Living Will; An Ethical Dilemma

   wills-5

     In recent times there seems to be a renewed discussion about the benefits of a living will. While many people praise the living will most medical ethicists advise against them. A closer look at living wills makes it clear that while on paper a living will seems like a great idea in its practical application it is a nightmare that can lead to grave injustices. This short respnse will take a closer look at the ethical dilemma that is the living will.

     A living will is a legal document that a person uses to make his or her wishes made clear with regards to end of life decisions. It attempts to make the autonomy and self determination of an individual available to the person when physically the person is no longer autonomous or self determining. As an official legal document the courts regard these instructions as the preferred basis for treatment.

     While the idea of preserving personal autonomy for someone who no longer physically has it sounds appealing and ethical it simply is not practically possible. There are simply too many possible future situations that each person must try to imagine. Each of these future situations has their own set of burdens and benefits which cannot be truly predicted yet still must be weighed. A person who believes that by filling out a living will they are actually giving themselves personal autonomy in the future are only tricking themselves into believing a reality that does not exist.

     The near infinite possibilities required by a living will make it impossible to have any sort of true informed consent. Informed consent means an agreement made in a particular case with a clear understanding of the current knowledge and well-understood facts. It is simply impossible to make an informed consent about a future event in which you do not have a clear understanding of all the possible facts. Those who are no longer competent to make their own medical decisions and need to rely on their living will cannot be making an informed consent because they can’t truly understand the choice available and do not have the knowledge available to make them.

     In the case of a living will, a choice previously made by an individual is imposed on that person who is no longer able to change his or her mind. This inability of the patient to change his mind in light of the actual circumstances means the patient is not free; he cannot make an informed consent. While a person’s prior wishes should be respected, when a person can no longer make a free choice, caregivers, who are moral agents themselves, should do what is right for the person and not what a person wanted when they were not able to make an informed consent.

     All people, while we may want to cling to our autonomy forever, must realize that dependency is a part of the normal course of human life. We should certainly discuss our wishes with our family, yet we should not trick ourselves into believing that we can make an informed choice about future circumstances in which we cannot have truly accurate knowledge about medical possibilities. We must come to accept that we cannot always have control over our lives and must realize that even the best made plans must be left to prudent caregivers who know the value of our lives and have the moral character to care for us even at the end of life.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Wis 12:13, 16-19 / PS 85:5-6, 9-10, 15-16 / Rom 8:26 – 27 / Mt 13:24-43

     Are cell phones the new cigarettes? That is the question asked in an article that appeared in a popular online news website just a few weeks ago. The article goes on to argue that we are becoming addicted to our cell phones in a similar manner to how people become addicted to cigarettes and warns “an addiction to cigarettes threatens to do significant damage to one’s physical health. When it comes to Smartphone addiction, its our social health that we should worry about.”[1]

     As society becomes more and more addicted to technology we begin to expect the immediate results that come with that technology. Whether you agree with the author of that article or not I think most of us would agree that we live in a word that wants immediate results. All we have to do is turn on the TV to see ads for immediate weight loss diets, or an instant way to get rich; how many of us check Facebook, sports scores, emails ect. constantly on our phones.

     While these advances in technology can be good for society one of the downsides is the tendency that comes with it to make quick judgments. I don’t know about you but every time I go to a book store I end up buying a book whose cover first jumped out to me. I think all of us can have a tendency to judge a book by its cover, not only when we go to the bookstore but in all of our judgments even about people.

     Today’s Gospel reminds us that it is only God Himself who should judge the life of a person. The Good news that our first reading and responsorial psalm remind us of is that our God is a merciful God. Our God does not judge a book by its cover, rather he enters into a relationship with us and anyone who knows anything about relationships know they take time to develop. Our merciful Lord who awaits us to enter into a relationship with Him gives us our entire life, until the final harvest, the final judgment, to make amends and live in a right relationship with Him.

     If we are honest with ourselves all of us will admit that we have areas in our lives that need purification. Certainly we don’t want to put off working on purifying those less than perfect things from our life because we do not know the hour when our life will end but we do know that at the end of time, at the moment of judgment, the weeds will be burned for while God is merciful he is just. Yet as long as we are seriously working on those things in our lives, and frequenting the sacrament of Confession we should not loose sleep over our imperfections, rather we should trust the mercy of the Lord and be patient knowing that He will not simply judge us by our cover but He knows our struggles and our deepest desires.

     Hearing today’s Gospel I cannot help but think of the many great saints whose lives began as sinners. I think of the life of St. Paul, who killed Christians in his early life only to be converted and become the greatest evangelizer in the history of the Church. I think of the life of St. Augustine who documents the darkness of his life in his great work The Confessions. Given ample time and grace, St. Augustine, a man who spent years in a heretical sect, had a child out of wedlock, and caused mischief just to cause trouble had a conversion of heart and become one of the greatest defenders of the faith that our Church has ever had.

