Day for Life is celebrated annually by the Catholic Church in Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. It is a day dedicated to celebrating and upholding the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. This year’s Day for Life will be celebrated in Ireland on Sunday 4 October on the theme ‘Cherishing Life, Accepting Death’.
Day for Life 2015 pastoral message: ‘Cherishing Life, Accepting Death’
‘How great a lie … to make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!’ – Pope Francis
Kathleen, a much-loved grandmother, collapsed at home one Saturday morning and was rushed to hospital. Early signs pointed towards a stroke. The doctors talked about the next twenty-four hours being critical; it seemed like Kathleen might not even survive. The priest was called and Kathleen received the anointing of the sick. Doctors were talking about brain damage and whether interventions might be possible. Suddenly the family was faced with big questions. What would Kathleen have wanted and how could the Church help guide any decisions? How do we accept death when it comes and cherish life while we can?
There have been remarkable medical and technological advances so that the chronically ill can receive life-saving treatments. We can be truly thankful for such advances. And yet at some time or other we will all die. These same advances have led to more complex decision-making about appropriate treatment for those who are gravely ill.
At the end of life, there are two thoughts that can help guide us all.
The first is that we love life. Every person is loved by God and every life is a precious gift never to be destroyed or neglected. It is wrong to hasten or bring about death. God will call us in his own good time.
The second is that we accept death. This means there is no obligation to pursue medical treatment when it no longer serves its purpose – that is when treatment is having no effect or indeed harming the patient.
We need to prepare to face life-threatening crises. Ideally these difficult and important decisions need to be faced with others – our spouse, our siblings, our extended family members. The family, after all, should be the privileged place where mutual support and understanding occurs.
Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made and the views of family and experts should be taken into account. In such situations these two basic questions can guide our decisions:
- is this decision loving life?
- is this decision accepting the inevitability of death?
Depending on the situation we should seek ways to answer yes to both, as life itself is a gift from God, and death but the gateway to new life with him.
- Click here to read the Day for Life 2015 Irish text
- Click here to read the Day for Life 2015 Polish text
Click here to read an article by Bishop Brendan Leahy on Day for Life 2015 from this month’s Intercom magazine.
Click here to listen to an interview with Bishop Brendan Leahy on Day for Life
For those who wish to explore the invitation to “Cherish Life – Accept death” in greater depth, we draw attention to End of Life Care: Ethical and Pastoral Issues, which was published by Bishops Committee for Bioethics in 2002. It can be accessed here.
Parish Resources for Day for Life 2015
- Day for Life postcard
Click here to download this year’s Day for Life message in postcard format Day for Life 2015 postcard
- Day for Life 2015 Prayers
Prayer for a good death, the intercession of St Joseph:
O blessed Joseph,
who breathed your last in the arms of Jesus and Mary,
obtain for me this grace:
that I may breathe forth my soul in praise,
saying in spirit, if I am unable to do so in words:
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give Thee my heart and my soul.’
Day for Life Prayer
Holy Mary, Mother of Love,
holding in your arms, the fruit of your womb,
graciously look upon our earth and remove from it
all that hardens our hearts and dims our eyes
to the preciousness of human life,
from the moment of conception to natural death.
Through the example of your tenderness
teach us the ways of compassion and love
that we may build up the civilisation of love among us
and a society that is truly worthy of the human person.
Help us to reject all that contributes to a culture of death,
and to work with others of goodwill
in promoting the culture of life.
Bring us ever closer to your Son,
so that we may know the fullness of life that he offers us
and come to know that life more perfectly,
with you, and all the angels and saints,
in the eternal life of Heaven.
