Know Your Place in the Universe or You are Not God

Via First Things

REAL DEATH, REAL DIGNITY by David Mills

He was a dignified man suffering all the embarrassing ways a hospice deals with the body’s failure as cancer begins shutting down the organs. Dying in a hospice, you lose all rights to modesty as you lose control of your body. Few men could have found the indignities of those last few weeks of life more excruciating than did my father.

The man who was always in control depended entirely on the help of others, most of them strangers, most of them nurses’ aides, cheerful young women the age of his granddaughter. The man who was always doing something constructive could not move from his bed. The man who had always made his words count could not speak. The man who was always reserved could hide nothing, keep nothing to himself.

I did not want to see him there. This was what dying of cancer is like, and my father, being the man he was, took it like a man. It was the hand he’d been dealt, and he was going to play it, as bad as it was.

Though he died five years ago, in bookstores I still find myself starting to buy a book I know he’ll like, and thinking as I start to pull it off the shelf, “No, wait,” or deciding to ask his advice on a matter great or small, and thinking as I reach for my phone, “No, wait.” Every time I feel that sharp burning pain behind the sternum you get when your body panics and floods itself with adrenalin. The world has a hole in it and one that will never be filled in this life.

It is a great blessing to be with your father as he dies, though mercifully a blessing you will enjoy only once. I was sitting in his room at the hospice, my wife and children having run round the corner to get lunch, my mother having lunch with an old friend round another corner, my sister up the road at her job running a thrift store. He had, as far as we knew, as far as the doctors knew, weeks to live.

I had been there for a couple of hours, editing something on my laptop, focused on the work, when suddenly I knew, I don’t know how, other than Grace, that he was breathing his last. He drew in a short, hard breath. I knelt by his head and said, “Goodbye, dad.” He drew in a shorter, shallower breath, almost a half-breath, and then stopped.

I went to get the nurse, waving my hand toward the room because I could not speak. She came in, listened for a heartbeat, and I stood hoping I was wrong, that I’d missed something, that I was going to be embarrassed, till she shook her head at another nurse who had come into the room behind me.

Being there was, as I say, a great blessing. At least, it is a great blessing to be with your father when he dies if he died the way mine did. He did not die with dignity, as those who promote “death with dignity” define it, which means, in essence, to die as if you weren’t dying.

It is not dignified to be undressed and dressed by cheerful young women the age of your granddaughter. It is not dignified to waste away, to lose the ability to speak, to eat, to drink. It is not dignified for your children and grandchildren to see you that way. It is not dignified to die when death takes you and not when you choose.

I can see the appeal of “death with dignity” and programs like those offered in Oregon and the Netherlands, where doctors will help you leave this world at the moment of your choosing, without fuss or bother or pain. I do not want to die and I really, really do not want to die the way my father did. I would find the indignities as excruciating as he did, and I have no confidence I would deal with the pain as bravely as he. I would not want my children to see me so pathetic.

“Death with dignity” seems to offer not only an escape from pain and humiliation but a rational and apparently noble way to leave this life. You look death in the eye and show him that you, not he, are in control. All “dying with dignity” requires is that you declare yourself God. Make yourself the lord of life and death, and you can do what you want. All you have to do, as a last, definitive act, is to do what you’ve been doing all your life: Declare yourself, on the matter at hand, the final authority, the last judge, the one vote that counts.

But you are not God, and, the Christian believes, the decision of when to leave this life is not one He has delegated to you. It is not your call. The Father expects you to suffer if you are given suffering and to put up with indignities if you are given indignities. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. And that, as far as dying goes, is that.

This is not, from a worldly point of view, a comforting or comfortable teaching. It is one much easier for Christians to observe in theory than in practice, and to apply to other people than to themselves. In practice, we will want to die “with dignity.”

My father was an engineer, not a philosopher. I’m not sure if he read a theological book in his life. The questions that interested me bemused him. But he knew who he was and what he was called to do, a condition others would put in a theological language I suspect he thought was unnecessary. He was dying. That was his job, and he would do it as well as he could.

Lying in a hospice bed, in the very last situation he would have chosen for himself, my father taught me that to die with dignity means to accept what God has given you and deal with it till the end. It means to play the hand God has dealt you, no matter how bad a hand it is, without folding. It means actually to live as if the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, and in either case blessed be the name of the Lord.

It’s dignity of a different sort than the corruptingly euphemistic slogan “death with dignity” suggests. There is a great—an eternal—dignity in accepting whatever indignities you have to suffer to remain faithful to God and to do what He has given you to do. A man can be humiliated and yet noble, and the humiliations make the nobility all the more obvious. My father died with dignity, though the advocates of euthanasia and the clean, quick, controlled exit might not think so.

Here my father held a line he probably did not recognize, a line that protects the vulnerable. He would never have said this, and would have thought the idea pretentious. But by living as if his life was not his to give up he also declared in the most practical way possible that the lives of the vulnerable are not for others to take. There are only a few steps from declaring that a man may choose to be killed to choosing death for those who cannot choose for themselves. The vulnerable are protected by those who refuse the choice.

