November 8, 2009

Living and dying in the Lord

Cardinal George's Schedule

  1. Nov. 8: 10 a.m., 125th Anniversary Mass, St. Josaphat Church; 2:30 p.m., Archdiocesan Parish Awards Ceremony, Holy Name Cathedral
  2. Nov. 9-10: Presbyteral Council General Meeting, Mundelein
  3. Nov. 12: 11 a.m., Catholic Charities Annual Board Meeting, Chicago Cultural Center; 5 p.m., Illinois Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, Union League Club
  4. Nov. 13: noon, Catholic Church Extension Society Board Meeting, Sofitel Chicago O’Hare Airport
  5. Nov. 13-19: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Fall Assembly, Baltimore, Md.
  6. Nov. 19: 4 p.m., Public Forum, Faith in a Secular Age, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
  7. Nov. 20: 12:10 p.m., Memorial Mass for the Deceased Bishops and Priests of the Archdiocese, Holy Name Cathedral; 6 p.m, Receive the 2009 Sword of Loyola Award, Loyola Stritch School of Medicine Annual Dinner, The Hilton Chicago
  8. Nov. 21: 9 a.m., Archdiocesan Pastoral Council General Meeting, Meyer Center; 4 p.m., 125th Anniversary Mass, St. Columba Parish
Cardinal's Crest

Cardinal's Appointments

His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George announces the following appointments:


Rev. Thomas Tivy (retired) to temporary administrator of Our Lady of the Snows.

Pastor emeritus

Rev. David Mulvihill of Our Lady of Humility in Beach Park/Zion.

November starts with our commemorating all the saints in heaven and continues with our praying for all the souls in purgatory. The church celebrates saints’ days on the day of their death, the day of their definitive entrance into heaven, not their birthday on earth, as the secular calendar commemorates the dead.

Death separates body from soul. Because the soul is spiritual, it survives the death of the body. Because the soul is embodied, it seeks eternal union with its body. The church teaches both that the soul is immortal and that the body will rise when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Soul and body will be reunited in a transformed state, resembling that of the risen Christ, the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).

Life now is a journey toward the death that opens the door to life eternal. Basically, what we know about eternity is that we will spend it in God’s company, if we repent of our sins and grow in holiness before death. We have little knowledge of what that life will be like, except that we will be forever immersed in the infinite love of God. Living with God day after day now reduces our fears, for we know we are never alone, and prepares us to welcome greater intimacy with God after death.

People sometimes say they do not fear death, but they do fear suffering. Suffering makes sense if we can join our suffering to that of Christ, who suffered for our salvation. Christ shares in our suffering as we share in his. Without the experience and conviction that suffering is not wasted in the economy of grace, suffering and pain have little or no meaning. In that vacuum of meaning, arguments for euthanasia or assisted suicide unfortunately become more attractive.

Anticipating one’s death and preparing for it is a spiritual exercise, but the care of one’s body is also a moral question. We are morally required to take care of our body and make use of the ordinary means available to keep ourselves in good health and to overcome sickness. When sickness is deadly, however, we are not morally required to use extraordinary means to combat illness. In 1957, Pope Pius XII wrote: “Normally one is held to use only ordinary means — according to the circumstances of persons, places, times and culture — that is to say, means that do not involve any grave burden for oneself or another. A stricter obligation would be too burdensome for most people and would render the attainment of the higher, more important good too difficult. Life, health, all temporal activities are in fact subordinated to spiritual ends.” While one remains free to pursue aggressive and experimental methods of healing, one is not obliged to do so.

Toward the end of Pope John Paul’s pontificate, the holy father opened up a discussion about whether food and drink, even if delivered artificially through stomach tube feeding, can be considered extraordinary means of preserving life. Basically, the answer is no; providing food and drink is not medical treatment. We need food whether we are well or sick. But circumstances do come into play in deciding the question about whether to provide food and drink “artificially,” especially to comatose patients. Can the body any longer assimilate food and water? Can the patient tolerate a feeding tube? Is the tube causing repeated infections?

Anticipating one’s death brings with it consideration of how one wants to be cared for when dying. The State of Illinois recognizes “advance directives” for medical treatment, should a person be incapacitated and unable to make decisions about his or her care. Catholics should be sure that their directives are consistent with the moral teaching of the church. Reading the Ethical and Moral Directives that bind Catholic hospitals in caring for people gives one a clear sense of how to instruct those caring for a dying patient.

Because no one can adequately anticipate all the circumstances of one’s death, however, it is also possible to give a trusted friend or relative “durable power of attorney” to act as a health-care proxy. The health-care proxy acts in the name of the patient and should be chosen because he or she is of good moral character, is able to make decisions in difficult circumstances and shares the moral vision of the patient.

Life is a gift from God, undeserved, un-requested, and always to be treasured and protected by those who have received it. Our goal in life is to surrender ourselves completely to the Lord in life and in death. In November, we should pray to St. Joseph for a happy death, one accompanied by the prayers of the church. Confession of one’s sins, receiving Holy Communion as viaticum and receiving the anointing of the sick make up the “last rites” that prepare one to meet face-to-face the Lord we have come to know and love in this life. Prayers for the souls in purgatory help them to finish the journey to heaven and help us to remain united with those who have gone before us in faith.

Finally, health care is much in the news these days because of the bills before Congress to extend care more universally. The bishops are asking all Catholics to contact their legislators and insist on two goals for any legislation: Everybody should be cared for and nobody should be deliberately killed. Morally acceptable legislation must remove the possibility of using federal taxes to pay for abortion, respecting the rules that have been in effect for a generation. If taxes pay for abortions under the rubric of “health care,” our society’s relation to the killing of the unborn changes radically. We should work and pray that this not happen. The parish bulletins are carrying instructions on how each of us can get involved in this issue of paramount urgency for all of us. (See story on Pages 5 and 7).

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8: 38-39). God bless you and keep you close to him, in life and in death.  

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

Archbishop of Chicago