Thursday, February 07, 2008


Thursday after Ash Wednesday
As Easy As Pulling the Plug?


Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; Luke 9:22-25

Moses does make it sound very simple, doesn’t he? After about forty years wandering in the wilderness the people of Israel have finally arrived at the threshold of the Promised Land. Here they will meet many different peoples, each worshipping its own particular god. And, like a devoted parent, familiar with a little child’s tendency to stray, Moses is careful to lay things out in very simple terms. There are only two ways to go: the people can either obey the commandments of the Lord, or disobey them and choose to follow other gods. The first option will bring blessings and long life. The second will bring a curse and lead to death. Life or death. Nothing could be clearer. But clarity in theory doesn’t always translate into ease of practice.

Yesterday I was called to anoint someone in the Acute Care Unit of the Emergency Room. The patient had been admitted early in the morning after suffering a heart attack. He had subsequently been placed on a ventilator and the family was informed that nothing more could be done for him, as he was already comatose. Now came the difficult decision: whether and when to pull the plug. The eldest son was present when I arrived. It was heartrending to watch him struggle with the decision. He told me that both his parents had been planning to emigrate to the USA in less than a fortnight’s time. Why did this have to happen now? I don’t want to lose him, he said. Through tears of pain and anguish, even though he knew quite well what the doctors had said, he tried in vain to revive his father. Life or death. The choices were clear. But could anything be more difficult?

Although obedience to God is ultimately the life-giving option, it’s not always clear what this choice implies. And neither is it easy to put it into practice even when things may seem clear. Which is why the first reading needs to be complemented by Jesus’ words in the gospel of today. The Son of Man must suffer greatly… If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself… For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it…

In the Emergency Room, after we had anointed his sick father, the elder son did eventually come to a decision. It was obviously very painful, but he said he had decided to do what would make his father most happy. He was willing to let his father go. It was indeed a great leap that he was making, a major shift in outlook. From a grief-stricken child anxious to keep his beloved father by his side at all costs, he had finally chosen to relieve his father’s suffering, to allow his father go to his heavenly reward, to let his father die. And the dying was not the father’s alone. The son too was dying to himself, to his own need to cling to his beloved father. He was courageously taking up the cross that was being presented to him that day. Neither a simple nor an easy thing to do

Of course, we don’t face such major decisions everyday. Perhaps some of us don’t even face them once in a lifetime. And yet, isn’t it true that, on a daily basis, we are somehow asked to choose between right and wrong, between life and death? And isn’t it also true that it’s not always clear what is the right thing to do, just as it’s seldom easy do it? Isn’t this why, in the opening prayer today, we asked that everything we do might begin with God’s inspiration, continue with God’s help, and reach perfection under God’s guidance? Isn’t this why we need this great season of Lent, to better attune our heart to God and to beg for the courage to walk in God’s ways?

How are we being invited to choose life today?

1 comment:

  1. The exhortation in Deuteronomy to "choose life then" sticks in my mind because it is sound, timeless advice through every generation. Alas, as Fr Chris pointed out, it is easier said than done.

    The Chinese culture looks on suffering and misfortune as bad luck at best or divine punishment at worse. Today's Gospel tells us that Jesus chose life for us over eternal death by undergoing pain and suffering and humiliation. May we as Chinese Christians always choose life over eternal death.

    Today is the first day of the new lunar year. Coincidentally, it is also the first day in Lent. The lunar Spring Festival heralds re-birth, a fresh beginning. Lent heralds a 40-day preparation for the Ultimate Re-birth, a new existence.

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