Assisted Suicide: A Choice Without Compassion

January 23rd, 2017
Mother Marianne Cope, Kalaupapa, 1899

Mother Marianne Cope, Kalaupapa, 1899

As we pray and walk together in defense of vulnerable unborn life later this week, we recognize that life at the other end of the spectrum is increasingly threatened as certain extremist groups mount aggressive campaigns to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Soon, the Maryland General Assembly is expected to consider a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help certain people kill themselves.  Last year, the D.C. government enacted such a measure, under a misleading and euphemistic title, which is now subject to congressional review. The media often erroneously describe the issue as “aid-in-dying” or the “right to die,” but do not be misled – such laws are not about allowing people to die, but actively ending life, that is, a license to kill.

What we are witnessing here is an effort to convince people to consider the sick and dying to be a burden to their families and society, and to regard their lives as not worth living.  This is of course antagonistic to the God-given dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. The choice offered by assisted suicide is a false compassion lacking true care and concern for the dying, as Pope Francis has noted. Instead of regarding suffering people as disposable and eliminating them, we should accompany them with love and support them with access to better palliative care.

A beautiful example of this truly merciful response to illness and suffering was that offered by Saint Marianne Cope, whose feast day we celebrate today.  Following Saint Father Damien, she embraced and provided loving care and hope to the wretched patients who had previously been given only despair by society when they were banished to the leper colony on Molokai.

A broad coalition of disability rights groups, medical associations and faith communities, Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, notes that allowing doctors to legally facilitate a patient’s death would threaten the trusted relationship between physicians and patients.  Also, experience in places where assisted suicide is already legal also shows that it would likely not be limited to the terminally ill, but would also endanger the elderly, disabled persons, and people facing depression and non-terminal serious illnesses.  Recently, medically-assisted deaths have been given in the Netherlands to a man who struggled with alcoholism, women with depression and post-traumatic stress, and also to children too young to fully comprehend.  It has also been argued that mentally ill people should also have the “right” to assisted suicide.

The need to protect human life in many respects has never been greater.  Instead of a prescription to kill the sick, we should accompany them in their suffering and offer them love and hope so they know that they are not alone and never a burden. That is the true compassionate choice and a death with dignity.

Inauguration Day Prayer

January 20th, 2017

In 1791, in the early days of our nation under the Constitution, Bishop John Carroll wrote a Prayer for Government then under the administration of our first president, George Washington. On this day more than two centuries later which sees the inauguration of a new president, I would like to adopt this prayer and raise with you our voices to God for his blessings on this nation and his holy Church:

We pray Thee O Almighty and Eternal God, Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; the bishops of this nation and all other prelates and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude President Donald Trump of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty. 

We pray for Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland, and Muriel Bowser, Mayor of the District of Columbia, for the members of the Maryland General Assembly, the D.C. Council, and the legislatures throughout the nation, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. 

We recommend likewise to Thy unbounded mercy all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Christian Unity Shows the Way for Social Unity

January 18th, 2017
(CNS photo/courtesy of Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute)

(CNS photo/courtesy of Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute)

The Church is one as Christ’s Body is one even though there are many parts to that body, even though it is made of many different individuals from different backgrounds and cultures and who might experience life differently. If there are fractures in that one body, if there are divisions among people who claim Christ as Lord – and there are and historically have been – it is not by Jesus’ will.

This year marks 500 years since the Protestant Reformation was triggered, resulting in a split in the garment of Church unity that continues to the present. Today, the ecumenical movement seeks to mend that rift and unify Christian believers, to restore what Christ intended for his Church from the beginning. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed from January 18th to the 25th, is part of that effort and this year’s theme, “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20) is derived from Saint Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth, which itself had struggled with factionalism and divisions.

God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation,” wrote Saint Paul (2 Corinthians 5:18). He tells us we are called to join in Jesus’ prayer, in words and in deeds, that his disciples “may all be one.”

Furthermore, this one Church is meant to be “a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth” (Lumen Gentium, 9; see also Evangelii Gaudium, 244-5). Thus, as I discuss in greater detail in a recent article, “Christian Unity in an Age of Social Division,” our work toward Christian unity, as well as our existing unity within a diversity of peoples in the Church, can show the way to overcoming the persistent polarization and divisiveness we see in society, the culture and politics today.