- Prayer of the Faithful
The psalmist sings praise for the providence of God who gives us food in due season and who grants our desires. Confident that he hears our prayers, let us turn to him for our needs and the needs of all of us created in his image and likeness:
For the Church, the Body of Christ. That through our words and deeds, and by a ‘preferential love for the sick’ (i) , we may proclaim the compassion of God, who is always close to those who suffer. Lord in your mercy…
For those who are exiled by conflict or by poverty. That they may be restored to a homeland and that we, who ourselves have no abiding city, may recognise them as our brothers and sisters. (ii) Lord in your mercy…
For the healing of those who are sick in mind or in body. That they might be restored to health and give God thanks in the midst of his people. (iii) Lord in your mercy…
For those who care for our brothers and sisters who are dying. That they may alleviate their pain and strengthen them in hope, and so enable them to both cherish life and to accept death. Lord in your mercy…
For the faithful departed. That, having laid down their burdens and washed clean in the blood of the lamb, they may be led by Christ the Good Shepherd into pastures eternal. Lord in your mercy… Lord God, whose days are without end and whose mercies beyond counting, keep us mindful that life is short and the hour of death unknown. Let your Spirit guide our days on earth in the ways of holiness and justice, that we may serve you in union with the whole Church, sure in faith, strong in hope, perfected in love. And when our earthly journey is ended, lead us rejoicing into your kingdom, where you live for ever and ever. (iv)
(References: i CC1503 ii cf Mass for Refugees and Exiles, RM1364 iii cf. Collect, Mass for the Sick, RM1378 iv Concluding Prayer for Committal at a Crematorium, Order of Christian Funerals)
- A reflection on Cherishing Life, Accepting Death
Throughout his life Dave was an active member of his local church, their caravan club and the Scouts. Supported by his family and by his friends he died last year after a long and disfiguring struggle with mouth cancer. He was one of those remarkable people who, through their lives, teach us about the power and depth of God’s love. He was not afraid of death: he had a gift of faith such that he saw clearly that God had loved and chosen him and had prepared a place for him in heaven. As much as he desired to be with the Lord, he loved and cherished every day that was given to him to be with his family and friends and to continue to help others through his voluntary work in the church and the Scouts.
Dave and his family showed remarkable courage in the way he faced his illness. He reminds me that to be a disciple is called to accept the paradox of loving life and accepting death. During his illness he had to face difficult decisions about whether or not to accept various treatments and finally, when they could sustain him no longer to prepare for his death. His example reminds me that Jesus walks with us in illness and that whatever the circumstances we are called to pray and place our trust in God. Sometimes this is difficult and God seems very distant. Faith is about holding on in the darkness. Although the journey may be stormy, we can hope in the promise of God that he waits to welcome us into the joy of heaven.
Those people who cherish life and accept death in their final weeks or months on earth have a special place in God’s plan and in communicating his love to us. As our brothers and sisters in need they call us to a ministry of compassion and friendship in their suffering. Through our presence the compassionate God is revealed to them and our faith and hope are strengthened by their witness. Through their presence among us, through their faith and hope, God draws our attention to the great blessing of the life to come. Their example offers us hope as they look forward to the resurrection whilst living through the cross.
Fr Jonathan How, Director of Studies, St John’s Seminary, Wonersh.
- Video: Maria’s story
Maria was born with a very rare non-genetic condition called Dandy-Walker Syndrome. Despite the challenges, she lived a full life in a loving family, with her parents and four siblings, until the very end. She died peacefully at home when she was just 14 years old. In this film, her mother Bernadette Pattie tells her story.
Click here to watch her story.
Pope Francis on cherishing life and accepting death
- We must not abandon the elderly – Pope Francis
On Thursday 5 May 2015, Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who met in Rome for their General Assembly. In his remarks, the Holy Father spoke about the theme of the Assembly:
“Assisting the elderly and palliative care.” Palliative care, he said, “is an expression of the properly human attitude of taking care of one another, especially of those who suffer. It bears witness that the human person is always precious, even if marked by age and sickness.”
Pope Francis also spoke of the duty of honouring the elderly, which he associated with the biblical commandment to honour one’s parents. On the contrary, he said, the Bible has a stern warning for those who neglect or mistreat their parents. This judgement applies today when parents, “having become older and less useful, are marginalised to the point of abandonment.”
The Pope explained that “to honour” can be understood in our day “as the duty to have extreme respect and to take care of those who, because of their physical or social condition, could be left to die, or ‘made to die’.”
Palliative care, Pope Francis said, recognises, at the end of life, the value of the person. He called on all those involved in palliative care to preserve this spirit of service, and to remember that “all medical knowledge is truly science, in its most noble sense” only if it has in view the true good of the human being, a good that can never be achieved when it acts contrary to human life and dignity.
“It is this capacity for service to the life and dignity of the sick, even when they are old, that is the measure of the true progress of medicine, and of all society.”
- The Final Farewell – Pope Francis
Pope Francis used his reflection at Mass in the chapel at Casa Santa Marta on 19 May 2015, to talk about the ultimate meaning of every farewell – great or small.
