Suicide is never a solution

‘A Bishop’s Perspective’ FOR THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

Alaska has the highest suicide rate in the United States, and suicide has had a particularly devastating impact on rural and village Alaska, where so many young people, most of whom are Alaska Native, take their lives each year. During my six years in this state, I have been edified and encouraged by the efforts of Native elders, mental health professionals, teachers, parents, youths and religious leaders to help those who are most susceptible to suicide and encourage them to choose life over death.

Burns article logo2Suicide prevention has also been a high priority of the state and federal governments, which have funded suicide prevention programs in urban and rural Alaska with bipartisan support. So, I was shocked and saddened to learn that a bill has been introduced in the state legislature that would make it legal for a doctor to prescribe death to terminally ill patients by providing physician-prescribed suicide.

This is a terrible idea in a state in which suicide has reached epidemic proportions. What kind of message does such a bill send to our young people and others, many of whom are already struggling with seemingly intractable problems such as depression and mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction and unemployment, all of which make suicide seem like an attractive “solution” to their difficulties?

It disturbs me too, that this proposed legislation would involve doctors in prescribing medicines intended to kill their patients. This directly contravenes the Hippocratic Oath, by which doctors pledge: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asks for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

Although there may be some physicians who would, if permitted by law, prescribe deadly drugs to their patients, we expect our doctors to seek to heal us when we are sick and to provide us with palliative care and pain relief as needed during our final illnesses.

Because of our human nature, we can all be, at one time or another, weak and vulnerable because of age and illness. Some are even more vulnerable than others because of poverty or social isolation. Doctors, nurses and other health professionals who care for the sick, the elderly and the dying, act in the name of the entire community, which is called to act in solidarity with those who are in need.

One key example of this lived-out solidarity is the Hospice Movement. Here in Juneau, we are truly blessed by the work of the doctors, nurses, care attendants and volunteers of Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, which operates in our community under the auspices of Catholic Community Services. The mission of Hospice is to provide those who terminally ill with compassionate, professional care and support through their illness. In those situations in which a dying person is suffering discomfort and pain, effective and ongoing pain management is a central priority of those providing patient care.

The purpose of the palliative and comfort care provided by Hospice is to help them through the dying process until their natural death.

One grave concern raised by doctor-prescribed suicide is that those diagnosed with terminal illnesses will feel a responsibility to take their own lives so as not to be a ‘burden’ on their families or caregiving institutions. Patients may well feel a sense of obligation to expedite the dying process so as to spare their loved ones from having to witness their final days and hours.

Such legislation only increases the temptation for institutions or insurance agencies, consciously or unconsciously, to encourage doctor-prescribed suicide as a way of economically conserving medical or financial resources. This was the case for an Oregon woman whose cancer had returned. Her request for an expensive experimental treatment was rejected by her insurance company, but she was told that insurance would cover the cost of physician-assisted suicide.

In the 1994 Alaska Supreme Court decision that unanimously held that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide, the court noted: “(The state) insists that the terminally ill are a class of persons who need protection from family, social and economic pressures, and who are often particularly vulnerable to such pressures because of chronic pain, depression and the effects of medication.” In the same opinion, the justices also noted: “Those who will be most vulnerable to abuse, error, or indifference are the poor, minorities, and those who are least educated and least empowered …”

We should commit ourselves as a community to providing the dying with good medical care and pain management to alleviate their physical suffering. It is important that we offer charitable companionship in order to provide them with emotional, spiritual, and loving support for them and for their relatives in their final days. Our family members, friends and neighbors deserve better from society than doctor-prescribed suicide which is being mistakenly proposed and presented in the name of compassion and dignity.

