As friars, it is not uncommon for us to find ourselves in hospitals comforting people in tragic situations. Whether it be a patient with a troublesome diagnosis or a family dealing with the loss of a loved one, it is always difficult.
It is a very sad situation, made worse only by the fact that they are sometimes forced to make difficult decisions in the midst of their anguish. Should we continue treatment? Is it okay to remove life support? What should people of faith do in the face of death? Even for those who have studied moral theology and are completely disconnected from the situation, these can be difficult questions; add in the weight of personal sadness, and it can be debilitating.
But it doesn’t have to be so despairing. It doesn’t have to be soul-crushing.
While death is always tragic, I think that we compound our losses and make these decisions far more difficult than they already are because we wait until the point of death to even acknowledge that death is an inevitability. Many find themselves around a hospital bed having never even thought about death, let alone encountering it personally. They are forced to rationalize, theologize, and make ethical decisions for the first time, all in the midst of grief.
As seminarians, we hear it all the time from our pastoral theology professors: you can’t teach people when people are in the middle of a tragedy. You can’t reason with someone, explain to them that God loves their child, that we need to have hope in Christ, that death is normal and not the end when they’re overwhelmed with emotion. That is not the time to break down false conceptions of God. That is not the time for a lesson in moral theology. It is simply the time to be with them and offer them strength.
So when is the right time? How do we catechize appropriately before they find themselves in such situations?
How about by making a video on YouTube teaching about the ethical questions of end of life issues? Yeah, that seems like a good idea. It’s why I made this week’s video, and why I hope to make another video by the end of the semester on the common misconceptions of the sacrament of anointing, another topic that requires catechesis when it’s already too late.