Friday, August 11, 2017

Homily – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) 2017

Shout-out to VSB students I just completed a crash-course on hospital chaplaincy at Riverside. It was a wonderful experience – intense, but wonderful. Among other things, I definitely have an even greater respect and appreciation for the doctors, nurses, chaplains and many others who provide such great care to patients. Many of you are in this profession – so, thank you! Most of the individuals I was assigned to visit as a chaplain were recovering from minor surgery and would be home within a day or two. Sometimes, I would visit with someone who had been in the hospital for a week or longer. And sometimes, I would visit with someone or their family in the final hours or minutes of the patient’s earthly life. Sometimes, my visits were brief and mostly chit-chat, and sometimes the visit was longer with deep discussion of life, death and faith. Today’s readings for me frame well what many of the patients struggled with: where is God in the midst of pain, suffering and loss? And I stress “frame” the issue, because only before God in Heaven will we truly and fully know the answers to such questions. However, like Elijah in today’s First Reading, I was reminded this summer that God is fully present in our lives and in our world – sometimes in a strong and heavy wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks, or in an earthquake, or in fire; but more often in a tiny whispering sound. In other words, there may or may not be miracles or other unexplainable events to demonstrate the presence and power of God, but God is nonetheless present in the small and simple acts and words of others: the extra time spent by a physician answering the same question of a patient, over and over again; the calming voice of a nurse before a treatment or surgery; or the friendly greeting of an associate welcoming a guest as they enter the hospital, delivering a patient’s lunch, or removing trash from the patient’s room. And certainly in the countless other ways each of us – in our own places of work, in our homes, families, and neighborhoods – make God present by our love and charity toward others. Well, today’s Gospel frames another issue: the doubt we may experience in the face of pain, suffering, and loss – doubt in God, doubt in what is true, what is good. Like Peter, we may confidently approach a challenge only to quickly sink. But here is our God saying to Peter and us now: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” In these moments, we need to take to heart Fr. John’s words from his homily last weekend: When Jesus is with us – and he always is – absolutely nothing can harm us. See, the Lord keeps watch over us at all times, just as he did for Peter and the Apostles on the stormy sea, and especially for us in our moments of temptation, anxiety and doubt. My chaplain experience also strengthened my faith in God and in the Catholic Church. As I have previously shared, I was often on the defensive to explain to my peers the many myths and misconceptions of the Church. I was (and am) grateful to have the clear and definitive teaching of the Church, especially this summer, for the Church’s teachings on end-of-life issues. The Church teaches and we are called to believe and understand that: God created each of us for eternal life; our lives are a precious gift from God; we are created in God’s image and likeness; we made by God’s love to love and be loved. These truths inform all our decisions about healthcare, specifically: we have a duty to preserve our life and to use it for God’s glory. This duty to preserve our lives, however, is not absolute. In other words, we are not required to receive every type of medical treatment imaginable and at any cost in order to stay alive. Further, death is an inevitable part of life and is more importantly a transition to our goal: eternal life. Because Christ’s death and Resurrection, death should not be feared and thus we do not need to resist it by any and every means. Yes, there are lots of complex ethical and moral healthcare dilemmas that I will not even attempt to address here – like the use of assisted nutrition and hydration, the care for someone in a persistent vegetative state, and euthanasia. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to go it alone in resolving these issues. We have the solid and consistent teaching of the Church and wonderful leaders and thinkers to guide us. Which brings me to my next point. When/If we become the patient, we should be at the center of any medical-moral decision that affects us, and that we should include family, significant loved ones, and our health care team in the decision making process. When a patient is no longer able to take an active role in the decision making process, an advance directive for health care can be a legitimate and helpful way to bring the patient’s values and preferences into the decision making – and it assures that legally your wishes will be protected and honored in accordance with your faith. I strongly recommend that you have advance directives and ensure that they align with several key points: • We may forgo or even withdraw medical treatments if they offer no reasonable hope of benefit, are excessively burdensome, and only prolong the dying process. • Food and water must be given so long as they are beneficial, even if their administration requires artificial means (such as the use of a feeding tube). • Acts that intentionally and directly cause my death, e.g., physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, are never morally permissible. • Medications and treatments that bring comfort and relieve pain, even if they indirectly and unintentionally shorten my life, are permissible and encouraged. • The parish and priest should be notified and that the sacraments be given. As Catholics we know the importance and power of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, Viaticum, and the prayers of others at this critical time. We seek, through this request, the sources of grace that will bring us comfort and strength for the end of this life and the beginning of our eternal life with Christ. I encourage you to read and review your current living will and durable power of attorney for health care, or work with me or someone your trust to create your own advance directives. I have posted on our parish website, a link to Ohio’s legally recognized advance directives packet. Make sure to keep a copy for yourself and give a copy to your doctor. And most importantly, have the conversation with your loved ones about what your end-of-live wishes are so that it is well-know and certain. I will conclude by stressing the importance of prayer. Often my chaplain visits would conclude with a prayer – a prayer for peace, comfort, wisdom, freedom or whatever the patient needed most at that moment. Recently, I was reminded of Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Surrender, which is a wonderful prayer for each of us in the midst of pain, suffering, doubt and loss. I have included it this week’s bulletin and now commend this prayer to you: Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more. Amen.