849 S. Douglas

I was able this past week to spend a couple of days back in Springfield, Ill., being present to participate in the jubilee celebrations of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis. Several of the jubilarians have been good friends and co-workers in ministry these many years.

I was also able to spend some time with my sister Mary Therese (M.T.) and visit the family home at 849 S. Douglas.  My sister deserves recognition and a “medal of honor” for caring for my parents, and working to ready the house on South Douglas that we occupied since l967 for resale. That meant going through years and years of many things accumulated by my parents, especially my mother. Many things have already been taken out of the home and distributed, but I went one last time through every room of the house and even the attic. As I went up and down the stairs I thought of and remembered the example of my mother and father and how they lived the sacrament of marriage. I saw the window in the attic where we used to throw snowballs at the passing cars. I went through the rooms on the second floor and could almost hear my father saying, “You people get up…can’t get you to bed at night and can’t get you up in the morning!” I saw the phone where my mother often spent hours keeping in touch with her family and friends. I also found two wax Christmas figures that had belonged to my grandparents, Les and Mary Jones, and these wax figures were old. I used to put them on my grandparents mantle every Christmas. The house and rooms and what was left spoke of marriage and family and how my mother and father lived out the God-given gift of the sacrament of marriage.

I went one more time back to the attic, and it was already getting hot—more than 90 degrees. Summer in Illinois was coming on, and I remember how hot this attic used to get. I did find several boxes of my seminary and Canon Law notes. In one box were the notes from my days at the Angelicum studying Canon Law. In the heat and the emptiness of the attic, I read my notes that were made during the time of the preparation for the revised Code of Canon Law. In the emptiness and memories of the attic, the words of the drafts of the canons on marriage, which became Canon 1055, ring true and prophetically in today’s challenging culture:

“Canon 1055—Par. 1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.”

May the Lord guide us, bless us and always keep us in his care.

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For the beauty of creation, thanks be to God.

The words above are from the opening of a hymn often sung at Thanksgiving time, and which truly reflect the beauty of God’s creation, especially here on the West Coast.  Growing up, I knew the beauty of the West coast only by National Geographic magazine!  Yet, I have experienced it first-hand here in Southern California and other parts of the West.  I remember the first time that I flew to Portland on a clear day to visit our seminarians at Mt. Angel seminary when I saw so many of the Cascades covered in snow shining in the early morning sun.  As I prayed Morning Prayer, this truly was an occasion to praise God!

While much ink has already been spilt over the Holy Father’s upcoming encyclical on the environment entitled “Laudato Sii”, we already have many opportunities to indeed  praise and thank God for the beauty of creation and exercise responsibility for it.

John Allen, who recently spoke at our Conference on Business and Ethics has reflected more than one time on the similarities between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict and even Pope John Paul II.  It would be well to examine what can be called the “Papal Magisterium” on creation and the environment to give us background and foundation for the new encyclical, and especially to read it for ourselves and not what it is presumed to say.

For example, on Monday, June 10, 2002 there was the “Common Declaration of John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Bartholomew I”.  In part it says that “God has not abandoned the world. It is His will that His design and our hope for it will be realized through our co-operation in restoring its original harmony. In our own time we are witnessing a growth of an ecological awareness which needs to be encouraged, so that it will lead to practical programs and initiatives.  An awareness of the relationship between God and humankind brings a fuller sense of the importance of the relationship between human beings and the natural environment, which is God’s creation and which God has entrusted to us to guard with wisdom and love (cf. Gen 1:28). And he would later also say that “The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship.  We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for us by future generations.”

          Turning next to Pope Benedict we also find that in his 2007 Encyclical entitled Spe Salvi (In Hope We are Saved),  he teaches that “We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future.  We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose.  This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces.  So on the other hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God’s promises that give us courage and directs our action in good times and bad.”

As the beauty of the sunrise leads to the beauty of the sunsets here, and as the solemnity of the Pacific seen from the pier gives a perspective to time and eternity and makes our daily challenges seem small [and that God has the last word!]  -  so too does the teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI lead to, and gives us a perspective on the new Encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment in  giving praise to God and our God given responsibilities.

At the time of Morning Prayer, when I see the reds and purples of the bougainvillea in the morning sun, or the blue of the Pacific in the evening sun and at time of Evening Prayer, the teachings of the recent Popes can give us all a framework to be mindful of the glory of God and to give thanks and praise.