The man who chooses the timing and meaning of his own death has looked death in the eye and shown him that he is in control—but only by giving death what he demands even sooner than he demands it. That, presumably, is a deal death will take. My father, lying in the bed by the window in a hospice he would never leave, offered death no deal at all.

David Mills is deputy editor of First Things.

Papal theologian: Treating homosexuals with dignity means telling them the truth BY JOHN-HENRY WESTEN

Papal theologian: Treating homosexuals with dignity means telling them the truth

BY JOHN-HENRY WESTEN

    Asked about the problem of homosexuality, gay ‘marriage’ and their incursion on relgious freedom, Fr. Giertych noted “this is not an issue which is reacting against the Church’s teaching – this is a fundamental anthropological change.” It is, he said, “a distortion of humanity which is being proposed as an ideology, which is being supported, financed, promoted by those who are powerful in the world in many, many, countries simultaneously.”

    “The Church,” he added, “is the only institution in the world which has the courage to stand up to this ideology.”

    He continued, noting that the increasing role of the state in society has resulted in a substantial lowering of ethical standards:

    “Now, what we are observing in many countries world-wide, certainly in the 20th and the 21st century, there is an enormous extension of the responsibility of States. Now, the more the State is encroaching on the economy, on family life, on education – the State is saying that only the State has the monopoly to decide about these things. The more the State is omnipotent, the more the ethical standards are lowered, because it’s impossible to promote high ethical standards by the State."

    The 61-year-old of Polish background said, “I’ve seen the Communist ideology, which seemed to be so powerful, and it’s gone! Ideologies come and go, and they have the idea of changing humanity, of changing human nature. Human nature cannot be changed; it can be distorted. But the elevation of perversion to the level of a fundamental value that has to be nurtured and nourished and promoted – this is absolutely sick.”

    “The Church, standing up to this ideology which we are seeing now in the Western world, the Church is saying something very normal and humane, which corresponds to the understanding of humanity, which humanity has had for millennia, long before Christ, long before the appearance of Christianity,” he said. “So it’s not a question of the Church fighting the ideology, it’s a question of the distortion of humanity, and the Church standing up in defence of human dignity.”

    Fr. Giertych and John-Henry Westen on a balcony within the papal palace.

    Speaking of practicing homosexuals Fr. Giertych said, “of course they have to be treated with dignity, everybody has to be treated with dignity, even sinners have to be treated with dignity, but the best way of treating people with dignity is to tell them the truth.”

    “And if we escape from the truth we’re not treating them with dignity,” he added.

    The papal theologian drew an analogy to smoking saying that helping people stop smoking is not denying their dignity.

    He said:

    "Homosexuality is against human nature. Now, there are many things that people do that are unnatural – smoking cigarettes is also unnatural. You can live with the addiction to tobacco, you can die of it, but there are people who are addicted to tobacco, yet they live and we meet with them and we deal with them and we don’t deny their dignity. So certainly people with the homosexual difficulty have to be respected … And so the important thing is how to pastorally help such people to return to an emotional and moral integrity."

    Reflecting on a Newborn

    Joy was my initial response
    to a day of silence,
    more exactly, a day of listening.

    The sense I had was of God’s delight.
    He was looking on me as we do a newborn,
    full of love  and enchantment.
    He wanted me to share this delight.
    He wanted me to recognize that it was me
    who delighted Him.

    I had an image in my mind of angels and saints,
    those present at the Mass,
    passing by and looking on me
    as they would a precious newborn.
    (I had just consumed the Eucharist.)
    Each holy spirit approached,
    giving me a blessing I would grow into,
    or seen another way,
    by which I would grow.

    The Father wanted me to know
    how much it delighted Him
    to see me rise after a fall.
    I am a sinner but I will be a saint,
    if I allow His love to form me,
    and continue to rise after each fall.
    It would be nice if my falls were infrequent,
    but if they be a thousand,
    He would grace me a thousand times,
    each time I washed my robe clean
    in the blood of Christ,
    confessing my sins and beginning anew,
    a newborn.

    By Joann Nelander

    In the Guise of Human Rights

    H/T Anchoress,  who hopes for conversion of President Obama on issues of life.  I’ll pray for that!  I’m sure Obama now knows who Mary Ann Glendon is and may give ear to what she has to say he only out of curiousity, due to a well publicized run in with this woman of integrity.

    From the text of the address of Mary Ann Glendon, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, to Pope Benedict XVI and reported by Zenit:

    “We have also been mindful of the fact that in today’s world, ironically, many threats to the dignity of the person have appeared in the guise of human rights. As you pointed out in your memorable speech to the United Nations last year, there are mounting pressures to ‘move away from the protection of human dignity towards the satisfaction of simple interests, often particular interests.’ “……………

    “We have paid special attention to rights that are currently under assault such as the right to life, the right to found a family, freedom of conscience and religion, and to rights that have too long awaited fulfillment such as the right to decent subsistence.”

    From Pope Benedict’s response: (Full text here)

    “The Church’s action in promoting human rights is therefore supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will, independently of any religious affiliation they may have”. At the same time, “insofar as human rights need to be re-appropriated by every generation and by each individual, and insofar as human freedom … is always fragile, the human person needs the unconditional hope and love that can only be found in God and that lead to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others”.