The 2016 film Arrival asks the question if we would accept life knowing that it will involve suffering. Here’s the one-and-a-half-minute opening scene which shows the birth of Louise’s daughter time-lapsed to her early death. The great Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson asks why women would bring children into the world knowing they’re going to suffer (12 Rules for Life, 167. See also this video). Other questions of life include: “Why do you have so many children when you’re short on money?” “Why not choose a dignified death (euthanasia), rather than let someone suffer?”
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
These kinds of questions could be posed to our mother Mary, who in the Gospel hears that she and her son will suffer. On the fortieth day after Jesus’ birth, she and St. Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem, to the Temple, so that the firstborn son would be offered to God, and she ritually purified. After an elderly man, Simeon, takes Jesus into his arms and praises God for being able to see the Messiah before he dies, he prophesies sober words: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:34-35).
‘Falling’ and ‘rising’ mean that the nation of Israel will have to make a choice about Jesus: either believe in or reject Him; “those who reject him stand self-condemned, while those who embrace him will be blessed” (Scott Hahn, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, 111). ‘A sign that will be opposed’ foreshadows His suffering and crucifixion.
How would you feel if someone told you on the day of your child’s Baptism that they would suffer and die? One time, I baptized one of the sons of Colleen Roy, who writes for the BC Catholic, and mentioned how her son is called to be a saint, maybe even like the Canadian Martyrs, whose feast day it was! I said, “He might actually die for God!” I didn’t anticipate she’d start crying. Whoops.
Simeon also says that ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too,’ referring to the fact that Mary will watch her Son suffocate and bleed to death for three hours.
So, why would Mary accept this? Why not try to get out of it? When doctors ask us, “Do you want to carry this pregnancy to term?” because our children will be autistic, disabled, or even die soon; or when they ask, “Have you thought about all your options?” when our parents are suffering and dying, they don’t see the point in someone living who’s suffering. And the answer is: Because life, even when there’s pain, is better than no life at all. It’s still precious, still a gift.
Why? Because the human person is made for love, and love can actually grow stronger in relationships when we’re suffering. The Second Reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews says, “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, should make the source of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (2:10). It says we’re made ‘for Him.’ God is love, and so we’re made for love. It also says we’re called ‘to glory,’ meaning we’re called to heaven, which is a state of love, so we need to grow in love. That’s why ‘it was fitting that God… should make the source of our salvation perfect through sufferings.’ We grow in love when it’s hard to love. We grow in patience when it’s hard to be patient. When our children or our parents are suffering, our love for them grows! When there’s pain in life, life is still precious, a gift, because we love each other more than ever. People who don’t love give up: They don’t try to save a life, don’t visit their parents, and don’t suffer with their loved ones.
You know what happens when someone we love is suffering? It breaks our hearts. But that’s not actually what’s happening. Our hearts are expanding. In the movie Arrival, we think through the whole movie that Louise has already lost her daughter, Hannah. But what we learn is that because of her encounter with these aliens, whose language has no beginning or end, she starts to perceive time as they do, and she can perceive what’s coming in the future, and we learn that her daughter hasn’t yet died, but will die. And when Louise tells her husband after Hannah’s birth that she knows Hannah is going to die, he leaves his family because he can’t handle it. Here’s the clip.
The question Hannah asks, “Are you going to leave me?” is the question that every person asks. It’s the question beneath the choice of abortion or euthanasia. It’s asking: Do you still love me? Is my life still precious? Will you suffer with me? God has never left us, even when we, humanity, were suffering, but entered into our suffering. Jesus could have avoided His Cross, but St. John’s Gospel says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1). Mary also never left her son but suffered with Him. When we feel like our hearts are breaking, they’re actually expanding in love.
Now here are three reasons why euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally wrong. Thanks to Stephanie Gray for her impeccable reasoning here.
1) It goes against the natural human intuition to save life. Whenever there’s a virus that kills people, or a natural disaster, all humans rush to help and preserve life, even at their own risk. How do we react when someone tells us that they’re pregnant? Joyfully, because life is good! How do we react when someone says they have terminal cancer? With sadness, because even though death is natural, it’s not something to which we run.