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A WEEK OF BLESSINGS FOR THE CHRIST CATHEDRAL CAMPUS

A book that is often used by Priests and Deacons in their ministry is The Roman Ritual’s Book of Blessings.  In the introduction to this book we find the following words:  “As the Church, through the working of the Holy Spirit, fulfills its many sided ministry of sanctifying, it has accordingly established many forms of blessing.  Through them it calls us to praise God, encourages us to implore his protection, exhorts us to seek his mercy by our holiness of life, and provides us with ways of praying that God will grant the favors we ask.

           The blessings instituted by the Church are included among those signs perceptible to the senses by which human sanctification in Christ and the glorification of God are ‘signified and brought about in ways proper to each of these signs.’  Human sanctification and God’s glorification are the ends toward which all the Church’s other activities are directed.”

We have been very blessed these last days, on the Christ Cathedral campus, to  experience not only the ritual of blessings, but have a celebrations of Thanksgiving for the generosity of so many in building this part of the “City of God” and to continue our journey into the future for the continued progress on the Cathedral building itself.  Each of these ceremonies was a “stepping stone” in the journey of Faith on the Christ Cathedral campus toward the future.

We were able to bless the “Chapel in Sky” in the Tower of Hope, and celebrate Mass surrounded by the beauty of Orange County, and to officially inaugurate this chapel as a Catholic place of prayer.   We had the very powerful experience of the blessing of the exhibit area of the second floor of the Cathedral Cultural center where the beautiful new Tabernacle by Igino Weinert is seen.  This moment was a reflection on the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives and in the Christ Cathedral.  Msgr. Holquin gave a very inspirational reflection on the Tabernacle, is beauty, and its catechetical value for all who will see it, and pray in its presence when the Blessed Sacrament will be reserved there.   Finally, the dedication of the new West Coast studio of EWTN, with its latest state-of-the-art technology, in the Tower of Hope, not only follows Dr. Schuller’s pioneering work in television, but extends the presence of the Eternal Word Network. The important broadcast presence will be instrumental in the continuing of the new Evangelization on the West Coast and in our country, especially honoring all of the ethnic cultures here and the living out of our Catholic Faith.

The joy of these days of blessings, in the journey of Faith that has been, and is, Christ Cathedral is best summed up in this special blessing prayer: “Lord, let the effect of your blessing remain with your faithful people to give them new life and strength of spirit, so that the power of your love will enable them to accomplish what is right and good.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.” 

Thank you to all who attended, who prepared these days of blessings, and whose generosity made all of this possible, as move in our journey of Faith at Christ Cathedral, “siempre adelante.”

God bless you and thank you for all.

+Kevin W. Vann

Tabernacle

Blessing of the tabernacle

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Blessing of the chapel

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EWTN Launch & Blessing of Control Room

FRANCIS CARDINAL GEORGE: Servant and Friend

As the death of Francis Cardinal George was announced, I spent time reflecting on his life and ministry.  I met him many years ago when I was on a trip to Rome and he was the Bishop of Yakima at the time.  We were seated across the aisle from one another on the flight to Rome, and he said simply “Hello I am Francis George.”

In the years that followed I was fortunate to learn about his life and ministry, especially all of his years as Vicar General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  When he was appointed the Archbishop of Chicago, I got to know him better through my involvement as a judge in the Metropolitan Court of Appeal in the Archdiocese, as I made many trips to Chicago for that important work and ministry. As a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois he would have been the Metropolitan Archbishop for the Province of Illinois, where Springfield is included.

After I was appointed the Bishop of Fort Worth Texas, we began to see each other more often, and he was always interested in, and supportive of my life and ministry in Fort Worth.  He knew Texas and the Province of San Antonio because of the presence of the Oblate Fathers in Texas.  His leadership of the US Bishops Conference reflected his intellect, his faith and his humor.  On more than one occasion, his incisive comments were able to help focus the seemingly endless debates of the Bishops on various topics.  I always enjoyed hearing him preach because I knew that whatever he preached on or said had great value for our lives of Faith.  When my mother died nearly three years ago he called to see how I was doing.  When at an earlier time in Texas I had fallen and injured my knee he called to see how I was recovering.  He personally asked me to become involved in the life of the Bishops’ Conference by being on the committee that helped to establish the “Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter” and to become the liaison of the Bishops’ Conference to the National Association of Divorced and Separated Catholics.  His influence and impact on the life of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Church in the United States is a heritage for all of us to further reflect on in the years to come.

