Thursday 26 June 2014

Death By Killing –The Assisted Dying Bill

Archbishop Peter Smith has asked us to place a notice in our Bulletins this weekend encouraging us to write to the House of Lords and express our views on the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill. Having sat for a month by the bedside of my mother following a subarachnoid bleed, and observing the care given and the rationale behind the medical and nursing interventions, I shall be saying that the dying person does not require killing (or assistance to take their own life) but complete and dedicated care. We should not measure our care of the terminally ill by how easy it is to bring about their death, but against the criteria of “is this going to delay natural death (in which case it is wrong) or sustain comfort while moving towards a natural death?” 

In the UK, Pathways for the dying routinely remove food and fluids while increasing drugs which sedate the patient, achieving a calmness in the patient that may prevent the dying person from being unaware they are thirsty, with the family thinking their loved one’s death is simply ‘peaceful’ rather than procured. In the situation with my mother, the physician said they were going to remove mums subcutaneous infusion (500mls N/S per 24hrs) as it was life-extending. I had to challenge this to have it noted as -at most- life-sustaining, and certainly not life-extending. In that we all lose around 450mls per day just by breathing, never mind the insensible loss (loss of which we are generally unaware, as in sweating) and the sensible (obvious) loss in passing urine, there seems no good reason for removing all fluids. Even in congestive heart failure, removing the infusion may do little to relieve the pulmonary congestion since circulating fluid ‘seeps’ into the lungs whether fluids are given or not -and it is, after all, simply replacing only one daily ‘insensible loss’. This is not to say there are no occasions in which infusions can be removed in the last few hours of life, but whether infusions are present or not, frequent mouth care by nurses and relatives must be a priority intervention for reasons of comfort.

Many anxieties arise in those who are dying, mainly concerning pain and dignity during the dying process. It is this pain and distress that needs to be ended, not the patient, while their dignity and enjoyments are to be retained. If the dying person can retain their dignity (by respectful cleansing after passing urine or stools etc); have their anxieties relieved (by adequate but not excessive use of anxiolytics), their pain relieved (by such as morphine); any muscle spasm relieved (by such as Baclofen or Clonazepam); and if their enjoyments (TV programmes, reading or music etc) can be provided along with comforting, human-touch therapies (such as massage and aromatherapy), many who think they should end their life might be happy to have more time with their loved ones. This kind of care requires more and better funded hospices. We must strive to provide such care because the human person alone walks the earth with a dignity that does not have a sliding scale based upon whether one is rich or poor, black or white, male or female, sick or well. We are not mere animals; we have a mind which produces concepts; a mind which brings us to understand and master the world in ways that animals with their basic instincts cannot. We may euthanize the arthritic dog, but people require other than killing –they require compassionate caring and respect.

It is said that the Assisted Dying Bill will result in fewer dying adults facing unnecessary suffering at the end of their lives and bring clarity to the law, thus providing safety and security for the terminally ill and for medical professionals. This is a poor argument, since suffering can be relieved by medications and having pleasures retained as I outlined above. Nor do we need a clarity in the law that brings physicians, nurses and loved ones to become killers rather than carers; the clarity we need is on the protection of human life and the provision of proper care.

It is said the Bill will not legalise voluntary euthanasia, or act as a slippery slope to do so, only give dying adults peace of mind that the choice of assisted dying is available if their suffering becomes too great for them to handle. That the Bill would not legalise euthanasia is nonsense; the procuring of death in the dying person is exactly that: euthanasia.

It is said that the Assisted Dying Bill would only apply to adults with ‘mental capacity’ both at the time of their request and at the time of their death. This does not lessen the reality that this Bill is seeking to procure death before one’s natural time. Further, the issue of consent is very problematic: when given a long time in advance it cannot be relied upon since it is given when the person cannot actually know how well they would cope if complete and expert care were given. If consent is given in the immediate situation it is hampered by fears, and if anxiolytics are given to relieve that fear then the consent is given while under the influence of drugs. The Bill would certainly NOT protect against unscrupulous relatives or physicians from pressurising the dying person into requesting euthanasia by engendering feelings of guilt, fear etc. 

To conclude: what is required is not procured death by killing but dedicated, complete care of the person’s physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, which can be achieved through more and well funded, fully staffed hospices. The dignity of the human person demands this; the capacity for compassion for one’s fellow man delivers it, since compassion naturally inspires devoted care, not killing. 

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Sadness & Joy in Baptism Preparations

So many of those who seek Baptism for their child leave me feeling both sadness and joy: joy that the parents want their child to have the Faith, but sadness that it is likely to be easily lost because the parents themselves have little understanding of the Faith. What they (and their parents, the grandparents of today) received from pulpits and schools over the last few decades has left them with an understanding of the Faith that has no depth; it is simply too shallow to stand up to the trials of life such as the death of a loved one, and too shallow to stand up to the challenges of the relativist culture of our time.