2) What are the standards of a civil society? Think of the opposite, a barbaric society: Nazi Germany, genocide in Rwanda, ISIS—what’s the common thread among them? They kill people, treating people like objects that are disposable, instead of as persons that are irreplaceable and unrepeatable. In barbaric societies, there is no inherent, inalienable right to life; it’s conditional: Some lives are protected because they’re from a certain race, look a certain way, belong to the right religion, or can perform at a certain level. But a civil society holds to the truth that everyone has an inalienable right to life. If you belong to the human family, you have this right. Euthanasia and assisted suicide go against this inherent right to life.
Objection: What happens when persons want to die? Response: Just because someone wants something doesn’t make it right. For example, what if someone has BIID, Body Integrity Identity Disorder, a condition where people with healthy limbs desire to amputate their limbs? If a doctor amputated these people’s limbs just because they wanted it, that would be wrong.
Also, if suicide is morally right because people want it, why does society and the media get shocked when teen suicide rates increase? Why stop these young people? Because they’re healthy and have their whole lives ahead of them? So, at what point does someone become unhealthy and qualify for suicide? At what point is someone too old to live? Now we’re in the moral game of deciding where to draw the line. So, advocates for euthanasia add that we need to be suffering in order to commit suicide. However, at what point of suffering? Some teens suffer horribly and truly want to die. It would still be wrong to help them kill themselves.
3) What’s the nature of medicine? To preserve life. That’s why some doctors and pharmaceutical companies don’t want to participate in executions of certain prisoners in the U.S. even when it’s legal, because it goes against their essence as health professionals, and erodes public trust.
In spite of this, most people, including 70% of Catholics, support euthanasia. Subconsciously, the main reason is because we want control: “This is my life”. Yet, Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. When people kill themselves, we’re left with their absence. And now that it’s legal in Canada to ask doctors to kill us, many are being guilted into dying when they don’t want to; there will be pressure on them to give up early, because we need their bed in the hospital, or because it’s a lot of work taking care of them.
Besides control, there are five other reasons people want euthanasia:
1) Fear of pain. The response to this is that regular pain medication can control up to 97% of pain. But let’s be honest: We can’t control 3% of pain. In these cases, we need to suffer with them. A video at the end will demonstrate how this works.
2) Emotional pain. In these cases, we need the gift of counselling.
3) Some people feel like they’re burdens. In such situations, we need to help them change their perspective. Diseases are burdens, not the persons. The suffering they carry gives us an opportunity to love them!
4) Some people feel useless. These days, our worth is unfortunately rooted in what we do, not in who we are. We’re special and have dignity not because of what we’ve achieved, but because of who we are. Even if you feel useless, you’re still special to us.
At the Intergenerational Learning Centre in Seattle, there’s a daycare in a seniors’ home. The seniors play with the children, teaching them, while the children give the seniors life and joy. Both groups of people are, in the eyes of some individuals, useless, but both groups praise God and bring joy.
5) Fear of a bad death: alone, scared, in pain. The solution to this is not euthanasia but palliative care which supports the person in the natural process of dying.
Simeon says in the Gospel, “So that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” He was referring to the fact that “the acceptance or rejection of Jesus will be a sign of one’s acceptance or rejection of God” (Pablo T. Gadenz, Luke in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scriptures, 72). In the same way, our acceptance or rejection of life bears on our acceptance or rejection of God; vice versa, the more we accept God, the more we accept life, and we Christians accept a God Who suffered and rose again.
The next three weeks, we’ll continue celebrating that Life is a Gift. Here’s our last video about Jonathan Pitre, whom I mentioned two years ago, and who found strength from other people despite his almost unmanageable pain.
When Jonathan found out he wasn’t alone, he gained strength. The pain became bearable. It was then that he wanted to become an ambassador and help others. He, and thousands of others, witness to the solution to unbearable pain.
Life is about the choice never to leave others. In Arrival, when Louise realizes that she can see the future and her daughter’s suffering, she says, “Despite knowing the journey, and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it”. God never left us, Jesus never leaves us, and Mary never left Jesus. Life, even when there’s pain, is better than no life; it’s still beautiful, a gift! Let’s embrace it!