If one is looking for a book that he wrote that would be a good read I would recommend The Difference God Makes; A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion and Culture (The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York).  In that book, in one place he says that “The deepest truth that Catholics live is that of ‘communio.’ All things and all people are ordered to God and ordered to love one another.  This truth informs everything we say about political, social and economic realms.  “If we surrender this truth – either through ideological compromise or even out of concern for civility – we succumb to the culture of death.” At another place in the same book he writes concerning the ministry of Bishops in this way: “In the Church today, there are voices on the left that resent the Church’s teaching about many issues, particularly sexual morality, and therefore resent the bishops who uphold it.  There are voices on the right that say they embrace the teaching but resent bishops who do not govern the Church exactly as they say bishops should.  But the nature of the episcopacy is to be free to act in Christ’s name as pastors of the Church.  Bishops cannot be co-opted by state authority or political power, nor by pressure groups within the Church, lest the Bishops fail in their office.”

For another Servant of the Lord we look to the words of the Lord Himself:  “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”

+Bishop Kevin Vann

“ITERUM” WELL DONE GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT

JP with Schuller

I am sitting here at home on Good Friday evening, after having celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Santa Clara Good Friday Prayer Breakfast, and the service of the Lord’s passion at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange. Tomorrow evening is Holy Saturday evening, the Third night of the “Triduum” – that is three days – which not only celebrate but bring us once more to live the “Paschal Mystery of Christ” – his suffering, death and Resurrection.  We are reminded through the Word of God and the Sacramental symbols of the Church’s Liturgy how we participate in the very life, death and resurrection of Christ the Lord.  It is particularly significant that the great servant of the Lord, Dr. Robert Schuller, went home to the Lord whom he loved and served at the beginning of these Holy Days.   I wanted to write just a few more words to those thoughts and words that have already been added.  The words “well done good and faithful servant” have been very aptly used to describe him.  I have added the Latin word to that title, which means “again”.  Thus, “Again, well done good and faithful servant.”

My first memories of Dr. Schuller go back to the early l960’s when my grandparents bought their first color television set!  My parents still had a black and white set with three channels!  In the amazement of those colors I would catch a glimpse and listen to Dr. Schuller all of the way from Southern California!  At that same time, my grandmother would listen to Bishop Sheen in his program “Life is Worth Living”, and then all of the kids would crowd around the set on Sunday evenings for Walt Disney’s wonderful world of color! Another image of southern California, and I would wonder if I would ever get to see that faraway place with all of its attractions and beauty! Well, when through God’s providence I did come here to Southern California.  I had the chance, then, just last year when I mentioned to Dr. Schuller that I had seen him on television, and his response was “Really ?”. I said that yes I had and his way of preaching reminded me of Bishop Sheen, and he replied that “he was a good friend of mine.”!

I was fortunate enough to see the video of Dr. Schuller’s words to the priests of Orange upon the acquisition of the Cathedral campus.  He came to my installation in December of 2012 and I was fortunate to visit with him then, and since then.  I would visit with him and Arvella on special occasions, and she and I would reflect on Christian hymns, music and Church organs.

It was a blessing for me to visit both he and Arvella in the hospital last year and pray with both of them.  I asked him to pray with me also at that time, and it was humbling to hear his words for me as well.  I am grateful that I visited with him last year at about this same time and could thank him for his faithful service of the Word of God, which lifted up and encouraged so many people here and around the world.

It was in those short meetings that I got a glimpse into a window that God had given me of Faith, the ministry of the Word, and the love that he and Arvella had for each other.  I had but a glimpse of what others here had experienced for many years.  But I am grateful to God for that glimpse.  “Iterum  – again”, truly, well done good and faithful servant, enter now in the joy of your Lord!

I would like to share , among the many tributes of these days to Dr. Schuller, the words of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano at last November’s meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

“Turning to a brighter perspective, I recently, toward the beginning of the month, visited Bishop Vann in the Diocese of Orange.  He asked me to bless the Tower of Hope, one of the beautiful buildings of the magnificent Christ Cathedral complex that the Diocese recently acquired from the great evangelical preacher, Fr. Robert Schuller.  You are aware how, by complete dedication to his ministry, he moved countless numbers of people to a real conversion of heart – so many types of people who were willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of Jesus and his Gospel.”

