This week autumn returns: a season to harvest our memories from another year. Those from the Northeast will see colorful foliage. All of us can enjoy this special season of change as we approach Thanksgiving and the winter holiday.
The author of the letter of James asks: why do some people choose evil? Yes, why do some people at times choose wrong over right. Christianity calls this human condition “original sin,” the fall from grace described graphically in Genesis, chapter 3. But God so loved us that he sent his only Son so everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. In baptism, we become by grace what Jesus is by nature: sons and daughters of God our Father, called to live a life worthy of that status.
Jesus brings us face to face with his and our own dying.
The experience of death today is different from 100 years ago when people may have died in their 40s or 50s, often in their homes with family and friends. Today some people may die in their 90s or 100s in hospitals or nursing homes, and perhaps alone.
A best seller “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” questions whether employing medical technology to lengthen life at the expense of quality is the right thing to do.
The author describes three patterns of decline. With an incurable disease; treatments may lengthen life but eventually the body wastes away. A chronic disease, such as emphysema, is treatable but repeated relapses eventually siphon the life out of a person. And finally, there’s the pattern of old age called “frailty”: no life-threatening disease but a gradual decline.
The question for the author, a surgeon, becomes when to “let go,” when to stop offering treatments that likely don’t work. The doctor asks: why submit the dying to the full panoply of medical procedures only to see them merely exist in institutions and lose their independence.
Many know the five stages through which dying patients and loved ones may discern. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined them:
-Anger: “Why me?” God may be a target for anger especially if one is young. But it's ok, God can take it.
-Bargaining: “Yes me, but.” The patient bargains. I'll do this or that, God, if you lengthen my life.
-Depression: “Yes, me.” The person realizes he or she is not getting better; and there are regrets for things done or not done.
- Acceptance: “My time is running out but it’s all right.”
Let’s be honest. Most of us do not long with St. Paul “to be free from this earthly life so that we can be with the Risen Christ.” But death is a fact of life.
We've heard often enough the motto “be prepared." The beatitudes can be our guide in making that motto our own. Here’s one paraphrase of the beatitudes:
“If you look for God in your daily life; if you readily spend time listening and consoling others who seek your guidance; if you manage to heal wounds and build bridges among people; if others see in you goodness, graciousness, joy, and serenity; and if you can see the good in everyone and seek the good for everyone, blessed are you."