I write to announce great joyful news: my grandmother passed away last week. How is this great and joyful news?She was 93, had been in a nursing home for the past six years, and because of her long suffering, there is a very good chance, especially since of her steadily declining health over the past year, that she went most likely skipped right over purgatory and fell into the arms of Jesus.
To be honest, I have a holy jealousy of her. I firmly believe that if I am faithful to the gifts that Christ has given to me, when I draw my final breath, I will be invited into the Wedding Feast that has been promised from all eternity, where all that is masculine will be united with all that is feminine, and joined with Christ the Bridegroom. It will be an eternal embrace that will never end, where we will see Love face to face. All will be known by all, and there will be peace and joy forevermore.
However, there is one major stipulation: It must be my time to go. Not on my time, but by God’s watch.
Throughout human history, since Adam and Eve, there has been the temptation to want to take the powers of life into our own hands. There is the insidious idea that is floated through our fallible minds that if we manipulate things to our liking, then things will just go better. Or so we think.
Take the issue of euthanasia that is ramping up its exposure. From a recent Discovery Institute article entitled “Suicide Radicalism Surges in America,” we read that “Doctor” Philip Nischke of Australia “has brought his suicide seminar to California and Washington State, where he taught all comers how they can make themselves dead.” His logic (albeit misguided) leads him to “if we each own our bodies, he says, and if self-termination is an acceptable answer to human suffering, then assisted suicide shouldn’t be restricted to limited “subgroups” such as the terminally ill.”
“Dr. Phil” would be correct if our bodies were merely an instrument, something that is separate from ourselves. Yet this is the same trouble that dear fellow Descartes got himself into.
We must remember that in our creation as being made in the image of God, we are the only persons who have both a material and a spiritual existence. The Trinity, as Divine Persons, and angels have only a spiritual nature. We, as human persons, have both a body and a soul. Thus, to speak as though our bodies are merely something we have is incorrect. Instead, it is more precise say that “we are our bodies.”
Why is this distinction important? If we simply “have” our bodies, then we are free to manipulate it any way we please. In addition, if our body is just a thing that is merely loosely associated with our souls, and if our souls are our true identity, then if we destroy our bodies, it really doesn’t matter.
However, John Paul in his Theology of the Body makes explicitly clear that the body is supremely importantly, precisely because the body expresses the person. If we aren’t in our bodies, in a very real sense, we are not fully ourselves. Even though we lose our bodies after we die, we are promised that every person who says yes to the promises of Christ is to receive a resurrected body. Most importantly, because the God of the universe, the One who gives the ultimate meaning to everything, took on human flesh, the body is thus elevated to its pre-eminent position.It is in and through the Incarnation that every human body is given its true dignity.
While it is true that the human body inevitably breaks down and often doesn’t function the way that we may want, it is crucial to realize that suffering is a part of life. If we are going to live, we are going to suffer. More importantly, if we are to love, we are going to suffer. As Blessed Mother Teresa has said, “suffering is a bi-product of love.”
So many who are a part of the eugenic movement simply don’t get what life and love is all about, and they especially don’t understand what Christianity is all about. Especially in a culture that believes that the way to true happiness is centered on one’s own self-satisfaction, when suffering inevitably comes about, there is the temptation to want to rid ourselves of this experience.
Yet without suffering and sacrifice, we miss the glory. As Bill Donaghy has written, “Suffering can set us free. Crying out can often lead to a catharsis. Sorrow affords us a chance to struggle and squirm our way out of the black cocoon of self and into the wide expanse of the world of the Other.” It is in and through suffering that we can discover what life is all about, for ultimately it is not suffering simply for suffering’s sake, but for the sake of love.
We see this most profoundly on the cross. Christ gives Himself to us in a pouring out of His own blood, offering up His Body as a sincere gift. He did this to bring us back to Love. He makes it clear that if we are to be fulfilled, we must make a sincere gift of ourselves (cf. GS 24), and this often comes through the carrying of our cross.
Yes, it is true that we do not want to suffer, because it hurts, but we must understand that it is oftentimes through the moments of great suffering that the greatest meaning about the mysteries of life are revealed. As formerly Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in Introduction to Christianity:
From the point of view of the Christian faith, man comes in the profoundest sense to himself not through what he does but through what he accepts. He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift… One must wait for it, let it be given to one. And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved… If he declines to let himself be presented with the gift, then he destroys himself.
The process of death, like birthing pains, if viewed within the paradox of the cross, is a profound gift of God. We, who are Bride, are called to receive all that our Bridegroom wants to give to us. Through unification with Christ, the process of dying is a form of the wooing that God does in preparation to unite Himself to us in the Wedding Feast that will never end.
For six years, my grandmother was in a nursing home, and my aunt tended to her care faithfully, visiting her almost everyday for about 3 hours. As can be imagined, this certainly caused suffering for both my grandmother and aunt. And I am sure the question was asked by my aunt as to why, in her late 80s, she was still hanging around, waiting for her reward. Although we may never know the answer on this side of eternity, I truly believe that it was a gift that God was presenting to my family, demonstrating that Love was present in the midst of these difficulties.
When we try to take the powers of life into our hands, we escape this process of letting ourselves be loved. If we do not allow Love in all its grandeur to infect us, we cannot be transformed into love. If we cannot love, we can never fulfill the meaning of our being and existence. It is only by entering into this process, which at first glance, only looks like pain and grief, that we are purified to become the gift that we were destined to become.
This originally appeared on Catholic Exchange's Theology of the Body Channel, tob.catholicexchange.com.