Don’t get in God’s way

26 July 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Saints Joachim and Anne, grandparents of Jesus

One of the joys of my priesthood, dear readers, is interacting with the sick and the elderly among us. They carry the wisdom of their years. They are happy just to be alive. They are free to be themselves. They wear what they want to wear. They say what they want to say. They do what they are capable of doing. 

As any pastor, I celebrate monthly Mass at the nursing facility in my parochial jurisdiction. Some of the residents are mobility impaired; others are experiencing serious illness; most are showing the frailties of age. But all of them are very appreciative of the opportunity to directly participate in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. They have all the dignity of the Children of God. I tell them they are valued members of the Church — and they always will be.

The residents are constantly thanking me for coming to celebrate Mass for them. I tell them it’s my pleasure and they think I’m just being polite. But I mean it. 

I try to leave some time to chat after Mass. The topic doesn’t matter: the weather, the lunch menu, the national news, or the way things were in the old days. We laugh a lot. In fact, the residents laugh at just about all my corny jokes. We are, after all, only human. And being only human, we can’t take ourselves too seriously. The sick and the elderly are acutely aware of this fact of life. And as for death — well, that’s up to God. Just don’t get in God’s way.

You know me, dear readers. I certainly don’t consider myself old enough to be ranked among the elderly. I am, after all, only 72 years of age. I get a kick out of these reporters describing a 55-year-old man or woman as “elderly.” Really? These are words only a 20-something would write. May I point out that Noah’s grandfather (Methuselah) is reported to have lived to the age of 969 years? Poor Noah himself died young at the age of only 950 years. I must admit, though, Methuselah may have pushed the envelope a bit too far.

Of course, being 72 is not the same as being 22 (thank Heavens). After celebrating three or four Masses on a weekend, my feet are killing me. And my right ankle seems to have developed a mind of its own. Without any reason whatsoever, it will suddenly decide to stop working. I get pains in places I never knew I had. And I do have to remember to take my pills — all nine of them a day, at last count. But still ….

I have had only one really serious illness in my 72 years. After a routine physical, my physician telephoned me and reported, “Father, you have cancer. You need to have radical surgery at once. Let’s hope it hasn’t already spread.” Well, that phone call would take the wind out of anybody’s sails, as we say here on the Cape. I had the surgery and the cancer had spread. It could have gone either way, but the surgery proved to be successful. I’ve been cancer-free for decades; thanks be to God. 

Earlier this month, I was stunned to read the front-page headline in a major Cape Cod newspaper: “Falmouth backs death,” adding the coded caveat “with dignity.” Seems the town Board of Selectmen have decided to pass a resolution supporting suicide by a purposely prescribed fatal dose of medication. With one abstention, the board plans to call for the State Legislature to permit terminally-ill patients to commit suicide, with their doctor’s assistance. “The citizens have spoken,” proclaimed one vocal (and local) proponent. You may find this hard to believe, dear readers, but things on Cape Cod are not always as idyllic as they seem.

Four citizens (even if they happen to currently be town officials) expressing their opinions does not represent an entire town’s approval of physician-assisted suicide. And even if they did, the vote has already been overridden by much higher authorities.

The elderly and the sick are an essential part of any community. They have a right to life and a right to a natural death. Although we are only human, we human beings are just a little lower than the angels, according to the Letter to the Hebrews.

The local Catholic clergy, in a letter to the Board of Selectmen, affirmed our belief that “people, even in the end stages of their lives, have a value and a dignity of their own.” Somebody had to say something. It was a moral and civic duty. Is that mingling politics and religion? Maybe.

“Those who believe that politics and religion do not mix, understand neither.” — Albert Einstein 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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