Honoring Dr. King’s Legacy

January 16th, 2017

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose holiday our nation celebrates today, appears to have made quite an impression on Pope Francis judging by the many times he has praised the great civil rights leader. For example, in his exposition on love in chapter four of Amoris Laetitia, the Holy Father noted how Dr. King “met every kind of trial and tribulation with fraternal love” (118), and more recently in his Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, he cited Dr. King’s philosophy and practice of nonviolence as examples for us today.

When Pope Francis addressed Congress, he recalled Dr. King’s legacy as a champion of civil rights and liberty for all, and a man of prayer and action who worked tirelessly for the poor and for peace. He said Dr. King’s dream continues to inspire America, which for many is still “a land of ‘dreams.’ Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.”

At a time when violence, poverty, incarceration and limited educational opportunities still disproportionately affect African-American and other minority communities, and the sin of racism still exists, we greatly benefit by remembering the legacy of Dr. King. We must never forget that he was first a man of faith. Always faithful to the Lord and his Gospel, he quietly, forcefully, yet without violence, simply reminded this nation that we are all brothers and sisters because we are all children of the same God.

“Those who believe are never alone,” Pope Francis has noted (Lumen Fidei, 39), and Dr. King was not alone in his powerful witness. He was joined by so many African-American Christians who in the face of segregation and racism always kept the faith in Jesus and his Gospel, as I expressed in my December visit to Saint Benedict the Moor Parish. In the struggle for civil rights, parishioners there and others realized that they were a part of something much bigger and greater than any temporary and human-imposed injustice. They recognized that they were a part of God’s people – God’s family – and it was through the witness of unity in that family, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, that the nation would be transformed.

Celebrating the legacy of Dr. King offers a reminder that the Spirit can likewise empower us to be countercultural and prophetic witnesses to our society. Let us always thank God for him and the crusade he led, and let us remember our call to continue that vision and realize that dream, to be the conscience of our culture, as one people of faith committed to justice and peace.

Creating a Culture of Encounter

January 12th, 2017
A girl holds her sister near a makeshift shelter at a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Sana'a, Yemen. (CNS photo/Yahya Arhab EPA)

A girl holds her sister near a makeshift shelter at a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen. (CNS photo/Yahya Arhab EPA)

National Migration Week is observed this year from January 8-14, with the theme of “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” This time “is an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants,” states the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in promoting this initiative, adding, “too often in our contemporary culture we fail to encounter them as persons, and instead look at them as others. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious of their intentions.”

Migration is certainly one of the most difficult issues facing our nation today. Socially and politically, we are struggling to find the balance between our history as a country of immigrants with the reality of so many people who are leaving their homeland because of war or violence, or poverty in search of a better life. These types of migration are parts of the larger experience which includes the movement of refugees, victims and survivors of human trafficking and migrant workers.

The plight of migrants and the response of local communities and the nations is something that the Catholic Church is concerned about because it involves people and our efforts toward the common good – in this case, the fundamental right to pursue liberty and justice. In the face of this kind of challenge, the principles of Catholic Social Teaching can help inform people’s thinking and shed light on what is best concerning the mass movement of peoples.

As Christians, we begin by examining scripture to see what the Lord teaches. Jesus says we should welcome the stranger with compassion, kindness, understanding, peace and love – just as he did in his own time. While the sheer numbers of migrants on the move around the globe, with some finding their way to our own community, may seem to be overwhelming, as Christians it is vital that we see the humanity in the faces of immigrants that stand behind the statistics and policy responses.

Our Archdiocesan Synod urged that “the needs and rights of immigrants and refugees be advocated for at the local, state and federal levels, and that Catholics be educated about the needs and rights of immigrants so that they may be advocated for” (Service Recommendation 8). In observance of National Migration Week, through a program designed by the archdiocesan Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, we will gather for prayer and advocacy in a series of public events, including an interreligious prayer service show of solidarity, which demonstrate our shared commitment to accompanying our migrant and refugee sisters and brothers living in our communities. To learn more, please visit adw.org/encounter.

