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5th Sunday of Lent

21 March 2021

Appears in: Messages and Homilies


[Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5: 7-9; John 12: 20-33]

This past week, Canada’s Parliament passed legislation that expands access to euthanasia and assisted suicide in our country. The legalization of these practices first occurred in 2016. Now we see the so-called safeguards of the initial law rapidly falling away, as many had foreseen. There is more to come. At the same time as the law was passed, a press release from the Government of Canada indicated that eligibility for others, including mature minors and people with mental illness, will soon be studied.

The opposition of the Church to euthanasia and assisted suicide is unequivocal and unwavering. We know this. We are also aware that there will continue to be strong and incessant messaging in this country extolling these lethal practices as good. It is important, then, that we keep always in mind that our position on this issue is determined not by the courts, nor by Parliament, nor by opinion columnists. We take our stand on the Word of God, and must never allow ourselves to be swayed away from it. When we turn to that Word as announced in this mass, we find important teaching that enlightens our understanding and strengthens our conviction.

Let us recall first the following words of Jesus. He is speaking when it is clear that his “hour”, meaning his death, is drawing near. “And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Jesus is giving expression to his full surrender to the will of his heavenly Father. He lived solely for the Father, who alone is sovereign over all of life. In stark and total contrast to this, the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide rests on the substitution of God’s supremacy with that of the individual. It accepts a worldview in which the human person is radically autonomous, and therefore free to determine when their life will end and how. This is not Christian. In the same Gospel passage we also heard Jesus say this: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Christians live as Jesus lived. Since he surrendered all to the Father, so, too, do we. As followers of the Lord Jesus, we are called at all times to die to ourselves, to turn away from self-centeredness, self-absorption, and self-determination and yield in all things to the loving will of God, including the determination of the “hour” of our death.

At the heart of the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide is the vexing question of human suffering. Much of the pro-euthanasia messaging we hear sees no meaning in suffering, and hence looks upon it as an affront to human dignity. The Word of God says the opposite, so it is helpful to remind ourselves frequently of what Sacred Scripture has to say about suffering. A key text in this regard is today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. There we learn what the Lord Jesus taught, by the example of his own suffering, about how we are to deal with ours.

What the sacred author says is this: “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” To put this in other words, the agonizing self-offering of Jesus on the Cross was answered by the Father with the miracle of new life in the resurrection. Jesus had taken humanity’s suffering upon himself and offered it on the Cross to the Father, confident that He would accept it for the salvation of the world. This is exactly what the Father did in raising Jesus from the dead. By this our Lord teaches us that when we offer our suffering through him to the Father, we, too, can have confidence that God will accept and transform it into an instrument for good according to His saving plan. In many ways, the mystery of suffering remains always just that – a mystery. Yet if in faith we offer it to God, we know it is never without meaning or purpose.

Furthermore, in Christ we see that suffering in no way diminishes human dignity. On the contrary, when suffering is embraced in faith and offered as a gift to God for the sake of others, that dignity shines forth and the nobility of the human person is made manifest.

Now, this does not mean that we do not attempt in whatever way possible to alleviate suffering. As we heard in the first reading, Jeremiah prophesied long ago that God would establish a new covenant between Himself and His people, and inscribe His own law in their hearts. From Jesus we have learned that this is the

law of charity. As he moved among us and taught, he demonstrated God’s special love for those who suffer. Time and again we hear in the Gospels of the many miracles of healing he worked for those who were sick. This preferential love calls us, too, to be close to any who are suffering and strive to lessen their pain whenever possible. Here we see how the Word of God grounds the insistence of the Church that we need broad access across our land to palliative care of excellent quality as the response to suffering. Our goal must always be to diminish suffering, but never to end the one who suffers.

By allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide, Parliament is making legally permissible in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance: the deliberate taking of innocent human life. We must be careful, therefore, not to accommodate ourselves to this particular legal regime. Our response to suffering – and, indeed, to all the questions of life – is shaped uniquely by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this reason, we shall continue to do what we have always done: stand up for life from conception to natural death, call for just laws, advocate for conscience protection, and reach out in Christian love to anyone who is suffering and in need.

Holy Week begins next Sunday. In those most solemn of days we shall reflect prayerfully and gratefully on the mystery of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord. Through the sacred liturgies, may we be renewed in the grace we need to live as Jesus did: offering every moment of our lives, including the last, to the sovereign will of our heavenly Father.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
March 21st, 2021