Lent begins with ashes

By Mike Galbraith
Juneau, Alaska – February, 2015

We begin the season of lent on Ash Wednesday with ashes on our foreheads. What is symbolized by this smudging? Perhaps the heart understands better than the head because more people go to church on Ash Wednesday than on any other day of the year, including Christmas. The queues to receive the ashes in many churches are endless. Why? Why are the ashes so popular? Woman with cross marked on forehead looks on during Ash Wednesday Mass outside church in Manila

Their popularity, I suspect, comes from the fact that, as a symbol, they are blunt, primal, archetypal, and speak the language of the soul. Something inside each of us knows exactly why we take the ashes: “Dust thou art and into dust thou shalt return!” No doctor of metaphysics needs to explain this. Ashes are dust and dust is soil, humus; humanity and humility come from there. It is no accident that ashes have always been a major symbol within all religions. To put on ashes, to sit in ashes, is to say publicly and to yourself that you are reflective, in a penitential mode, that this is not “ordinary time” for you, that you are not in a season of celebration, that you are grieving some of the things you have done and lost, that some important work is going on silently inside you, and that you are, metaphorically and really, in the cinders of a dead fire, waiting for a fuller day in your life. Thus, we begin our time of the Lenten Season.

All of this has deep roots. There is something innate to the human soul that knows that, every so often, one must make a journey of descent, be smudged, lose one’s self-ego of lustre, and wait while the ashes do their work. All ancient traditions, be they religious or purely mythical, abound with stories of having to sit in the ashes. We all know, for example, the story of Cinderella that I used to tell my children when they were young. This is a centuries-old, wisdom-tale that speaks about the value of ashes. The name, Cinderella, itself already says most of it, for literally it means: “the young girl who sits in the cinders, the ashes.” Moreover, as the tale makes plain, before the glass slipper is placed on her foot, before the beautiful gown, ball, dance, and marriage, there must first be a period of sitting in the cinders, of being smudged, of being humbled, and of waiting while a proper joy and consummation are being prepared. In the story of Cinderella there is a theology of lent. All religions, Christian or not, seem to acknowledge this theological and psychological period for healing of one’s psyche that is physiologically necessary from time to time.

A Response to Love

Sr. Delia Sizler reflects on her experience of living a consecrated life

By Mary Stone

Throughout 2015, our Church is celebrating a year specifically devoted to the Consecrated

Pope Francis opened this special year, which extends through Feb. 2, 2016, with a letter underlining the aims of the Year of Consecrated Life, namely to “look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope,” in order “that consecrated men and women would be witnesses of communion, of joy and the Gospel, and go evermore to the peripheries to proclaim the Good News.”
“I am counting on you ‘to wake up the world,’” the Pope emphasizes in his introductory letter.

Sr. Delia Sizler, SC

Sr. Delia Sizler, SC

Sr. Delia Sizler, SC, a vowed member of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, is one such individual living out her consecrated life in the Diocese of Juneau. Recently, Sr. Dee (short for Delia), shared her thoughts on Pope Francis’ directive to those living the consecrated life, to ‘wake up the world!’

“The world today has become ‘numbed’ – we are over-stimulated” she relates. “We just don’t have the excitement and Spirit that comes from God as much as we should have if we were in a more balanced world.”

She goes on to describe what she sees as a longing and a sleepiness in many people today. “We want something else, but we are in a trance-like state… As baptized people we all need to be awake. Any vocational call is a call to be awake and to respond to it. We are all called to be holy.”

Giving God a chance

Diocese of Juneau seminarians share their stories

By Mary Stone

The Diocese of Juneau is fortunate to have two seminarians who are currently following the call of discernment and education toward priestly ministry in Southeast Alaska—Gerard Dominic Juan and James Wallace. Both young men are pursuing their studies at Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon; James is in his 2nd year of college seminarian study, and Gerard is in his first. (A third seminarian, Michael Galbraith, has completed his academic formation and is currently serving a Pastoral Year in our diocese. Read more about Mike in next month’s issue.) A diocesan priest’s education will typically include: a four-year undergraduate degree in any field of study; a two-year Pre-Theology program; a four-year Master of Divinity degree from a Catholic seminary; and, a final Pastoral Year spent in the diocese.

Attracting people from different backgrounds and parts of the world, our small diocese continues to be a ‘melting pot’ where culture and Catholic tradition combine to create rich communities of faith.

