Charles Lewis: Here’s one way we can care for our sick

  • September 7, 2018

The grim truth is that legalized euthanasia is not going away. This is not giving up but stating a hard truth. 

There seems to be no political will to confront this evil. At best, we might be able to stop it from expanding.

This does not mean we are helpless or must succumb to this latest chapter in our nation’s expanding culture of death. God gave us free will. That freedom can and should always be used for the good. 

But as time goes on and Canadian doctors become more used to the idea of killing patients, there is concern that euthanasia will no longer seem extraordinary. I believe that process is well underway. 

For those who are suffering this creates an extra danger. When someone is sick and lonely and in pain, they begin to lose hope. When the question of “why go on” becomes a mantra, the devil will find an opening.

Since euthanasia became legal I have written and spoken about the need for parishes to find ways to care for their sick. Nearly every time I mentioned this idea the same questions arose: How do you do that? Do you need training? Is there a program or pamphlet?

It turns out that all along there has been a very good program, one that started even before euthanasia was legalized, that I was unaware of. Everyone should know about it and find a way to take part.

For the past 10 years, Sally Amaral of the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto has led a two-day course on the basic skills required to aid those most in need. 

“As a Catholic, through our baptism, we are called to continue the mission of Jesus Christ,” Amaral said. “And one of those is visiting the sick.”

The Lay Pastoral Visitors Training Program helps a potential volunteer understand if they have a call to this ministry. Then it prepares the volunteer to provide pastoral visits and bring Holy Communion to the sick.

Amaral said the course prepares a person to a be a “caring listener and a minister of presence and word and sacrament. Someone who can pray with another, one who can share Scripture with another and one who can bring communion to another.”

Elements of the course include: understanding sickness and healing, basic skills of pastoral visits, developing listening skills and pastoral care of the dying.

She said prayer is the key to a successful ministry.

“As we’re called to ministry we are called to prayer. Prayer is very essential to what we do. Without prayer there is no ministry.”

The advent of laws that permit doctors to kill some patients gives the program, and others like it, extra urgency.

“Those who are homebound will experience, to some degree, isolation and loneliness,” Amaral said. “And so that is why this ministry is so important now, so that they can feel connected to our parish community.”

Amaral made clear that the role of volunteers is still limited. 

“A pastoral visitor is not a chaplain or a therapist. They’re not a medical advisor or spiritual director. So it’s important to clarify their role.” 

For example, if someone is contemplating euthanasia, pastoral visitors should not offer advice. Rather, they should take that information to their parish priest, who is better trained to address that kind of crisis.

Every parish priest should encourage their parishioners to participate in this program (the next courses in Toronto will run on Sept. 22 and 29). There are many retirees looking to give back. There are plenty of stay-at-home parents who likely have time to spare. Many take the course to deal with a sick relative. 

Those who want to represent their parish by doing this pastoral work will need permission from their pastor and undergo a screening process.

We are in the midst of battle against a secularized culture run amok. We must seize every opportunity to prevent it from spreading. This course is great place to start.

For information e-mail samaral@archtoronto.org or formation@archtoronto.org.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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