Death with dignity has become synonymous with euthanasia, suicide, taking one’s life in hand and ending it. Our society is falling for the lie that weakness lessens our worth, that suffering steals our dignity. Dignity is defined as “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” What greater dignity is there than to face death with courage, with hope, with faith in God who loves us to our last breath and beyond?
Here is a witness to true dignity…
By Chris Stefanick
A dear friend of mine was recently diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer. She has four children. The oldest is six.
Some time ago I wrote about her conversion from Buddhism to Catholicism. She was engaged to my godson, an adult convert from atheism, who brought her into a beautiful parish. They knelt together before a statue of Mary. About to give up on their conversations about Christianity, Ryan prayed in the quiet of his heart, “Mary, should I be trying to bring her into the Church? Should she even become a Catholic?” A voice filled his soul with a loud and loving, “Yes!” He started sobbing. When he noticed that she had been crying as well and asked what was wrong, she said, “I asked Mary if I should become a Catholic and she said, ‘Yes!’”
Lizz and Ryan are as beautiful as that story. I’d ask that you pray for Lizz, but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing because I’m inspired by them. Ryan recently shared with me that they are experiencing a nearness to the Lord and to each other like they’ve never experienced before. Lizz has deep faith that, come what may, God’s motive is love. She also has confidence that we have a heavenly Father who we can petition, as Jesus did in Gethsemane. He can and regularly does move mountains for us when we ask. Miracles happen, and right now they’re banking on one. Their peace is, in Ryan’s words, “clearly from outside of us.” It’s an impossible peace. One that defies the circumstances. And I think that defiance of circumstance lies at the heart of Christianity.
I was once with Archbishop Chaput when JZ’s re-make of “Forever Young” came on the radio. At the line, “do you really wanna live forever” his eyes lit up and he said “YES! Yes I do.”
The “circumstance” we all find ourselves in is one of mortality. We’re all dying. The Romans and the epicureans throughout history, drown that fact in their wine. Buddhists embrace that fact with the notion that we have to let go of our sense of self which is mere illusion. Atheists try not to think too much about it. Christians make peace with death by looking it in the eye and saying, “We win.” He is risen! “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). Christianity is the ultimate defiance.
I think that sometimes the ideals of Eastern mysticism, with it’s embrace of “diminishment” bleed in to Christian thinking: that asceticism’s aim is self-negation; that humility is an admission that we don’t really matter; that our longing for glory is delusional; that our final “disappearance” into death should be something we prepare for, one sacrifice at a time.
But Christian asceticism isn’t rooted in the pretense that we have no interest in the eternal glory and immortality the Caesars of old mistakenly reached for by their own power. It’s rooted in the fact that we know where to look for real glory. It’s rooted in the knowledge that this world’s glory doesn’t compare with “the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
And so we find peace in these mortal frames, and we renounced the world in a special way all of Lent for one simple reason, we have a foot on death’s throat and it’s breathing its last. Some day death, and all it’s friends like cancer and heart disease will be far distant memories. Until then, we unite them to the cross which, thanks to Easter Sunday, turns us beaten and bloodied mortals into victors.