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Renewing our Commitment

National Child Abuse Prevention Month

In an effort to raise awareness of the suffering caused by child abuse and neglect, Congress and the President designated April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983. Since that time religious, public service, philanthropic and other organizations that care deeply for the welfare of children have marked April as a special time for highlighting and renewing their commitments to the care and protection of children and young people.

As your Bishop nothing is more important to my pastoral mission than to provide the utmost care for those who need it most. From counseling the needy to extending financial aid to caregivers, our Church and Diocese are committed to the physical, spiritual and social well-being of everyone we encounter. This is particularly true for the children we seek to support, guide and care for.

It is important to me and our diocese that we mark this national observance by recalling and reinforcing our steadfast commitment to creating and maintaining safe environments for children in our schools, parishes and other facilities. The Diocese of Orange takes this task very seriously, as does the broader Church. We employ a comprehensive background screening for all adults likely to be in contact with children – already over 75,000 have been vetted. This process allows for the collection of a wide variety of past screening data, including extensive backgrounds checks and fingerprinting, and is designed to enhance already in-place diocesan policies.

Our diocese additionally requires all clergy, employees, and volunteers to undergo Safe Environment Training. In 2014 alone, the Diocese trained 286 priests, 115 deacons, 1,664 teachers, and more than 25,519 school employees and volunteers. Our schools and Religious Education classes at parishes and diocesan centers also provide Safe Environment education for children. This procedure is suited to their age and level of understanding. In 2014, nearly 44,000 children participated in this critically important awareness program.

Please join me in recognizing the tireless efforts put forth by those involved in the development and implementation of all initiatives for the protection of children and young people. Keep them in your prayers and remember that care for others is a duty and a gift. By sharing our concern and becoming responsible for the safety and well-being of those who come into our care is a spiritual act we can be proud of, every day.

The Church has worked hard to protect children and remains vigilant in protecting and caring for our most cherished resource. Much has been done, but more needs to be done. Until abuse is no longer a part of society, I and our Church will continue these efforts to protect children, youth and vulnerable adults.

 

Happenings on Palm Sunday weekend

On Palm Sunday morning I had the blessing of being able to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange.  The joy of the capacity crowd was evident in the Church and outside of the parish Church.  This was a scene repeated all of the Diocese all of the weekend.  St. Polycarp’s in Stanton, like so many of our parishes, had great processions and festivity.  Later on in the afternoon, there was another procession that I was part of in the neighborhood of St. Joseph’s in Santa Ana.  Thanks to Fr. Christopher Smith, when he was pastor of the parish, the custom was begun to have a Eucharistic process and to bless the streets, homes and families in the neighborhood around St. Joseph that was subject to so much violence.  This tradition continues and a great group of us prayed, carried the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance and sang and blessed all who passed by.  We were accompanied by singing in Spanish, English and especially by the beauty of the Samoan choir!  Last year, and this year, we also stopped at two locations where individuals had died and we blessed these areas, and visited and prayed with the families of those who had died.

The violence these days is much less, thanks no doubt to the presence of the Eucharistic Lord who is carried through the streets, and the prayers and ministry of all who walk in procession.

We were also blessed, this Palm Sunday Weekend, to have a major gathering  – for the first time in many years of the young people of our Diocese on the Cathedral campus.  Over 700 young people were present for Mass and reflections and talks.  It was certain ly a time that I enjoyed.  After the opening Mass, I  had a question and answer session with the young people, took a lot of “Selfies” and jammed on the keyboard with the Francis Cabildo band!

At this same time we were blessed to have Leonardo Defilippis back on campus with his drama about the life of St. John Vianney.  This was held in the Freed Theatre of the Cultural Center.  This production of the life of St. John Vianney is captivating and powerful. Another example of how the Christ Cathedral campus is a home for all who come, and evangelizes through music and drama which can draw so many to God!

Blessing of the Streets

Blessing of the Streets

 

Blessing of the Streets

Blessing of the Streets

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Waiting for the Lord’s call

I set out to write this column regarding the month of November and the days of All Saints and All Souls and what they teach us about life and eternal life. However, things have changed somewhat and now the reflections on the Eternal Life to which we are called, which we received in our baptism, has now become very personal as I sit by my father’s beside at hospice in Saint John’s Hospital in Springfield , Ill., praying with him into eternal life. I am writing this, as I have occasionally done before, on my iPhone.

