Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Day for Life: care for the body

The fuss over the theme for this year's Day for Life has reminded me of a piece of work that I did some years ago now. This work looked in a detailed way at the different aspects of the Church's mission with regard to healing. In one section I argued that the Church was committed to the care of the physical body, particularly of the person coming to the end of their life, because that provided a testimony to her belief in the resurrection of the body. As the last sentence of this section suggests, the call to value the physical body in the light of the resurrection of the body represents a theological principle for the provision of bodily care for the person coming to the end of their life, and so for the opposition of the Church to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The mission of physical healing is often undertaken in the light[1] of death or serious suffering.  For the Christian, the ministry of health care takes place in the context of the mystery of sin and redemption, of suffering and death. 

“…especially when faced with the mystery of physical and spiritual suffering and death - we must preach ‘Christ crucified’ and with the words of the prophet Isaiah teach people to turn their gaze to Christ who was ‘wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities’.  This truth is the central point of what we would call drawing near in dialogue to, and the real accompanying of, sick people and all those who suffer (and in a special way the dying), aware that only in the passion and death of Christ, and as we will see below, in his glorious resurrection, is it possible to discover a ‘why’ for these dramatic companions of the human condition..”[2]

Health care ministry is undertaken in the light of the resurrection - that is, in the hope that the body cared for in its suffering now will be raised up in glory in the future.  When healing occurs, it is a very visible testimony to this hope in the resurrection of the body.  When healing does not occur, the care shown for the body of the sick person, that is also a care for the very person himself, remains a witness to the faith of the Church in the resurrection of the body. 

“On caring for the sick, you know that one day they will discover the attention now being given … This weakened and broken body we now care for with veneration will rise again, glorious and radiant.  The traces of our affection and attention will remain thereupon forever.”[3]

This understanding of health care as being undertaken in the light of the resurrection of the body gives a rich meaning to the care of those who are terminally or chronically ill.[4]

[1] Faith in the resurrection prompts the use of the word “light” rather than “shadow”.
[2] Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruno “Palliative Care in the Light of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord”, in Dolentium Hominum: Church and Health in the World  No.58 (2005 n.1) p.64.  See also Oswald Gracias “Identity in Faith in Catholic Hospitals”, Dolentium Hominum: Church and Health in the World  No.52 (2003) pp.86-92.
[3] F S Aguilara in “Christian Attitudes in Care for the Elderly who are Terminally Ill”, Dolentium Hominum: Church and Health in the World  No.29 (1995 n.2) p.23.
[4] It also represents a positive statement of the Church’s teaching that euthanasia and assisted suicide are not morally permissible.

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