Eternal Life and the Necessity of Baptismal Grace

January 10th, 2017

baptism

The baptism of Jesus, where the Lord entered into and sanctified the waters, points to our own. Of course, the Son of God did not need to be baptized to have life in heaven, but we human beings do need the grace of baptism to gain this eternal life.

Christ himself tells us of the vital importance of baptism: “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). This truth of our faith is troubling for some and raises the questions: Does this mean that only baptized Christians go to heaven? Is everyone who dies without formally receiving the sacrament of baptism necessarily condemned, even babies who have done no wrong and non-Christians who are good and decent and virtuous?

When humanity in the persons of Adam and Eve set themselves against God, a consequence of this Original Sin for all of us was disharmony in the human condition and a rupture in our blessed relationship with God. Clearly, to be united with God in heaven, this state which separates us from him must be remedied. The grace of baptism is therefore necessary for salvation because it is what removes this impediment of Original Sin, as well as any personal sins, and gives us new life.

Our Savior Jesus established his Church and the sacraments, including baptism, as the ordinary means to bring his grace of eternal life to the whole world. While the Lord expects that we make use of these ordinary means given by him, God himself is not bound by the sacraments (CCC 1257). The Church understands that those who have not received sacramental baptism by water may nevertheless be saved by extraordinary means of grace, such as “baptism of blood” or “baptism of desire.”

The Catechism affirms that those who offer the supreme witness for the sake of the faith and die as Christian martyrs receive the saving grace and fruits of baptism by their death (CCC 1258). Also, if there is an earnest wish to be baptized in Christ at the time of death, such as with a catechumen in RCIA or with an infant whose parents are preparing for the sacrament, that desire, together with repentance and charity, “assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament” (CCC 1259). Even those who through no fault of their own are ignorant of Christ and the Gospel, but they seek the truth and do the will of God as best as they understand, can be saved by this “baptism of desire” (CCC 1260).

In other cases, we remember that God delights not in anyone’s death. Regarding other unbaptized babies, including those who die before birth, either by abortion or naturally, the Church in hope commends them to the loving and merciful arms of our heavenly Father, whose will is that all should be saved and live (CCC 1261).

The Trinity Dome and Sharing in the Divine Life of God

January 9th, 2017


As the people of God we continue to reflect on the great gift of Christmas – that the Lord so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son to become one of us so that we might share in his divinity. To believe this in a way that transforms our lives can be the work of a lifetime, but today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew helps us to understand just how we share in that divine life.  In speaking of this life of God, the Church uses the term “Trinity” and one way this mystery was revealed to us was in the baptism of Jesus.

When Jesus descends into the water at his baptism, Matthew tells us, the bystanders hear the Father’s voice and see the Holy Spirit descend as a dove.  In this event, we recognize how completely united Jesus is to his Father and that love between the Father and the Son is manifest in the Holy Spirit.

We entered into the very circle of this relationship at our own baptism. In this sacrament, as we are sealed “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we share in the divine life in such a way that the one God in three persons actually comes to dwell within us.  By being baptized, we are destined for salvation. That is what God wants for you and me.

trinity-dome-16-reducedSoon, we will be able to ponder the meaning of this mystery in the extraordinary Trinity Dome that is under construction at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In a glorious mosaic that will fill the central and largest dome of the Upper Church, we will see the words of the Creed that is the prayer that unites all baptized Christians.  Along with the persons of the Trinity, we will see Mary, the Immaculate Conception, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, whom God asked to bear his Son to the world and who is for us a model of what it means to live united to God.

The fact that everyone participates in the communion of the Trinity through baptism makes us all children of God and members of the Church.  For this reason we need to remind ourselves of the gift of the Church’s life-giving proclamation that we live in God and God in us to the extent that we live a life alive in God’s grace.

