Without Our Lord Jesus Christ, I don't think we will cope. We in the West appear to have an existential crisis. We cope with life in our strength, but cannot bear to imagine utter dependence on others. I know a few people who basically say that when they believe that they will need care, nursing in their old age and need someone to help them go to the toilet and shower them and the rest, that they'd quite like to have the option of a ticket out of this life. "There is no dignity in that", they hold.
It's understandable. Our society now values people more on what they do that who they are. It has become a vainglorious society, one that values only success, strength and wealth. Yet, if we ever go down that road of ending our own lives with the help of others, we will lose a lot more than the elderly, sick and terminally ill who take up that option, if, God forbid, it should ever come to pass. We will all, the sick as well as the healthy, lose sight of our humanity because the truth of the matter is that our humanity begain in the womb, when we were utterly dependent.
Society doesn't value the elderly very much because some of the elderly are dependent on us. The sick and elderly need our care and our help. Because of their frailty they are unable to do very much. Some need nurses, care workers or volunteers to help clean them up and maintain their dignity, wash them, shave them, comb their hair, give them a glass of water. We look forward to our own possible state of dependence in the future with horror, yet why should we be ashamed?
In the womb, were we not totally dependent on our mothers for sustenance? In our first years, were we not totally dependent on our parents for food, water, nourishment, care, washing, going to the toilet. Some of the elderly wear incontinence pads, just as, when we were babies, we wore nappies. We are frightened of such a prospect, yet are we more in God's Eyes now than we were when we were babies? Does God love us because we are more learned and educated now than when we were babies or in the womb, or are more conscious of our condition? Does God respect us more now that we are independent, or behave as if we were and think that we are? Does God love us only in our strength and our youth?
No. We are in God's Eyes now what we were in God's Eyes when we were, I dare say, just one minute after conception, His children, or 5 months in the womb, or just as we were born, or just as we were Baptised, or in our formative years, teenage years, adulthood and 'prime'. We may feel ashamed of our dependence on others when we get old, but God is not, even less so, given that He became a Baby and became dependent on His Creation, humans, Himself and so knows our frail condition.
What we do for the elderly and sick, we do for Christ Himself for He is close to them and defends them. Woe to us if we should lay a finger on them or try to coerce them ever to consider ending their own lives. Woe to us if we neglect them, or ignore them and leave them as orphans, forgotten with nobody to tend to them and minister to their needs with love, since it will not be just their humanity we are neglecting or despising, but our own.
The suffering, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the dying, we wonder why God permits it all, the sadness, pain and sorrows of the human condition. Yet, all are great gifts from God. When we give love, care and compassion to these, 'the least' of Christ's brothers, we receive back tenfold what we have given. Not only do works of mercy, even small works of mercy, benefit our souls, but our outlook changes. When we tend to the sick, elderly and dying we see our end, how, short of a sudden death, we shall be. It is salutary and humbling and takes away the pride and vainglory of this earthly life. In a society driven often by fantasy, dreams and illusions, the elderly, sick, dependent and the hospitalised give the young, healthy and far less dependent some real perspective on our humanity. We may like to think we are strong, but our strength is fading and passing.
St Paul said that the among faith and hope, the only thing that truly abides, truly lasts forever, is love. If we should ever go down that road of euthanasia and assisted suicide, then not only will there be a great and unholy, premature loss of life of the vulnerable at the hands of the untrustworthy and wicked, but we who are at the moment healthy shall be deprived of the gifts of God, for all people, whatever their state, are a gift from God. We shall be depriving ourselves the opportunity to love, to care, to show compassion, tenderness and mercy to the afflicted and suffering. Suffering is redemptive, not just to and for those who suffer, but to those who alleviate their pain or show them mercy and love. Like all of humanity shares in the merits of Christ's Agony, Passion and Death, so we who are healthy share in the merits of the sufferings of the sick, elderly and dying. Without us, they are lost and without them, we, too, are lost.