     Our God is not a God of immediate results, no He is a God of relationship. The only immediate result God grants is His forgiveness when we come to Him in sorrow in the sacrament of Confession. This week we are reminded that God judges us as a friend, he wants what is best for us and judges with clemency. He is always present stretching out to us offering to help us make up for what is lacking in our lives if only we are willing to turn away from the addiction of going to our cell phones and the internet for the quick fix and turn to him. Our Lord awaits us here to help us but asks us to do so in relationship not in instant gratification.

     While we live in a world that values instant gratification today we are called today to enter into relationship with the Lord, to slowly have our hearts converted towards the greatness He intends for us. Like all relationships it takes time but the merciful Lord is their every step of the way. As much as I like immediate gratification I am grateful for the mercy of God which is expressed in the slow process of entering into relationship with us. I am grateful that the master does not kill the weeds right away, after all if the weeds were pulled immediately before the harvest wouldn’t all of us have been thrown into the fire by now?

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-mahr/smartphones-the-new-cigar_b_5530818.html

Friday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time Year II

Is 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8 / IS 38:10, 11, 12ABCD, 16 / Mt 12: 1-8

     In today’s Gospel we hear the Pharisees trying to interpret a law about working on the Sabbath in an overly legalistic way and Jesus who is Lord and sovereign over all laws calls them to task for misapplying the law. If we listen closely to the Gospel we notice that Jesus does not attack the law itself, we never hear Him say that the Sabbath should not be a day of rest. Rather Jesus understands that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath as the Pharisees interpreted the law.

     While requiring his followers to keep the 4th commandment, Jesus, in today’s Gospel, challenges the Pharisees and us to see the Christian rule of life as a means to holiness, not a game or some hoops to jump through. If we truly give ourselves over to the Christian rule of life and strive to enter more deeply into the true spirit of those laws our relationship with the Trinity will grow immensely, but if we simply try to jump through hoops we miss an excellent opportunity to grow in holiness.

     God is not the scorekeeper who simply tallies up the number of times we have followed the rules and then if we have followed the Christian way of Life well enough invites us into heaven. No He gives us rules to lead us to a deeper relationship with Him. We are told to keep Holy the Sabbath so that we can have a day of rest and relaxation, essential components of a relationship, with our Lord. While the Pharisees, stuck in a very legalistic mindset, attack the disciples for working on the Sabbath, they fail to realize the disciples are walking with the Lord, their relationship with the Lord is being strengthened as they work. As we approach this altar why don’t we take the opportunity to briefly examine our attitude towards the Christian way of life. Let us cast aside any legalistic ideals in our mind and strive to follow the Christian way of life so as to enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord. Let us ask the Lord to use His rule of life to lead us into a deeper relationship with Him.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel 2014

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Year II

7/16/2014

Is 10: 5-7, 13B-16 / PS 94:5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 14-15 / MT 11:25-27

     Today we celebrate the feast of our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Today’s Gospel reminds us that if we want to want to know God the Father, we must come to know the Son and I know of no better way to come to know the Son than through his Mother, Mary. For Carmelites, for whom today is a special feast, Mary is the one who points most clearly to Christ. Thus we today can say with the Carmelites, that if we want to come to enter into a relationship with our Heavenly Father we must turn to our Spiritual Mother and ask her to lead us to her Son who will lead us to the Father. When we deepen our relationship with our Mother we deepen our relationship with Christ and thus are invited into the love of the Trinity.

     It is because of our Mother Mary that we can say with the psalmist today “the Lord will not abandon His people.” On the Cross, immediately before His death, Our Lord gave His mother to the Church to be our Mother. Just before he passed to be seated at the right hand of the Father, our Lord left us His mother so that we would not be orphans but would have the motherly care we need to be brought to the spiritual maturity required for eternal life. Our Blessed Mother always leads us to Christ and assists us through her intercession. I think Fulton Sheen summarized the importance of a relationship with our Blessed Mother with respect to today’s Gospel best when he said Mary “is more like a magnifying glass; she intensifies our love of her son and makes our prayers more bright and burning.”[1]

     As we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel today let us turn to our Blessed Mother and ask her to lead us into an ever-deeper relationship with her Son. Let us renew our devotion to our Spiritual Mother and allow her to lead us into a deeper relationship with Her Son who will lead us to life in the Trinity.

 

[1] Sheen, Fulton. The World’s First Love Mary, Mother of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.pg. 80.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

IS 55:1-10 / Ps 65: 10, 11, 12-13, 14 / Rom 8: 18 – 23 / Mt 13: 1-9

     My dad loves to grow Orchids. I am grateful that he goes through all of the hard work and spends the time needed to grow these beautiful plants but I will never follow in my father’s footsteps and try to grow orchids because while I have no trouble caring for a dog or a gold fish, plants are another story and it seems like every time I try to care for a plant it dies. A little while ago as a joke some of my friends bought me a cactus telling me that I should be able to care for it but I promptly gave it away because while I’m sure I could probably care for a cactus, I won’t simply because I don’t want to have to live with the embarrassment if it does die.