The Trinity Dome is a lesson in how we move toward salvation as it depicts the evangelists of the four Gospels, reminding us that God is revealed in the word of the Bible and through a life of holiness learned through the lives of the saints. All of us through a life of prayer, participation in the sacraments and practice of charity move toward eternal life in the embrace of the one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Manifesting the Kingdom in the World Today

January 8th, 2017

manifesting-the-kingdom

The feast of Epiphany commemorates the public revelation that Jesus had come as Savior not only to certain chosen people, namely the Jews, but to all the nations of the earth.  As the magi we hear about in Matthew’s Gospel responded to the rising of a new star, which they saw as a sign of a newborn king, and approached the Child Jesus and his mother, they represented all the peoples of the world.

Like the rest of the gentile world surrounding ancient Israel, these magi who came from the east were followers of pagan beliefs.  Yet, they sought higher wisdom.

So many pieces of this part of the Christmas story resonate with us today. Many of us feel like we are surrounded by a post-Christian morality and culture that is losing a sense of the presence of God.  Yet the Lord provides a sign that shines out for all to see.  He provides that sign, that light, in and through his Church – through the women, men and children who make up his body in the world today.  Our lives as Christians are all about revealing the Light of the world, the Crucified and Risen Christ.

The Gospels tell us also how Jesus connected his public ministry to the manifestation of the kingdom of God.  Sacred Scripture testifies that, through baptism and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, one becomes an adopted child of God who is empowered to work with Christ in bringing about his kingdom of peace, kindness, truth, and love.

Today at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I have the honor of recognizing women and men from all over our archdiocesan Church whose lives and work are an epiphany in their own way of the new life offered by Christ. Through all of their gifts of service, the Kingdom of God shines forth in our midst as God’s grace and love enfolds and embraces us.

To these men and women I will present the Manifesting the Kingdom award to recognize the way in which their service to the Church in an exceptional manner that reveals the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives, reflecting in a particular way what it means to live out the mission of the New Evangelization. At the same time, we salute all those who have worked alongside their priests in the myriad tasks of the kingdom.  This is our common calling and it is a blessing to see that we have not a few shining lights, but entire constellations of radiant disciples of the Lord.

Statement on Fort Lauderdale Shooting

January 6th, 2017

Today, hearing the news of a mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport, our nation once again grieves the tragic deaths of several innocent people and more wounded. For those who lost their lives, we offer up our prayers that the God of all compassion grant them eternal rest, light and peace. May the Lord grant the grace of healing and strength to the injured, and also console the families and friends of the deceased and wounded with his merciful love. With the birth of our Savior still resounding in our thoughts and hearts, we live in the confident hope that evil, suffering and death shall not have the last word.

Meeting Challenges with Nonviolence and Charity

January 3rd, 2017
Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

For the 50th World Day of Peace observed on January 1, the Church reflected on the theme of “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.” As we here in this nation and around the globe face multiple challenges of social unrest, and as new government officials take office, this invitation to address disputes with nonviolence is timely.

In his Message for this Day of Peace, Pope Francis builds on the work of the pontiffs before him while noting that the world today is marked by war, terrorism, the suffering of migrants and victims of human trafficking, and the despoiling of the environment. “As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed,” he writes, “‘in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, [and] this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness.’”

“Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mark 7:21),” notes the Holy Father.  As the Catechism points out, wrongful violence includes not only physical bloodshed and destruction, but also anger, hatred, the desire for vengeance, and the harsh word (CCC 2302-06).  Again quoting Pope Benedict, Pope Francis adds that Jesus’ “Gospel command to love your enemies ‘is rightly considered the Magna Carta of Christian nonviolence.’”

What Blessed Paul VI said in his Message for the First World Day of Peace, emphasizing peace “founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love,” has lost none of its significance or urgency, affirms Pope Francis.  He then points out how Christian communities helped bring freedom to Eastern Europe through peaceful protest against the Communist regimes then in power and that they were influenced by the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II.  Quoting this holy pontiff, Pope Francis explains that this “was made possible in part ‘by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth’” (Centesimus Annus, 23).

“It is fundamental that nonviolence be practiced before all else within families,” continues Pope Francis in his Message, because it is there that we learn that “frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness.”  He points also to Saints Mother Teresa and Thérèse of Lisieux as models to follow.

By accepting the invitation to face challenges and resolve conflict with nonviolence, charity and solidarity, we take the first step toward true justice and peace.