End-of-Life Decisions – Spiritual and Physical: Fr. Nolan Lowry, STL

During the month of November, many Sunday and daily readings of the holy Mass direct us to think about the “end times” and the fact that our lives are short. The gospel reading for this Sunday (Mt 25:14-30) is the “Parable of the Talents.” Many preachers tend to prepare a homily about “how we use our talents for Christ”— which is fine — but the message is particularly about the gift of faith. When God gives us the gift of faith, He is not expecting anything ordinary. Faith must be invested. It must be nurtured and shared in ways that help it grow and spread. We cannot simply wait around, avoid evil, and imagine all will be fine. True faith entails taking risks, exiting our comfort zones, and following the will of God even in the face of our human fear of failure. At the end of our lives, we will be judged by our faith in Christ and how this faith was expressed in deeds of love. If we buried our faith and it bore no fruit in our lives, then Jesus tells us we can expect a very harsh judgment (Mt 25:26-30).

At the priest convocation in Tyler last month, Bishop Carmody, VG asked all the priests (including the junior ones) to submit their living wills to his office so that the Diocese knows what to do if and when we die. It was a stark reminder that we never know when our time will come. I am 31 and in excellent health, but anything could happen. I have to confess that I am still working on my will, but I know many Catholics and other Christians also need to prepare a living will and have questions regarding end-of-life decisions. Over the past few years, I have received many questions specifically about advance directives (e.g., DNR or DNAR orders). Advance directives are helpful in a living will, but Catholics need to be specific. Pope St. John Paul II taught, “Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so called ‘aggressive medical treatment,’ in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can certainly in conscience ‘refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted’” (Evangelium Vitæ, 65).

When death is imminent, our faith tells us that death is not the end. We hope for eternal life and the resurrection of the body. However, in accord with St. John Paul’s teaching above as well as other authoritative Church teachings, we need to know how to apply clear ethical principles to concrete decisions to be made by ourselves, our family members, and our doctors. Bishop Farrell of the Diocese of Dallas has approved two documents to assist Texas Catholics in preparing a model Directive to Physicians and Medical Power of Attorney. I encourage you to visit the above link to guide you and your discussions with your loved ones about end-of-life decisions.

Reflection by Fr. Nolan Lowry, STL, pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish in Centerville, Texas.