During this reflection, the Holy Father talked about the final farewell “when the Lord calls us to the other side”:
“These great farewells of life, also the last one, are not farewells which conclude with ‘see you soon, see you later, until we meet again’.
“They are not farewells in which one knows he is returning either right away or in a week.
“Instead, with grand farewells, one neither knows when nor how the return may be.”
Reading: Acts of the Apostles 20:17-27
Gospel: John 17:1-11
The prayer of Jesus for those he must leave behind
“The two texts in the day’s liturgy say the word ‘goodbye’: Paul entrusts his own to God, and Jesus entrusts to the Father his disciples, who remain in the world. It is entrusting to the Father, entrusting to God which is the origin of the word ‘goodbye’. In fact we say ‘goodbye’ only in the great farewells, whether those of life, or the final one.
Before the icon of Paul who weeps, kneeling on the beach and the icon of Jesus, sad for he is going to his Passion, with his disciples, weeping in his heart, Pope Francis recommended that we “reflect on ourselves: it will do us good”. And that we ask ourselves: “who will be the person to close my eyes? What will I leave?”
The Pope noted:
“Paul and Jesus, in these passages, both do an examination of conscience: ‘I have done this, this and this’. And thus it is good to ask oneself, in a sort of examination of conscience: ‘What have I done?’. And to do so with the awareness that it is good for me to imagine myself at that moment, one never knows when, in which ‘see you later’, ‘see you soon’, ‘see you tomorrow’, ‘until we meet again’ will become ‘goodbye’”.
The Holy Father then invited further reflection:
“Am I prepared to entrust to God all of my loved ones? To entrust myself to God? To say that word which is the Son’s word of entrustment to the Father?”.
Pope Francis also encouraged us to find a little time to read Chapter 16 of the Gospel according to John or Chapter 19 of the Acts of the Apostles. These are “the farewell of Jesus and the farewell of Paul”.
“In the light of these very texts, it is important to think that one day I too will have to say that word: ‘goodbye’.
“To God I entrust my soul; to God I entrust my history; to God I entrust my loved ones; to God I entrust all”.
“Now”, the Pope concluded, “let us commemorate Jesus’ goodbye, Jesus’ death”. And he prayed “that Jesus, died and risen, will send us the Holy Spirit so that we learn this word, learn to say it existentially, with all our strength: the last word: ‘goodbye’”.
Adapted from an article on news.va
Principles from Catholic teaching on End of Life Decisions
Here’s a digest of what the Catholic Church teaches with regard to end of life decisions.
Respect for the life of every person
Respecting life means that every person must be valued for as long as they live. Every person is loved by God and every life is a precious gift never to be destroyed or neglected. It is wrong to hasten or bring about death. God will call us in his good time.
Life need not be preserved at all costs
Due respect for my life is compatible with the judgment, ‘this medical treatment is no longer worthwhile’, either because such treatment no longer serves its purpose (is futile), or because it is overly burdensome, dangerous, or disproportionate to the expected outcome: there is no obligation to accept ‘over-zealous’ treatment, traditionally called ‘extraordinary’ by the Church.
Making a medically informed decision
Before deciding the right thing to do, I need to know what is wrong with me, or my loved-one, what is likely to happen and what might be the benefits and risks of different treatments. It is important to listen to the doctors but also to ask questions. I need to make sure that doctors or nurses are not making assumptions about my condition or about what I would want. If I am not sure about this I can ask for a second opinion by a different doctor.
The burdens of treatment are relative to the person
Judgments about what counts as excessively burdensome are relative to my sensitivities, sensibilities, physical condition and situation. The decisions should be made me if I am competent or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for me. Doctors should always respect my reasonable decisions and my legitimate interests.
Caring and accepting care
I may not be conscious or I may be confused when decisions need to be made about my care. This is why it is good to speak to those close to us about what we would want. It is important not to give into the temptation that others would be better off without us. We should allow them to show their love and care for us.
Food and water are basic needs
Some forms of treatment or care are more basic than others. In particular the giving and accepting of food and drink, by tube if necessary, is part of ordinary care for ourselves and hospitality to others. We should not be denied food or drink except when they are no longer effective in sustaining life.
Acceptance of death is part of Christian hope in the resurrection from the dead
For the Christian, the moment of death is the time when God comes to take us home. If we die accepting God’s mercy then we can look forward to the resurrection, reunion with those who have gone before, and unimaginable joy.