It is always important to me to explain to couples who are not practicing or actually cohabiting that their understanding of the Faith is shallow but this is no fault of their own; it is similarly important to me to explain that in order to support their child in the Faith, growth in their own understanding of the Faith and its practice has to be sought now, as adults and especially as parents who have been entrusted by God with the forming of a soul for heaven.

Many of those who present their children for Baptism are cohabiting, and it becomes necessary to explain to such couples that not only are they placing their own souls in jeopardy by living in a way that is inconsistent with revealed Truth, but that by establishing their child in a sacramental system they themselves have abandoned brings about a disparity of life between child and parents which is unhelpful to all. It is important to tell the parents that this is not about them being ‘hypocrites’ but simply lacking in the necessary Faith formation.

What is true of such young parents is also true of so many Catholics leaving school today and of the older generation too: they simply don’t know what the Church teaches and when they do, they have little or no idea why she teaches it. In that they do not know because they have not been taught it, hypocrisy is not the problem. Rather, it is the inability to pass on and model the Catholic Faith and lifestyle to their child, who in time may confront their parents with the standard line, “why should I do A, B or C when you don’t?”. We need to help parents avoid this possible conflict with their children by helping them to rediscover their own Faith and providing them with an authentic worship experience. In my opinion we have let parents down from the days they themselves were children by providing superficial catechesis based on dialogue rather than instruction, and by providing very poor liturgy which, rather than aiming at providing an experience of the transcendent, merely aped the pop and performing arts culture of the secular world –and rather badly at that: much better music and performances are to be had in the local Club.

I think we have to revert a.s.a.p. to teaching the Catechism as we did before so that Catholics grow up with a question-and-answer foundation upon which to build ever-deepening responses to questions of Faith. We also have to recover a liturgy that is God-focused; one that is obviously ‘other’ than what can be seen and heard in the world; a liturgy where the Lord in His tabernacle is at the apex of the Sanctuary, and the celebration clearly God-centred rather than man-focused. The ad-orientem position (never abandoned by the Church even in the Reformed Missal of Pope Paul VI) and the use of specifically ecclesial music (chant and scared polyphony) are essential in the recovery. Anything else just will not do. Dialogue as catechesis and a performing-arts style of liturgy have done us no good in the last fifty years. Indeed they have accompanied the year by year increase in lapsation. They can only bring us great harm if we continue to peddle them today. And we will, unless we have the humility to admit we made mistakes in both catechesis and worship.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Catholic Dating Guidance

I very occasionally get asked, “How far can we go?” which indicates a couple have already set their minds on a trajectory toward acts the Church teaches are gravely wrong. The guidance I give is not geared towards limiting freedom, but to providing safety boundaries for the soul (and for life in this world too -sexually active folk are at risk of STD’s, and of feeling invaluable as a persons since they are easily abandoned when something more attractive comes along).

Dating for Catholics is difficult today because what were once seen as good boundaries by everyone 50 years ago are now seen as oppressive. This is a result of the the sexual revolution, which threw all boundaries out of the window and portrayed sexual freedom in movies, on TV and in books as freedom from oppression and a facilitating of the fullness of humanity. It is under these pretexts that it is now invading the classrooms even of primary school children. Catholic Schools should remain true to the Church’s teaching on sexuality and certainly keep it out of their classrooms so that children are allowed to be children and not sexualised before their time -this can only lead to active sexual dating contrary to the Gospel.

When Catholics do begin dating, what are some of the things they can do to ensure their dating goes well in the sight of God and which keeps them safe in this world too?

Visit one another’s family homes so you discover family situations and build family connections. Go out as a family group too, since this provides the in-built protection of having people around you. Time alone in bedrooms (or in the living room when the family are out) opens the door to unhelpful talk and embraces that may be too intense. (Dating is for the seeking out a life-time’s spouse, not a sexually compatible ‘partner’).

Pray together. Attend Mass together and go regularly to Confession. Join in one another’s family prayer time and thus build up good habits for the future. All this will help retain the Christian focus of the relationship.

Date those who share your views on morality, since a clash on values on as central as marriage, sexuality and child-rearing will only provide for conflict in the relationship and may well diminish the capacity of the devout Catholic to ‘hold back’.

Don’t dress in such a way as to make yourself look sexually attractive but in order to look personally attractive. Clothes that express femininity or masculinity without exposing the flesh inappropriately; clothes that do not ‘cling’ in such a way that they focus the eye on physical contours, are best. Clothes which expose the flesh or cling to bodily contours put the stress on the body, the physical, rather than the personality.

Go to places that you both enjoy so you can build up a life of shared activity, and be supportive of your friend in his/her individual hobbies (if the hobby is morally good, of course...)

Date in places that are public so that you don’t compromise your self-control.

Be careful about sitting talking in cars after a night out; inevitably the lighting and mood are subdued and passions run high, making such situations something that are best avoided.

Avoid that which procures arousal, such as ‘adult’ bars, movie theatres. Similarly, avoid arousing materials on TV, in books etc.

Kisses should be tender and devoid of passion-arousing elements such as ‘French kissing’.

Be careful of erogenous zones: women need to remember that men get aroused very quickly; what seems harmless to the lady may be very arousing to the male. Repeated, gentle stroking of the hair, the arms, the abdomen or upper thigh can be very arousing for either sex. If you wonder how far you can go in subtle touching you are already contemplating steps that diminish purity: heavy-petting is definitely out since its purpose is to procure full sexual acts.

I know it is difficult these days to see rules and guidelines such as these as useful or healthy, since society is awash with sexuality and actively promotes sexual freedom. But rules are not mere limitations; they are boundaries for safety. This being so, it is important that when dating you are sure in your own mind of the value of the celibate relationship outside of marriage, and of chastity within marriage. 

In a word then, pray together; build family ties; dress smart; date in public and avoid that which arouses. Additionally, be on time, be respectful, and be true to yourself and your Faith. God bless all those who are attempting to date in an integrated Catholic way. 

Sunday 8 June 2014

The Sign of Peace is not peaceful

Fr Blake has an article on the Sign of peace (here), and the FIUV have published a Position Pater (see here). What follows are my own thoughts.

For me the Sign of Peace is one of the most irritating aspects of the Novus Ordo in its concrete celebrations. Having just prayed for peace among us, peace immediately disappears as the folk shake hands with one another, and some celebrants (illicitly) leave the sanctuary in order to join in as though the peace he has just offered from the sanctuary is worthless. Thus the meditative peace built during the Canon immediately disappears from the celebration under a cacophony of noise and activity.

Secondly, the Sign of Peace is all too often used an exchange of well-wishing between family and friends, reminiscent of greetings at a local hop. This often becomes divisive: I had the experience just prior to ordination of being moved to the side by the woman in the bench front of me who wanted to shake hands with her friend in the bench behind me. I have also had a parishioner tell me that, having remained kneeling so as to pray over a distressing family problem, she was shaken on the shoulder with a rather curt, “Peace be with you”.

Third, the Novus Ordo form of the Pax can be decidedly lacking in pastoral sensitivity: those who are less clean in appearance are rarely approached, while survivors of abuse have told me they occasionally find it threatening.

Hygiene needs to come into the equation too. As one of my congregation pointed out, some folk have a habit of blowing and scratching their nose during Mass, then attempting to shake hands.

I know the sign of peace is loved by many because it is affirming, ‘warm’ and welcoming, but even a warm welcome can be marred by the runny noses, dirty hands and noisy activity which frequently surround this ritual.  If we are to have it, let the Bishops make it a real liturgical sign (the amplexus noted by Fr Ray) by removing the secular gesture (the handshake), and let the people contain themselves to their immediate left and right without the backwards and forwards commotion. It is, after all, a ritual sign, not a social exchange.

Friday 6 June 2014

A Mission To Our High School Youth

Mission To Our High School Youth

Later this year we are having a Youth Mission in our local High School led by the Youth Ministry Team of our Diocese. It is always a great thing to work with those younger than ourselves and both inspire and draw from their good will and enthusiasm, but it is an enthusiasm that doesn’t often extend to The Faith itself. There is certainly an enthusiasm for this world (its social justice as well as its pleasures!) but little enthusiasm for personal morality, doctrine and reception of the sacraments. It’s this that any youth mission needs to challenge and build.

We cannot doubt the sincerity of the people who have worked and continue to work hard to bring youngsters to God, but all over the Western Church we have been doing the same kind of thing now for 20 plus years, with no increase in Mass attendance or commitment to parish life. Some of the ideas that came out in our own recent meeting were useful: bring people into school to give witness testimonies; bring people into the school chapel for Adoration slots; have a Mission Cross go around the parishes and a prayer cards so that parishioners can pray for the youngsters. But not once during the meeting was a central place for Holy Mass mentioned, nor was there any mention of the other sacraments. To be honest, neither Mr McDowell or myself mentioned them either; the last time we had a youth mission meeting we mentioned them but we were told that “getting the youth to Mass isn’t the thing; we just want to give them an experienced of God and set them in the direction of faith”. This was again said at the very outset of this current meeting.

This is worrying because it is too feminine; too experiential; too much based on ‘good feelings’ -and feelings are no basis for a sound and deep-seated Faith. Ideas about wrapping the mission prayer around candles are good as far as they go, but they will not do for the young men: it is their mothers who take candles into the bathroom while they bathe and sip wine, not their dad: he is outside tinkering with his car, mending the fence or mowing the lawn. Attracting the guys back to the Faith is important because the girls follow the guys in more than just their fashions. As to asking what the youngsters want, I think we know: a God who tells us how special we are at a jamboree of a Mass; one with no moral laws who simply wants us to build a just society on earth.

What the youngsters need, and what I shall be saying at our next meeting, is (1) solid talks on essential topics at the start of the school day (the existence of God, heaven & hell; the Catholic Faith as the One True faith; the Mass as Sacrifice, Sacrament & Heaven; the need for the sacraments; and the moral law as it pertains to oneself and society); (2) a Penitential Service towards the end of the Mission; (3) a daily Mass and Adoration periods. These, as the core of The Faith, must come first. They can be supplemented by our prayer cards, candles and parish crosses which are not without value, but these ought not to be the principle activities of the Mission. 

Please say a prayer for the success of the Mission, that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the minds of our youth with His Wisdom, and strengthen their good will by His power.

Thursday 5 June 2014

The Synod and Pastor Aeternus

I have mentioned a new kind of ultramonatism I think is at work in the Church; one whereby anything a Pope says or does is expected to be supported and affirmed simply because it is the pope saying or doing. As a result, where a Pope appears to be departing from established doctrine or fails to follow the norms of the liturgy, no challenge is given and no criticism made “because, well, it’s the Pope.” This is an excessive ultramonstanism that sees the pope as always and everywhere above criticism. It is wrong. Not everything a Pope says in his weekly audiences, his addresses to the Curia or to visiting youth groups or lay groups etc carries doctrinal infallibility; not everything a Pope does in his liturgical celebrations sets a universal norm. As Pope Benedict XVI noted (writing as a private theologian) “The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development. It is not ‘manufactured’ by the authorities” (Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press. p166).

In reality, a Pope is as bound by defined doctrine as anyone else, and is as obliged as everyone else to follow the norms of the Missal(s) solemnly promulgated by his predecessors. His authority is limited to what might be called “being the Caretaker of the Faith”. Certainly he is able to affirm genuine doctrinal developments (those in harmony with what has always been believed), and may formally tinker with the liturgy to ensure the lex orandi lex credendi where he sees the liturgy insufficiently or erroneously proclaims the Catholic Faith, but he cannot proclaim his favourite theories to be new doctrine or impose his liturgical idiosyncrasies on the universal Church. That would be to see the doctrine of the Faith and the Church in her worship as his personal property to do with as he will, and I doubt any Pope of sincere heart would fall to this level of heresy and pride.

That is why, although many are disturbed by the current Pope’s off-the-cuff comments, we should have confidence in the forthcoming Synod on the family. It will deliver no stunning blows to the Catholic world. Indeed it cannot, because the Pope cannot. We might find we are given new pastoral directives which allow us to apply the Faith with greater speed or accuracy in difficult situations, but we will not receive new or contradictory doctrine, nor any new pastoral practices that fly in the face of defined Doctrine. No pope would want to set himself above Divine Revelation or the orthopraxis of the centuries, and that includes Pope Francis. An erroneous understanding of the Faith or a pride beyond telling would be needed for a pope to fall in such a way. So we should have no fears about the Synod, only hope; hope that we will be given sound pastoral tools for assisting those in irregular and difficult situations to live the Faith as best they can.

If the synod does attempt to change doctrine in an inauthentic way so as to accommodate contemporary secular ideologies and social constructions, it’s acts will remain at the level of ‘attempt’, because it can no more change the natural moral law than it can change the law of gravity. It must also bear in mind that if it attempts such changes, it is the good name of Pope Francis that will suffer; he will be viewed by history as a destroyer because Popes are personally charged by the Lord with the preservation of Tradition, not its destruction:

“For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.” (Pastor Aeternus, Ch.4, Vatican I)

What if the Synod does fall into suggesting doctrinal hanges or pastoral practices that play false to defined doctrine? I can only think that the appropriate response would be to say, “We obey for the moment, but we do not agree, and we seek a change to bring us back in line with what has always been believed, and a practice that is faithful to that belief”. I cannot foresee such a situation coming about. Christ is in Charge, and the Holy Ghost is at work so that the Holy Church of God will “keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.”