Not Being Like the Gadarenes + Charlie Gard

thomas merton

The Gadarenes foolishly begged the Son of God to leave their district. They begged the Savior and Light of the World, the revelation of the love of the Father–they begged Him to go away.

We might say to ourselves: We would never make such a colossal spiritual mistake! But before we do, let’s remember these words of Father Thomas Merton:

We all tend to be pagans at heart, and this blinds us to the true meaning of our Christian faith. There is a great difference between seeking God as a Christian, or as unconscious pagans. The pagan has no Christ, no Holy Spirit, perhaps even no personal God at all. He has to struggle upward to union with the ‘Supreme Being’–the ‘Absolute’–by sheer force of his own will and by his own fortitude, relying on his own battery of religious practices. His task is one of almost unbelievable difficulty…

Christian holiness is not a Promethean exploit. We do not have to storm the halls of heaven and bring down the fire of God, we do not have to raid his treasure rooms in order to obtain the good things He has reserved for us… Christ really descended from heaven, taking our flesh, re-uniting the human race in Himself, giving all men light in His light, sending us His Spirit to unite us to the Father.

Seeing that we would never come to Him, He came to us. Seeing that we could never attain Him, He surrendered Himself to us… He has shown us how to comprehend Him not by knowing, but by loving.

So let’s say to the Lord Jesus:

Don’t leave our district, Lord–no matter what! Stay with us, O incarnate Mercy of God! We prefer having Your company to anything else, especially our own pretenses of spiritual expertise. Our pretenses only reveal the extent to which we have failed to believe in You.

We know that You love us not because we have attained great things, but precisely because we stumble along like little toddlers, relying totally on You to guide and support us.

Please, Lord, banish forever from our minds any temptation to think that we could ever offer the Father anything worthy–except You!

We will read about the Gadarenes at Holy Mass tomorrow. In the meantime, a couple notes…

1. El Pais published an editorial about the president of the United States, every word of which bears reading. One word in particular appears to be an ingenious neologism. Tuitorreada for “tower of tweets” or “twitter-geyser.”

2. Speaking of tuitorreadas… That part of the world not currently busy making hamburgers and hot dogs finds itself concerned about young Charlie Gard, an infant in Great Britain suffering from an apparently fatal genetic disease.

If you have followed the case, you know that Charlie’s parents and the doctors treating him could not agree on the answer to this question: Could Charlie benefit from any further therapies?

A court convened and followed an established procedure for adjudicating such disputes. An American doctor had proposed a possible therapy. But the doctor admitted to the court that the proposed therapy had never before been tried on a human being. The judge concluded that Charlie should not be taken to the U.S. solely to serve as an experiment.

Charlie’s parents have appealed this decision. They have exhausted all legal options, apparently. But now the case has become a subject of papal and presidential tweets.

I just want to make this point:

When doctors and a patient (or the patient’s next of kin) cannot agree, the regrettable need for an impartial judge can arise. Advocates for “parents’ rights” in this case have tried to portray the judicial process here as an act of immoral euthanasia, which the parents now valiantly resist.

But: No one has an absolute right, in such a situation, to make the decisions. Because prudence must bow, ultimately, to the medical facts. We believe in God, and in His omnipotent power to work miracles, to be sure. But never has He shown greater, more miraculous health-giving power than when He endowed us with the skills that have led to modern medicine, practiced in a scientific manner.

I certainly don’t hold myself out as an expert in the medical questions involved in this heartbreaking case, which has now become an international sensation. Much less do I call myself an expert bioethicist.

But I think we all know that sometimes even babies get sick and die. Acknowledging that fact does not, in and of itself, mean that you favor euthanasia.

Of course we Catholics stand for the right to life, from conception to natural death. We also stand for everyone’s right to die in a holy and dignified way, when the hour of death arrives–as it will arrive for us all.

Facts can come at you cold and hard. The subtleties of genetic therapy involve facts that neither twitter nor facebook will ever be able to convey. I think we fail in charity if we conclude, without good reason, that this whole situation has obvious good guys and bad guys.