For these days and this month, I found these words from All Souls Day yesterday in a parish bulletin from a church where I celebrated Mass: “We do everything possible to eliminate the thought. Yet for the Christian, death is not a moment separate from the rest of life. The deepest hope nourished by the faith is the final encounter with Christ. But that final encounter with him requires we face on a daily basis many options during our lives before that final meeting. The love and the fullness of joy at this final birth are built a day at a time by the efforts that we knowingly exerted because we opened ourselves to the Holy Spirit.”

All Saints Day and All Souls Day have their roots in sacred Scripture, which contemplates the mystery of life and death and our eternal life in the resurrection of Christ. The history and prayers for these days, which go back to the 10th century, were nuanced and clarified and celebrated in various cultural contexts. I have had the blessing to experience these days both in Italy and Mexico. These days remind us that although we are individuals, these passages from death to life are rooted and secured as a response of faith in community. We are not solo and not our own masters.

As I sit here with my father waiting for his passage into eternal life, I remember that we are not far from what was once called the hospital’s “expectant fathers’ waiting room” where he waited for me to be born in the early hours of May 10, 1951. I specially thank the staff of hospice at Saint John’s Hospital. Through their ministry and professional and loving palliative care (like that of the St. Joseph Health system in Orange County) they have ensured that he is not in pain and does not suffer. Their work in palliative and hospice care assures that while the patients here await the Lord’s call, they do not suffer and are not alone. Their presence here is a reflection of the Paschal Mystery of Christ and Saint Paul’s words, “O Death, where is your victory, O Death where is your sting?”

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Protect Life & Dignity of the Sick

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Today the California State Senate Health Committee is taking up SB 128 – entitled “The End of Life Option Act”. This legislation would allow physicians in our state to prescribe life ending drugs. This legislation threatens not only the sanctity of human life but the dignity of the sick and vulnerable. Over this past weekend I asked that all priests in the Diocese of Orange preach on and discuss this issue in our parishes and centers. Below is a homily that I shared with our presbyterate and offered as a resource to be shared at Masses. Additionally, I have reposted my reflections from November of last year when my father passed away. Please read and reflect upon these resources and share with your families and friends. Also, please join me in prayer today as our representatives discuss and vote on SB 128.

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I am addressing you today about a topic of urgent concern not only for Catholics, but for our culture, that has recently come to the fore in California. A new bill has been introduced into the California Senate—SB 128–called “The End of Life Option Act.” It is being heavily promoted by the Hemlock Society (which has renamed itself Compassion and Choices). The objective of the proponents is to try to pass legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide this year, but failing that, to forward a Voter Initiative to the public in 2016. This would make California the fourth state permitting physician-assisted suicide without approval by a court.

It is important to recognize from the outset that this initiative is not concerned with “death with dignity” in the sense of people refusing excessive or overly burdensome treatment at the end of life. The Catholic Church and the USCCB have supported the freedom of Catholics to refuse such treatment, and even provides resources to help you make decisions about treatments at the end of life.[1] So what does this new legislation concern? It concerns the legalization of physician-assisted suicide—where physicians could provide lethal doses of pharmaceuticals to be self-administered by terminally ill patients. Some of you may be thinking—“so what’s wrong with that if this option is completely voluntary?—if people don’t want it, they don’t have to take it—the legislation is simply giving an option to those who want it.” The ethical and cultural issues may not at first be evident, but I think I can bring them to light by examining the three major militating principles given to us by Jesus and the Catholic Church. The principles are as follows:

  1. Our duty to protect the life and dignity of the sick, weak, poor, and defenseless.
  2. Our duty to assure that new laws do not impose onerous burdens — such as the duty to die — on the vulnerable.
  3. Our duty to prevent cultural decline arising out of laws that devalue or degrade human life.

