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Bishops’ Day for Life seeks to help Catholics face death

A screen shot from the Day for Life website

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has selected the theme of “Cherishing Life and Accepting Death” for this year’s Day for Life.

Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster said that the theme for the Day for Life was chosen to counter the “great lie that lives affected by great illness are not worth living”.

Bishop Sherrington also said that the timing of the day, which will be held on Sunday next week (July 26), was providential because of current pressures to change the law on assisted suicide.

Bishop Sherrington said: “In our country at the moment, it’s actually very providential that we are speaking about this in July because we had the Falconer Bill earlier in the year and then we have [Rob Marris’s] Bill on September 11.

“And obviously we want to ask our parishioners to reflect on this issue to oppose the introduction of assisted suicide and to either write to their MPs or to go and see their MPs in their constituencies in order to emphasise why we value life, particularly at its most vulnerable time,” he said.

Bishop Sherrington said that rather than focusing on theological points such as the Four Last Things, the day would focus instead on the Church’s teaching on medical intervention at the end of life.

He said: “Pope Francis in introducing the Year of Mercy emphasises that when we stand before God’s judgment it’s going to be a moment of revelation of our life. But we stand before a merciful God, so in fact to accept God’s mercy through our life through sacramental confession, to grow in that understanding, means that we are able to trust when we stand before God at our death.

“But our focus has been much more on the cherishing of life and then the question about the Church’s teaching about medical treatment at time of illness – that one does not need to strive officiously to continue living but make good judgments about whether or not there is a moral obligation for particular medical treatment. That’s what we are focused on because I think sometimes people don’t understand that.”

Bishop Sherrington said an important part of being human was to learn at times to surrender. He said: “I think people do want to control – the focus on the free choice, on ‘how I control my life and how I live my life’.

“But in fact there’s another important dimension to being human and that is that we have to surrender at times. Surrender a relationship when somebody dies, we have to surrender our physical capacities and the ultimate surrender is the surrendering into the love of God.”

The bishop said there was a need to help people understand the current law on assisted suicide, and how it protected “those who are most vulnerable”.

He said: “Good palliative care in fact enables a person to surrender their life at the end for that management of pain but also attends to other dimensions – the spiritual, the emotional, the healing of relationships, finding a good way to say goodbye. That comes through how we approach the gift of life, that we can be more grateful and more gracious and that will help us ultimately to accept death – like Jesus said on the cross – ‘into your hands oh Lord I commend my spirit’.”

When asked if he was afraid of death, the bishop said: “I think many, many people are afraid of death. We live very much with a focus on success activity, beauty and there is an increasing fear of death – families find it very hard to talk about death. I know as a parish priest it was very difficult for people to talk about death and often they were confronted with the crisis of an elderly parent being rushed to hospital and suddenly having to face death and asking questions about what the Church has to say about treatment.

“At that point it’s good to help someone to connect with the Church in terms of the sacramental life – for example, the Sacrament of the Sick. It would be good if somebody could talk about these things earlier and therefore, while cherishing life, also grow into an acceptance of death as part of life. Of course, for us as Catholics and as Christians it is the entry into eternal life.”