For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. (1 Peter 2:21)
There are many, many lessons to be learned in the example Christ left for us in his suffering and death on the cross. One of those, I believe, is a lesson in how to die and the great reward that comes from patient endurance. This is a particularly important point to ponder as physician assisted suicide of the terminally ill and disabled becomes increasingly more commonly accepted — and practiced — in our country and throughout the world.
Believe it or not, I’ve even been asked by some faithful Catholics why it is so wrong for someone who is in extreme pain and “going to die, anyway” to want to hasten death and for us to help them do it.
The short answer, of course, is because we are not God. We did not bring ourselves into the world and we do not have authority to take ourselves out.
What’s more, though, even God, who could surely have spared himself the pain, submitted himself to the most brutal, agonizing death he was sentenced to.
Bruised, bloody and beaten, naked and humiliated, abandoned by his friends and loyal followers, Christ’s Passion was the greatest physical and emotional pain ever suffered. It was a great spiritual pain as well since Christ, having literally taken the full weight of human sin upon himself, felt the bitter agony of feeling completely separated from God.
And yet, despite this most extreme pain, he endured. Never once did he beg for assistance to be “put out of His misery.” Rather, he repeatedly put his life in the hands of Almighty God, trusting in his Will and knowing that only he has the authority to take life away.
In his book, As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus refers to death as the “final letting go of everything, body and spirit.” This is Christ in the Garden: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). And on the Cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Assisted suicide, on the other hand, is not about letting go, but taking control. It is a last-ditch effort to assert our own will and play by our own rules, to die on our own terms rather than humbly submit to the Will of God.
Along with showing us how to die, we know from Christ’s example that this patient endurance does not go unrewarded. Just as Jesus was “made perfect” by what he suffered (Heb. 5:9) and was able to rise again and be seated at God’s right hand, so shall we be purified through our own sufferings united to the Cross of Christ, and share in his eternal glory in heaven.
The Word of God is clear: we must pick up our own crosses and follow Jesus. In fact, Christ goes so far as to tell us that if we do not do this, we are not worthy of the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 10:38).
This is no easy task. It requires much faith and hope in God’s promise of eternal life. But above all, it requires obedience and humility – dying to ourselves and our own desires and submitting our lives to the Will of our heavenly Father who loves us and his Son who will, through his eternal sacrifice, be right there with us in all our trials.
As we sit at the foot of the Cross this Good Friday, let us ask Jesus to be close to those who are dying today and for the grace to follow His example and face our own death with the same humility and obedience.
Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path. -Pope Benedict, April 5, 2012