Let’s begin with the first principle – Our duty to protect the life and dignity of the sick, weak, poor, and defenseless. To begin with, most assisted suicide advocates admit—pain is not the reason for advocating suicide—because most pain from terminal illness can be adequately controlled by physicians. According to the 1992 manual produced by the Washington Medical Association –adequate interventions exist to control pain in 90 to 99% of terminally ill patients.”[2] Additionally, most of the depression leading to suicide attempts can be treated adequately with current protocols and treatment.[3] After extensive study of physician assisted suicide requests, Dr. Kathleen Foley, former Director of Palliative Care at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, concluded:

When these fears [about pain, depression, and self-worth] are dealt with by a caring and knowledgeable physician, the request for an expedited death usually disappears.[4] The developments in the treatment of pain and depression in terminally ill patients has caused the Hemlock Society to shift its focus away from pain and depression to the indignity of the need for assistance – as if the help we need and give to each other is some kind of enemy that must be overcome rather than the very part of life that makes us human and gives us the opportunity to give and receive love and compassion. [5]This should concern us all, but has particularly alarmed the disability rights community, because it undermines the dignity of the disabled. Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, responds to this idea as follows:

As many thousands of people with disabilities who rely on personal assistance               have learned, needing help is not undignified, and death is not better than reliance               on assistance. Have we gotten to the point that we will [advocate for] suicides               because people need help using the toilet? [1]

This is the reason that there is such a broad coalition against physician assisted suicide – from the World Health Organization to the American Medical Association, and beyond.[7]

If suicide is to be preferred over needing assistance, what does that say about the worth and dignity of disabled people? Are we telling the weak, the dependent, the vulnerable, and the poor that they are a burden and it would be better if they just went away? Are we not saying that death is better than compassion? Are we not reversing the teaching of Jesus Christ who said that love conquers death? The influence of culture and cultural trends is amazingly strong, and if this prioritization gains momentum, we will enter into a new level of the culture of death.

The second principle concerns our duty to assure that new laws do not impose onerous burdens — such as the duty to die — on the vulnerable. It runs as follows: A law permitting freedom to one group cannot impose an excessive or onerous burden on another group. At first glance, it might seem difficult to see how permitting assisted suicide for one group of people could impose an onerous burden on another group of people. Nevertheless, many physicians and ethicists have warned against this possibility precisely because “the mere option of assisted suicide” can put pressure on vulnerable people to request it against their wishes. This is particularly true for all people who could be persuaded that they, or their family, or the world would be better off if they were dead. Ethicists and directors of palliative care[8] write extensively about how seldom the decisions made by dying patients are truly autonomous, and how easily they are influenced or manipulated. For example, after the legalization of assisted suicide in Oregon, the physician of Kate Cheney refused to prescribe lethal medication for her because he thought the request was not her free choice, but came from pressure applied by her assertive daughter who was tired of caregiving. The daughter then found a more agreeable physician who wrote the prescription, after which Ms. Cheney took the lethal “medication” and died.[9]

It is irrelevant whether family members, friends, or physicians are well-intentioned or not—if they suggest that a person might be better off dead, then he or she could take that suggestion as a rejection of self-worth and lovability – and acquiesce to the perceived request to die.

Is this a real concern? The experience in the states of Oregon and Washington indicate that it is. Who are the populations most likely to feel the pressure to commit assisted suicide? Those who feel like a burden to their friends and family, those who feel badly about having a weakness or an illness, those who are reversibly depressed because they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, those with clinical depression, and those who have low self-esteem —in other words, a huge segment of American society. Once again the victims are those who are most vulnerable—who need our protection—so that they might have what they truly desire—continued life! Recall that the majority of assisted suicide requests are reversed when pain and depression are treated adequately.[10]

The pressure to commit assisted suicide is also exerted by insurance companies who are carrying out the mandate of new euthanasia legislation. In Oregon, for example, a cancer patient named Barbara Wagner was sent a letter by a company administering the state’s insurance plans stating that they would not pay for a drug that would help treat her cancer, but instead would pay for her assisted suicide. She told the Seattle Times, “I was absolutely hurt that somebody could think that way. They won’t pay for me to live but they will pay for me to die.”[11] Such letters are not uncommon, and the pressure to die they exert did not exist before the legalization of assisted suicide. This onerous burden to die is not only contrary to ethical laws; it is radically contrary to the teaching of Jesus who loved the weak and vulnerable and held them in highest esteem.

The third and final principle concerns our duty to prevent cultural decline arising out of laws that devalue or degrade human life. This principle enshrines not only the teaching of Jesus, but also that of St. John Paul, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis on the culture of life. Physician-assisted suicide threatens the culture in two respects:

  1. It reconfigures our view of “the quality of life.”
  2. It legitimizes and normalizes suicide as socially and morally acceptable.

