By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, April 11, 2016

Heal the Family

I have been hosting throughout the Archdiocese a number of what we call "Conversations with the Archbishop". The urgent issue before us is the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, and we call this particular series of conversations Every Life Matters (ELM). These conversations allow opportunity for the voicing of questions or concerns and the reception of helpful feedback. On Friday last, right in the middle of the-ten day period over which these conversations are taking place, the apostolic exhortation of the Holy Father was released. Entitled Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), it deals with the issue of family life. This coincidence of themes - assisted suicide and family - underscores the relation between them.

Pondering the issue of assisted suicide and euthanasia brings to the fore the urgent need to heal the family. Our ELM session yesterday in St. Mary's parish, Red Deer, involved presentations by a hospital chaplain and a physician who specializes in chronic pain management. As I listened to their presentations, I was struck by the frequent references to family and the influence that familial relationships have upon a person's decision-making in the midst of suffering or at the end of life. Particularly telling was the assertion by the physician that the reason most frequently given for an assisted suicide request is the fear not of suffering but of being a burden. I, too, have heard that often, together with the sad fact that many who seek such an end to their lives feel alone or abandoned by family members.

The legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia highlights our move as a society away from what should be the unassailable principle of the sanctity of every human life at every stage and in every circumstance. It is also bringing to light the urgent need to heal the family. This renders the release of Amoris Laetitia very timely for our country.

I hope you read this document from Pope Francis. It is lengthy, yes, but well worth the effort. Indeed, the Holy Father himself encourages us to read it slowly and reflectively, taking the time needed to appropriate prayerfully its teachings. I have read it through once, and want to return to it. Throughout this exhortation, the well-known pastoral heart of our Holy Father beats strongly. As I said yesterday in an interview with Salt and Light Catholic TV, reading it is like sitting down at the kitchen table with your grandfather, who knows what you are going through and who can offer sound counsel. The direction offered by Pope Francis is rooted in Scripture and our Catholic teaching, and is informed by his own experience as a pastor who has walked with many families in their difficulties.

It is a tragedy that abandonment or worry about being a burden is leading people to seek assisted suicide to end their lives. This sad reality gives dramatic urgency to the need to heal family relationships and help family members to discover and live the joy of authentic love. Pope Francis is helping us to do just that.