James Wallace thinks of himself as a ‘small town fellow raised in the big city.’ Brought up in what he happily admits was a loving, Catholic family and living near the beach in southern California, he remembers enjoying surfing more than school. “Fr. Peter would let us keep our sticks (surfboards) in the narthex at Mass time after our dawn patrol surf session,” he recalls.

“Initially, I was a 2.0 student, barely passing school, and didn’t seem particularly promising to my Irish Catholic grade school teacher.” Then, jokingly, “Oh man, she’d lose it if she knew I was the future of the Church… I’ll have to give her a call.”

But James shares about his 8 years spent in the U.S. Coast Guard serving in a variety of locations, including Southeast Alaska, “I grew closer and closer to God when I entered the Coast Guard in 2005, and over the years, God spoke… to my heart. This is where He wants me, in service to you.”

Gerard Dominic Juan was born and raised in the Philippines. Brought up in the culturally rich Filipino Catholic tradition, he began attending a minor seminary at age 11. Along with his parents and younger siblings, he emigrated and moved to Juneau at the beginning of his junior year in high school, graduating from Thunder Mountain High School in 2010 at the age of 15. Drawn toward the arts, music and video gaming, he continued to follow this passion after high school graduation by entering the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and studying game design, animation, and music production.

“I had signs that God was calling me to the priesthood, but I ignored them,” admits Gerard. As many teenagers, his sights were on other pursuits, “…going to parties, playing video games, eating junk food, and sleeping.”SEMGDZJUAN

Christ and the domestic Church

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 8th, 2015 – By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

On this World Day of Marriage, in today’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) we observe Christ at the beginning of his ministry, entering not the Temple in Jerusalem or even a synagogue, but a house. This was the house of Peter, who would one day be the Bishop of Rome, but was the fisherman who with his brother Andrew abandoned his nets to follow Jesus, and who lived in the town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee with his wife, his mother-in-law and presumably with his sons, daughters and other family members.

On this Sunday celebrating marriage throughout the universal Church, our gospel provides us the opportunity to meditate on the “domestic church”—married couples and the families which are the fruit of their love and fidelity.

We know that Peter’s house, too, eventually became the site of an early Christian house church, and then predictably a shrine and a Byzantine basilica, which in past decades has been uncovered by archeologists. Jesus Healing the Mother-in-Law of Simon Peter

But it is Peter’s house as the home of a particular family that is what interests us today. In the gospel account we see how the entry of Jesus into the intimate setting of Peter’s home and household teaches us some important lessons about discipleship, healing, service and mission.

“Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.” In Peter’s household Jesus found welcome and friendship. His house was made of rough stones mortared together. There was no guest room, only a hearth for cooking meals and an open area for eating and sleeping.

In our marriages and families we, too, need to welcome Jesus, to allow him to enter intimately into the routine of our daily lives, the choices we make and in the memorable words of the Gaudium et Spes, into the ‘joys and sorrows, hopes and anxieties” that are all a part of our family life. Our willingness to let Jesus see our lives as they are actually lived allows him to become more than an occasional, if honored, guest. Just as Jesus is actually present in the tabernacle in our parish churches, we should invite him to take up residence in the “domestic church.”

His living presence is the indispensable foundation of living out our call to holiness and mission as married couples and as parents. We should strive each day to put Jesus and his teachings, his example and his way of life at the very heart of our married life, so that our families might become more and more the “the household of Christ,” which was one of the earliest ways the Church described itself.

“Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.” Within the household of Christ, every one of us is sick and in need of healing. Our affliction is that each of us, living in a fallen world is, wounded by our own sins and the sins of others. While we are in need of healing, we cannot heal ourselves. We are in urgent need of a Savior. Mark tells us that “they,” that is to say all those in Peter’s household, together brought the illness of one of their members to the attention of Christ.

Their actions reveal to us the vital importance of commending each other in our physical and spiritual affliction to Jesus, asking for his mercy and healing. Every day we have the grace-filled opportunity to intercede for our spouses and family members who are hurting, who are sick or infirm or who are struggling with any kind of difficulty or addiction. We must never think that healing in our marriages and in our family life is too unimportant to merit the attention of Jesus, who is the physician of our souls and bodies and who desires to heal us in the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and Matrimony.