     While I don’t have the skills to care for plants I am fascinated by the skill it takes and while I don’t grow plants I find myself curiously watching my dad care for his orchids. As I have watched him care for his orchids over the years I have learned that caring for plants is so much more than just planting the seed and watering the plants. Taking care of plants, as any of you who do know, takes allot of time and dedication. Watching my dad I have learned that while sunlight and water are important it seems that the soil is most important. Someone can water the plant, give it all the sunlight it needs and nurture the plant perfectly, but if the soil is bad the plant will die.

     The seed of faith has been planted in each one of us by our parents, a friend, or other people who lead us to the Church and the sacrament of baptism, but ultimately it is God Himself who using our parents or a friend first sowed the seed of faith in our life. God does not simply sow the seed of faith in our lives and then leave us alone to be sure it blossoms, no our God is a God of relationship so He sows the seed and then provides all of the nutrients we need to flourish. While God is there caring for us every step of the way, providing all that we need, we must be sure that the soil is fertile so the seed of faith can grow and take root in our lives.

     Has our soil become pathway where the seed lands and is simply swallowed up? Have we given up on our faith, or has our faith become lukewarm? Is our soil that soil which is rocky where the plant springs up but quickly fades away and dies? Do we actively engage our faith only at certain moments and then put it on the back burner at other moments. Or is our soil the fertile soil that enables the seed of faith to take root and bear much fruit.

     The first requirement of fertile soil is that it must be rich in nutrients. God Himself provides those nutrients for us primarily in the sacraments. There is not greater way to nurture the seed of faith in our life than to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass frequently. When we participate in the celebration of Holy Mass the seed of the Word of God is sowed as we listen to the readings from Sacred Scripture and then the seed of faith is nourished as we receive Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion.

God provides all that we need, but we need to nurture the soil so why not take the opportunity to prayerfully read the readings for Mass ahead of time, or why not arrive at Mass a few moments early to quietly prepare ourselves. In addition to attending Mass at a minimum on Sunday would not our soil be more fertile if we took the opportunity to frequently receive the sacrament of Confession, taking time daily to pray and read sacred scripture, perhaps attend Mass sometime during the week or stop by to visit Him in the Adoration Chapel?

     God Himself, has done the sowing, He provides all that we need for that seed to grow and bear much fruit but we must be sure the soil is fertile. As we approach this altar, where we will receive Jesus Himself, let us examine our lives, see what kind of soil the seed of faith has been planted on in our lives and that ask Jesus to help us fertilize our soil to make it capable of receiving the seed of faith and the nutrients that He sows for us. As we approach to receive Jesus Himself let us make a firm commitment to do our part in fertilizing the soul in which the seed of faith has been sown.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zec 9:9-10 / PS 124:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14 / Rom 8:9, 11-13 / MT 11:25-30

     In today’s Gospel from St Matthew we hear, Jesus say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” When we hear this promise of Jesus we can be tempted to shrug it off because as anyone who has seriously tried to live a Christian life knows, following after Christ can be hard. After all, Jesus says just 5 chapters later in the Gospel of Matthew, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”[1]

     All we have to do is look at the cross to see that the cross is not an easy yoke or a light burden. Those of us who have sincerely taken up our cross and tried to follow after Christ know that at times it doesn’t feel like a light burden. Yet I take Jesus at His word so today’s gospel begs the questions how can Christ claim that His yoke is easy and His burden light, when we know it can often be a challenge?

     The key to Christ’s promise that His yoke is easy and His burden is light is found in today’s second reading from St. Paul. Christ says that His yoke is easy because His Spirit dwells within us. At our baptism we were grafted onto the body of Christ and because of our baptism the Spirit of God dwells within us. We do not journey this pilgrimage of life alone, but rather Christ journeys with us, showing us the way to the Father.

     As many of you know a yoke, is a wooden crosspiece fastened on the neck of two animals so that they can plow. The animal isn’t alone under the weight of the crosspiece: there’s another animal there to help him. The yoke Christ gives to us is not easy because the life we are called to is easy but rather it is easy because it is Christ Himself who is tethered to that yoke with us and helps us on our way.

     When I think of a yoke I cannot help but also think of the cross. As we recall Christ’s journey with the cross up to the place of His death we recall that Simon of Cyrene was called out of the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. Today we are invited to see ourselves as Simon, carrying the cross with Jesus. Christ who conquered death by His sacrifice on the cross is there to help us carry our cross.