With respect to the first point, Dr. Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center for Bioethics Research states what Catholics have known for centuries — “noble and heroic life can be achieved by those who have little or no control over the external conditions of their lives, but have the wisdom and dignity necessary to fashion a meaningful life without it.”[12] What Callahan is saying is that we have a fundamental option about how to define “quality of life.”

Should we define quality of life in terms of our strengths, abilities, intellectual acuity, and competitiveness—or should we define it in terms of a relationship with the loving God, the compassion we show to others, and the contributions we try to make to the various people and causes around us? If we define “quality of life” in the first way—then suffering has no meaning—and as we lose our mental acuity, physical agility, autonomy and competitiveness, we will see our quality of life slipping away—leading to a sense of purposelessness, worthlessness, emptiness, and malaise. However, if we define “quality of life” in the second way, and put on the mantle of Christ, then we will likely see a remarkable transformation take place during the time of our physical and natural decline—namely, an increased capacity for trust in God, and compassion for, and forgiveness of others. As St. Paul said, “I will boast in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me—for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).

Weakness and diminishment are sublime dignities — not scandals, impositions, or degradations. We as Catholics must stand up for this by word and example–as Pope Francis has encouraged us — so that the most vulnerable in our society will not only be protected but flourish in their true dignity of imparting faith, wisdom, forgiveness and compassion to their loved ones before they pass to the next life.

The second major cultural problem brought about by physician-assisted suicide concerns the legitimizing of suicide itself. There is an old expression in the philosophy of law—“What becomes legal, soon becomes acceptable, and what becomes acceptable, soon becomes ‘moral’ — because ‘everyone’ is doing it.”

What are we saying to our young people when we legalize assisted suicide? Of course – we are telling them that suicide is acceptable, which opens the door for them to conclude that it is moral. We are creating a cultural trend – not merely for the toleration of suicide, but for its goodness – its moral acceptability. We should not be surprised if suicide rates – of both young and old — increase as we stoke this cultural trend. This has certainly happened in Holland, where lethal injection and assisted suicide rates have increased every year over the six years between 2006 to 2012 — with a 13% increase in 2012. The Dutch now have “mobile euthanasia units” that will promptly come to a person’s home to administer lethal drugs upon request.[13]

If the California initiative succeeds, it will accelerate the assisted suicide trend in the United States – and if we are anything like Holland, it will cast not only a shadow, but a deep darkness upon our culture—not lifting us up to the light of Christ, but pulling us down into the eros of death.

Catholics have championed the above three principles throughout the centuries. Recall, almost immediately after the resurrection of Jesus, the Church started a healthcare system, a social welfare system, and an educational system extending far beyond the Christian community. It reached out especially to the weak and the vulnerable – particularly slaves.[14] This concern for the weak, sick, poor, and marginalized eventually led to the diminishment of Roman slavery and to the largest international healthcare, social welfare, and public education system in existence.

                 Today, I am asking for your help. Would you please read some of the resources available at the back of the Church and seriously consider working against this legislation by contacting your state senators and legislators. Would you please go to the California Conference Website – www.cacatholic.org, click on the red icon which says, “Urge a ‘No’ Vote on Assisted Suicide” – and simply follow the prompts.

Let us pray and work together to help our culture understand the tragedy and danger this legislation presents to the vulnerable populations living within it.

Sincerely,

Bishop Kevin Vann

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[1] See the California Catholic Conference’s document on End of Life Decisions and Directories
http://www.cacatholic.org/index.php/component/content/article/77-linked-articles-and-directories/583-frequently-asked-questions-end-of-life
[2]
Albert Einstein, 1992, “Overview of Cancer Pain Management,” In Judy Kornell, ed., Pain Management and Care of the Terminal Patient (Washington: Washington State Medical Association) p.4.
[3] See Burke Balch and R. O’Bannon, 2000, “Why Assisted Suicide Should not be Legalized.” (http://www.texasrighttolife.com/about/159/Why-assisted-suicide-should-not-be-legalized )
[4] Kathleen Foley, M.D., and Herbert Hendin, M.D. 2002. p. 314.
[5] R. Leiby 1996 “Whose death is it anyway? the Kevorkian debate; it’s a matter of faith, in the end.” Washington Post. 1996, Aug 11.
[6] Marilyn Golden and Tyler Zoanni 2010. p.1.
[7] In addition to the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, the following are also opposed: The American College of Physicians, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the American Geriatrics Society, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society, many other medical organizations; the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)—as well as virtually every major national and international disability rights organization.
See Kathleen Foley, M.D., and Herbert Hendin, M.D., 2002, The Case Against Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press) p. 3. And also see Marilyn Golden and Tyler Zoanni 2010 “Killing us softly: the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide” in Disability and Health Journal (http://dredf.org/PIIS1.pdf) p.1.
[8]Two of the most prominent experts are Dr. Leon Kass, M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, and Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, former Director of Bioethics at the Georgetown University Kennedy Institute of Ethics – now renamed after him. See Leon Kass 2002 “I Will Give No Deadly Drug: Why Doctors Must Not Kill” in Kathleen Foley and Herbert Hendin 2002, pp. 17 – 40. See Edmund Pellegrino 2002 “Compassion is Not Enough” in Kathleen Foley, M.D. and Herbert Hendin, M.D., 2002, pp. 41-49. See also Leon Kass, M.D. 2001 “Preventing A Brave New World” in The New Republic June, 2001.
[9] See Marilyn Golden 1999 “Why Assisted Suicide Must Not Be Legalized” in Disability and Health Journal (http://dredf.org/assisted_suicide/assistedsuicide.html)
[10] See Kathleen Foley and H. Hendin 2002. p. 314.
[11] See Hal Bernton, “Washington’s Initiative 1000 is Modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act,” Seattle Times, October 13, 2008.
[12] See Kathleen Foley, M.D. and Herbert Hendin 2002 p.9.
[13] Kate Connolly 2012, “Dutch mobile euthanasia units to make house calls” in the guardian (United Kingdom) March 1, 2012.
[14]Helmut Koester 1998 “The Great Appeal: What did Christianity offer its believers that made it worth social estrangement, hostility from neighbors, and possible persecution?” (New York: WGBH Educational Foundation) pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/why/appeal.html

A Time of Prayer and Reflection

Vietnam 2 Vietnam 3

 

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

The calendars (regular and liturgical) of these current days have some points for reflection form us, historically and faith wise.

We are right at President’s Day, which is a combination of the former observations of Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays. As citizens of the United States it behooves us, I believe, to know something about these two Presidents, their history and their respective eras. Growing up in Springfield, Illinois I was able to experience firsthand much of the Lincoln heritage.  I would certainly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “A Team of Rivals” as an insightful contemporary narration of President Lincoln and the challenges of the Civil War era and the life of Lincoln.

Right upon us now is “Mardi Gras”, which means “Fat Tuesday”.  This refers to the fact that when Lent was very strict the kitchens of homes and establishments were emptied of all fat and meat, to prepare for Lent, which follows the next day on Ash Wednesday. The colors of Mardi Gras, and some of the customs, also can trace their origin back to the Epiphany as well.  This can remind us of at some level, of the connection between faith, ritual and thus, even our “secular festivals”. 

This is also an occasion to reflect on the tremendous and apostolic work and mission of Catholic Charities here in Orange County.  We just celebrated their Mardi Gras Gala last Friday night, which brings so many people together for the purpose of supporting the mission of Catholic Charities. At the Gala, the local Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher were recognized for their outreach locally and for the faithful support of the mission of the Church in the Holy Land in these violent times in the Middle East.  Thank you Tita Smith for your leadership and that of your Board and staff.

Finally with Ash Wednesday upon us, Lent is here.  The word Lent is actually an old English word.  Countries whose heritage is Catholic, use a word such as “Quaresima” (Italy) or “Cuaresima” (Spanish speaking ) that reflects the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert.

This season of “Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving ” are an opportunity to reflect on how we are disciples of the Lord, and how we are called to live that relationship with Him in a deeper and more profound and even public way!  More later on this season…

Finally, in the early days of Lent, Fr. Binh Nguyen, Fr. Francis Vu SJ and I will be in Vietnam for the celebration of TET ( Lunar New Year) and the first days of Lent.  We hope and pray that this visit will continue to strengthen the bonds of Faith, family and friendship between our Diocese and the people of Vietnam.

A very blessed season of Lent to all and thank you for all of sacrifice and generosity in so many ways.  May the Lord bless you always .

+Kevin W. Vann