Culture of Life
It is incredibly difficult to see someone we love suffering, and it is natural for us to want to alleviate their hardship. Additionally, we live in a culture that places value on productivity and prefers to get rid of what is deemed useless. Some people therefore support measures that, at first, might seem like a compassionate response, but in fact are not. Advocates for legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia promote the illusion that we can “help” those in need by killing them or assisting them in killing themselves. However, this response ignores the person’s true needs and does not respect their dignity. Each person deserves real solutions and support when facing physical, emotional and spiritual challenges. Cutting someone’s life short before their time deprives them of unknown opportunities for God’s grace to work in their life.
God’s infinite love for each one of us helps us to grasp our identity and our worth. The recognition of this dignity leads us to respect and protect each person’s life, including our own, and ought to be at the core of whatever medical decisions we make. Let us place our trust in the Lord and ask for his continuous guidance, for these decisions and for all those we face in our lives.
*The story of Rosa and Teresa (their names are changed for their privacy) is just one example of how important it is to reflect in advance on how we would want decisions made on our behalf if we cannot speak for ourselves. To find out what pastoral and educational resources may be available locally, contact your diocesan pro-life office.
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops