27th Sun [C] 1998

Fr. Charles Irvin

Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14; Luke 17:5-10

We live in one of the bloodiest centuries in human history, a century filled with wars, the nuclear annihilation of two Japanese cities, terrorist bombings on an ever increasing scale, a time of children killing other children and the destruction of human life via abortion that is even beyond accurate calculating. The number of losses of human life is so staggering that we can only estimate their totals way up into the hundreds of millions. Human life in our day is, to say the very least, cheap and easily expended.

And human pain and suffering? It’s on a scale that’s unimaginable. We have even reached the point where many young married couples are afraid to have children. And we are now upon the threshold of killing, in the name of mercy, those who are old, infirm and facing suffering either through terminal disease or in their old age. Once again the solution being offered us is further killing, only this time killing in the name of mercy. I am speaking here of Proposal B on November’s ballot. B is bad!

At some point we must ask ourselves this question: Do we stop the destruction of human life by the further taking of human life? Do we eliminate human suffering by terminating human life, even in the name of mercy?

“Merian’s Friends”, an Ann Arbor-based advocacy and political action group, has successfully placed on next month’s ballot here in the State of Michigan what they phrase to be “a medical procedure to eliminate suffering.” The use of words here is important; Merian’s friends fought hard have the words “commit suicide” NOT appear on their ballot proposal which is the subject of their proposal that will appear on next month’s ballot. They didn’t want the word “suicide” to appear in their proposal for obvious reasons – it’s far too realistic.

Alarming, too, is “Merian’s Friends” proposal to have the Governor of Michigan establish a committee to oversee the activities of doctors and psychiatrists involved in assisting suicide, the deliberations of this committee to be kept in secret and not subject to the Open Meetings Act of the State of Michigan and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. What they allow and what they disallow is to be kept from the eyes of the public! If this does not alarm you, then nothing will.

I am not here to question the motives of Merian’s Friends, nor am I questioning the motives of those of good will who favor assisted suicide. I do, however, think it is wrong to kill in the name of mercy. And I certainly question the motives of Jack Kevorkian and of his sidekick attorney Geoffrey Fieger. Both of those men are kept at arms length by people who do not wish to treat others as pawns to be choreographed but instead prefer to treat others with respect and dignity.

Your motives and the motives of people of good will are not in question. All of us on both sides of this public policy debate do not want to inflict any more pain and suffering on human beings as we close out this bloody century. We all want to reduce and even eliminate pain and suffering. Geoffrey Fieger, of course, claims that we want to nail everyone to a cross of suffering and inflict our religion on everyone in the State of Michigan. The truth, of course, is that we want to eliminate all human suffering. That’s what all of our Catholic Peace and Justice commissions are all about along with the members of our religious orders who have devoted themselves to caring for the suffering and dying.

Pain and suffering are not things that please God. God created us to live in a Garden of Paradise. He did not create us to live in a hell of pain and suffering. It is not God’s will that we suffer. When Jesus was asked why such evils exist among us He replied: “An enemy hath done this.”

It seems to me that we must ally ourselves with the angels of mercy, particularly those found in organizations such as the Hospice Program. Hospice has the right vision, a vision they put into action with their devoted care in helping people die in dignity while surrounded by love. Hospice is not about killing their patients in order to end suffering. Hospice is about controlling pain, surrounding our loved ones with loving comfort and giving them the dignity to die in God’s good graces, in God’s good will, not in our human choice to kill yet another one of us, however much we claim we love them and are merely being merciful. Hospice walks along the path of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And so should we.

What is at issue is this: Are we going to vote for greater pain control and ask those in the medical profession to exert greater efforts and go to greater lengths in controlling pain, or are we going to vote to eliminate pain and suffering by eliminating the patients? What is more humane? What is more merciful? What is more in line with the will of God and in His love?

There are magic moments during our church year when God sends us passages read from sacred scripture that clearly and directly tell us of His will. Such a moment is here upon us, for in today’s First Reading we have now just heard:

“The just man will live by his faithfulness.
How long, O Lord? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write down the vision
Clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint…”

It is God’s vision that is in front of us as we enter November and the question that will be presented to us in Proposal B. It is God’s vision, God’s sovereign will, and God’s plan that is at stake – not ours.

In writing to Timothy St. Paul could well have been writing to us when he said: “Never be ashamed of witnessing the Lord. I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you. The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise. Therefore, never be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord…”

Finally, when we contemplate all of the death and degradation of human life into which we have been immersed in this bloody century, and when we face the powerful political campaign in Proposal B to introduce euthanasia, mercy-killing, into our culture, we may feel overwhelmed and of little significance. To those feelings of inadequacy Jesus speaks to our hearts as He did the His apostles when they were feeling insignificant and inadequate: The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith,” and he answered: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore, ‘Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. This great country of ours was founded on the truth that we have our human dignity and we find our nation’s destiny in the sovereign will of our Creator. “For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

For we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all of us are created equal and that we are endowed by our Creator with certain and unalienable rights, among them being the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Back in 1776 we declared to the British Monarch that our right to life comes from God, and that our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor belong to Him too. No one can, without dishonoring God’s love and defying God’s will, take away the life He has given us, even in the name of mercy.

Nor, in November, should we.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”