Care for life from its beginning to its natural end
March 2005 was a month of historical significance not only for the Catholic world but for the entire community of nations. Everything seemed hushed as we lived quietly under the lengthening shadow of the final days of the illness and death of our beloved elderly Pope John Paul II. The next weeks would hold both intense mourning and jubilant celebration on a scale, according to the media, heretofore unknown in world history.
My Confirmation into the Catholic Church just prior to my 80th birthday coincided with those last days of the life of Pope John Paul II and within a few weeks of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
The previous September JP II had written the following message calling for increased respect of the elderly, his projected theme for Lent 2005. It was published in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Polish. Excerpts from it follow.
The Pope used the words of Moses taken from Deuteronomy 30:20: "Loving the Lord...means life to you, and length of days." He wrote, “These words of Moses invited the people to embrace the Covenant with Yahweh in the country of Moab 'that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, your God, obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him'." "I ask you to deepen your awareness of the role that the elderly are called to play in society and in the Church, and thus prepare your hearts for the loving welcome that should always be reserved for them."
“Thanks to the contribution of science and medicine, one sees in society today a lengthening of the human life span and a subsequent increase in the number of elderly. This demands a more specific attention to the world of so-called 'old age', in order to help its members to live their full potential by placing them at the service of the entire community. The care of the elderly, above all when they pass through difficult moments, must be of great concern to all the faithful, especially in the ecclesial communities of Western societies, where the problem is particularly present."
"Human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages. The Commandment, 'You shall not kill', always requires respecting and promoting human life, from its beginning to its natural end. It is a command that applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant."
“The elderly need to be understood and helped in this perspective. I wish, here, to express my appreciation to those who dedicate themselves to fulfilling these needs, and I also call upon other people of good will...to make their own personal contribution."
“It is necessary to raise the awareness in public opinion that the elderly represent, in any case, a resource to be valued."
For this reason, economic support and legislative initiatives, which allow them not to be excluded from social life, must be strengthened."
"In truth, during the last decade, society has become more attentive to their needs, and medicine has developed palliative cures that, along with an integral approach to the sick person, are particularly beneficial for long-term patients."
Knowledge of the nearness of the final goal leads the elderly person to focus on that which is essential, giving importance to those things that the passing of years do not destroy."
Precisely because of this condition, the elderly person can carry out his or her role in society. If it is true that man lives upon the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him, then the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilization."
“What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness?"
“Instead, how different the world community would be, if, beginning with the family, it tries always to remain open and welcoming towards them."
In view of the threat presently on the American scene to suppress our Christian freedom to care for the young and the old and the physically and mentally ill through our Catholic institutions, how relevant and timely are these admonitions of Blessed John Paul II!