Over this past weekend the Pope spoke regarding the World Day of the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes:
"It is necessary to support the development of palliative treatments that offer integral care and dispense to incurably sick people that human support and spiritual accompaniment they so need," the Pope said today before praying the Angelus with the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square. On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Holy Father reminded that this year he dedicated the day to the material and spiritual assistance of the incurably or terminally ill. (Zenit News Services)
Of course the Pope's words are consistent with the teaching of the Church but they are important also because they deal with the great unease that exists in our culture regarding death. We have made great gains in health care over the generations. In my parent's generation death was fairly common in early childhood as well as throughout life from a variety of causes almost unheard of now. We have therefore become less accustomed to death and more afraid of it. This fear, at least in part, has led to the "death with dignity/euthanasia" movements in our culture.
I know that death scares me. Just over five years ago when a younger brother was in the process of dying from cancer I was in a state of panic over being alone with him for a few minutes. (selfish, I know) What do you say? Actually, he knew what to say. Since then we have had more deaths in our family and I have become sadly more accustomed to death and the idea of my own death. Still, death is a mysterious part of God's plan. Unless we die suddenly, by accident or by crime, we will all gradually, and sometimes painfully, lose our strength and our autonomy to old age and then to death. It seems unfair. We begin our adult lives taking for granted our physical abilities and developing our ability to make our own decisions. This is what is taken away.
The only way, that I can see, to make sense of this, outside of the despair that you see in the "death with dignity" movement, is in the Paschal Mystery. Through his ministry Jesus travelled across the countryside and ministered to people. At the end of his life, other people took him and nailed him to the cross. It was his ultimate acceptance of this last part of his life that was important for us. Maybe this is how the end of our life has meaning for us and for those around us. Our entire baptismal vocation involves turning away from things that distract us from God and turning towards Jesus. As we age, and as the things we take for granted are taken from us God invites us to place all our trust in him. It is a heck of a leap of faith that we are asked to make. Hopefully, if we head the Pope's call for more compassionate care of the dying; more people will make the leap in peace of mind and soul.