A time to live, a time to die
Pope Francis continues to make personal statements challenging people to reflect on where their faith lies. His statements are, in a manner of speaking, “disruptive.” Just as some groups may begin believing that fundamental doctrinal accommodations may be forthcoming, suddenly he seems to take on a highly conservative stance, putting them off-balance.
Take his recently expressed position on euthanasia as “a sin against God.” A “right to die” movement advocating dying with dignity is taking on some momentum in the social media amid the death by choice of some patients afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as extreme cases of terminal cancer. The Pope says assisted suicide proceeds from a false sense of compassion. But, true to his person, he condemns the movement and the advocacy but makes no judgment on individuals.
Clearly, the source of the Pope’s position is Jesus, whom his position represents. He must be recognizing that Jesus’ death was an ignominious death, without any tinge of dignity. Today’s “death with dignity” can be nothing more than a novel combo being promoted in our fast-food milieu, or, as intimated in the Pope’s declaration, a manifestation of our “throwaway culture.” There is more to life than having people promote its deliberate termination under the guise of advocating “dignity” or society’s “security.” The “right to die” is another face of the death penalty.
Suffering is at the core of the opposing positions. The terminally ill and their kin suffer gravely. However, the Suffering on the Cross finds justification in only one truth: that the life with which we have been gifted transcends the life of our day-to-day experiences. The photo in the Inquirer of a naked and emaciated street child in “a concentration camp in Manila” may project to some a “nonlife” that will make no difference if terminated. Yet to the majority, it reflects a self-image that can trigger anger at how dismally society has taken life for granted. A view of the “nonlife” can be redemptive. Like every other human being, that “nonlife” has a soul, and that soul now challenges each one to recognize his/her own soul and act: Value life absolutely.
Keats asks: “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” Other profound words on suffering include
Dostoyevsky’s “Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart,” Gibran’s “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars,” and Gandhi’s “I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.” And take it from John Lennon: “One thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside.”
Hedonists do have their quotes, too, and they cannot be in denial of the reality of suffering and pain.
Pope Francis pursues one fundamental change: to proclaim that his papacy is a humble replication of the life of Jesus when Jesus trod this earth. Today’s LGBT people “living in sin,” the sick, and the survivors of natural and manmade disasters whom he encounters are the prostitutes and tax collectors, widows and orphans, lepers, the blind, deaf and mute, and publicans of Jesus’ milieu. No condemnation of persons was made by Jesus, nor by the Pope. The challenge is the continuing affirmation of the constancy of God’s love for all throughout humankind’s history.
If there will be institutional changes or doctrinal updates, such as a new role of the laity and women in the life of the Church, these will emanate from the discernment of what God may be expressing for the 21st century proceeding from His love. The focus is not on institutions, which during Jesus’ time were sources of the heavy yoke on the people’s back, but on living life in the awareness of God’s love amid the suffering and pain around.
Every moment is a time to live. The street child photographed at the Manila Reception and Action Center has a “right to live.” It is a right endowed by the Creator on every human being. Those blessed with resources and talents have the responsibility to sustain life wherever they may be. The condition in that center for street kids is a call to those in a position to respond to restore “real life” in the facility and make it a community.
Every moment is a time to die. Responding to a call for life’s restoration can be a call to die to oneself, metaphorically. But the time to die, literally—that is, physically—is an exclusive enclave of the Life-Giver. The declared right to life is unlike such rights as the right to free speech, which includes the right to be silent. In fact, strictly speaking, there is no right to life: Life is a gift, granted unconditionally. Only the
Life-Giver “takes” it away though in reality the gift of life is forever. Death does not end life.
Jesus conquered death—a truth that makes the respect by every human being for life absolute and imperative. We must always affirm life. And this affirmation should be made without judgment on those who have chosen to take their life. No death is meaningless. All death offers to life an opening for appreciation.
Pope Francis will continue to be full of surprises because it is his life that he offers to
everyone as he lives the life of Jesus in his papacy. His visits to the Philippines and
Sri Lanka in January are singular blessings for the two countries and peoples.
Danilo S. Venida (firstname.lastname@example.org) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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