     Christ can truly say that His yoke is easy and His burden is light not because the way of the cross, the Christian way of life is easy, but because He is there to carry it with us. Christ doesn’t promise us an easy journey, no our journey is difficult because he calls us to greatness. I remember my senior year of undergrad I was invited to take a graduate philosophy class from a world famous professor on a 16th century philosophical debate about nations as people and the rights that states have and by extension corporations as people and what rights they have. When the professor asked me to take the class I asked him why he cared so much about a couple of us undergraduates. His response was simple, I see potential in you guys and I know you can use what I am teaching to make a difference in the world. I have to admit I think he was like most teachers, thinking their subject is the most important, and I’m not sure if I will ever use that knowledge to better the world but I know his patience and the discipline of the course made me a better person. This class was by far the most difficult class I have ever taken but the professor, while demanding allot, was always available after class hours in his office to help me. I can’t even begin to count the hours I spent in his office and the amount of pain that class caused me but due to his generosity I was able to work through the difficulties and master the material. While what the teacher was demanding was difficult and time consuming I turned out better for it. In fact just last week I received a call from a lawyer friend of mine who works on Capital Hill asking if I knew anything about the understanding of corporations as people, and well surprisingly I had answers for him. Well Jesus tells us today to come and learn from Him, He wants to teach us. Jesus is like that world class professor I had, he demands allot because he sees the potential we have, the potential for eternal life, but he is also their every step of the way to help us along.

     Even amidst the struggles which make us stronger we are not alone. During our most agonizing trials, we’re never alone. Since Christ walks that road with us we should not try to turn away from the cross, rather we should embrace our cross knowing that Christ who has already conquered death is there carrying our cross with us leading us to His Father and eternal life.

     As Catholics we are privileged to come before Jesus and receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus Himself comes to us as our nourishment to help us on our journey. As Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is raised before our eyes in just a few moments why not take the opportunity to offer to Jesus all of those difficulties of our life. As we approach to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, why not invite Him into our lives to help us carry our cross for when the going gets tough we know Christ, who suffered the extreme death on a cross and conquered death is their journeying with us.

[1] Mt 11:28-30.

4th of July 2014

Homily for the 4th of July Homily

Am 8:4-6, 9-12 / PS 119:2,10,20,30,40 / Mt 9:9-13

     There is no doubt that our nation has been extremely blessed by God. We have perhaps the greatest reserve of natural resources in the world, a strong education structure and even amidst many struggles we continue to be a world leader in freedom and peace. Today as we celebrate the birthday of our beloved country we are reminded that all the great blessings we have been given as a nation are indeed a blessing from God and we are challenged both as a nation and as citizens of our country to encourage others to make a positive return on those gifts back to God.

     Today’s first reading gives us a stern warning that even amidst the great things we have been given we cannot live on those things alone. If we become focused solely on the material things of this world we will shut God out from our lives. Our founding father’s knew this and did not found a nation on the greatness of their political ideas or the natural resources of this land, but rather they founded this nation “under God.”

     Sadly today many people have lost sight of the truth that our nation is founded under God. Rather than seeing God for who He truly is they are searching for gods in worldly places. Sadly today some in our country have lost sight of God and have lost their way. Some are attempting to remove our founding principle under God and in so doing are radically changing who we are as a nation and taking away our greatest gift, making our country weaker.

     While it can be easy to look at our country in these times and become depressed our Gospel today challenges us to a radically different way of looking at our world. Rather than watching the news depressed we are challenge to see our time as a time of opportunity. In today’s Gospel we are told about the calling of St. Matthew who was a tax collector. It was well known at the time of Jesus that tax collectors cheated people, they took what belonged to the government and then some for themselves. Notice Jesus does not get depressed when he encounters Matthew, rather he invites Matthew to come follow Him.

     I think this is our challenge today. We, as Catholic Americans, are called to first recognize that we do not live on material things alone, and are called to see God’s blessing in the many gifts we have been given. Having recognized the many blessing we have received we are called to invite those in our country, who sadly have become only preoccupied with material things to come with us and follow after Jesus.

     We are invited to witness with those who have fallen away from the Christian principles our nation was founded on and lead them to Christ, through our own witness of our actions. Will this be easy? Certainly not, but today I can’t help but think of our founding fathers and all the hard work they put in to found our nation.

     Did you know 56 men signed the declaration of independence? Of those 56, 5 were captured as traitors by the British and tortured to death. Another 9 died as a result of battles of the Revolutionary War, and 1, a merchant, had his ships captured and was forced to sell all his possessions to pay off those expenses and ended up living the rest of his life on the streets in rags. We, like the founding father’s may have to undergo some hardships if we want to help lead those in our nation who have fallen from our guiding principle as one nation under God, but we can be assure that in our suffering we are not only leading others back to God, we are helping to return our country to its founding principle, the principle that makes it such a great nation, a nation under God.