Readings: Job 7.1-4,6-7; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 9.16-19,22-23; Mark 1.29-39 (See the readings at usccb.org)
– Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide by President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
– Article from the Diocese of Saskatoon: Local reaction to Supreme Court of Canada decision legalizing physician-assisted suicide
– More information about the proposal from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan to curtail conscience rights for doctors
Homily text is below. (Note: I write the way I speak, so please don’t look to this text as a great example of English grammar. :-))
Usually when the priest gives a homily, it’s on the readings. Sometimes the homily might be more about a certain feast day — For example, my Christmas homily was about, well, Christmas. But today it’s a little different. What caught my eye is something that’s not often preached about. It’s always an option, but it’s not preached about that often.
The gospel acclamation. That little verse that gets sandwiched in between the Alleluias. Today, the gospel acclamation is from Matthew 8.17. “Alleluia, Alleluia. Christ took our infirmities, and bore our diseases. Alleluia.”
Now, there’s a specific word for this. There’s a word for what Jesus shows in the gospels, especially in the gospel today; and although we only heard a tiny bit of the book of Job, toward the end of the book we find out that God has been showing this word to Job as well. The word is: Compassion. Jesus shows compassion. God shows compassion. Likewise, we must show each other true compassion.
This word is at the heart of a huge amount of debate happening right now in this country, as the Supreme Court struck down laws against assisted suicide on Friday. Now, I’ll admit that this decision is still very fresh for me, as I’m sure it is for all of us. But I do want to reflect with you briefly today on compassion. It strikes me that a lot of people right now are using that word. But to paraphrase Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride: “They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.”
Compassion, in it’s etymology, in its most fundamental meaning, is this: To suffer with. Com – passion – to suffer with someone. To walk with, to journey with, to pilgrimage with someone in their suffering. This is what Jesus does, so much so that he takes our infirmities; he bears our diseases. He enters into our condition; he takes our sin upon himself. The fullest expression of compassion is shown by Jesus on the cross. Jesus suffers with and for you and me. That’s compassion.
Now there’s no doubt in my mind: true compassion is one of the hardest things to live. But you know, as a priest I’m so blessed to see compassion lived out over and over again as I see people caring for each another. Whether it’s for funerals or in illness, or in poverty, and in all sorts of things: people step up, especially in small towns. And I am blessed to see so much of this compassion. Jesus has compassion for us, and we are to have compassion for one another.
But what’s been dripping through a lot of the talk that I’ve heard in the past day or so about this Supreme Court decision is, quite simply, a fundamental distortion of what compassion is. Compassion, according to some, is no longer suffering with or walking with or journeying with. It’s precisely the opposite. It’s stopping. It’s putting someone to an early end. It’s stopping the journey on our own terms, rather than in God’s time. But we are not God. And we can make some pretty big mistakes.
And the scariest thing? If the experience of pretty much every other place in the world that has allowed assisted suicide is any indication, it’s those who are the most vulnerable who are going to be the most at risk. The ones who need our compassion the most are the ones to whom this decision will put at the greatest risk.
Jesus shows us a far better way. He had compassion for the most vulnerable. He recognized their inherent dignity and worth. So must we, as a society, and as individuals. It’s vitally important, for the sake of our nation that we recognize all people, including the most vulnerable, as having inherent dignity and worth. Our dignity does not come from what we can do or from what we experience. And our dignity is not diminished by suffering. Our fundamental human dignity comes from the fact that we are. We exist. For people of faith, we exist because of the love of God. We all have tremendous dignity.
This is good news, people! It’s great news! You and I have dignity! We need to rise up and proclaim this good news, especially to the most vulnerable: You are worth it! You are worth all the love and all the compassion we can muster! You are even worth Jesus giving his life for you. You have dignity! We need to rise up, as a people and as a Church, and show real compassion: walking with, even suffering with the most vulnerable, affirming their worth, not putting them away — because they are. They are loved. We are loved infinitely.
Also: we need to be well informed about all these issues. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. But the Church’s teaching is smart, and it’s wise, and it’s so very compassionate. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for more material. This will be a big priority for me when I get back from holidays. For example, in Saskatchewan and Ontario the College of Physicians wants to force doctors to potentially act against their conscience. We need to speak up about this, also; there’s a link on the parish website about it.
Most of all, we need to pray. Pray, pray, pray. God alone can soften our hearts. God alone can heal us and our broken world. God is the truest source of compassion, because he is with us. He walks with us. He suffers with us. And he suffers for us, and in doing so he gave his victory to us.
May we grow in true compassion for all people, as Jesus has compassion for us.
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