Tag Archives: suffering

Discerning death of animals and men

We keep animals as pets, but we don’t do the same with humans. We use animals to make clothing and food, but we don’t do the same with humans. For all our similarities to the rest of the animal kingdom, we are aware of a fundamental difference in kind between ourselves and our furry friends. We are not meant to live and die as animals do, and certainly not to be euthanized as they sometimes are. The death of a human is a more complex event that has other important realities associated with it. 

Our pets seem to process the world around them largely in terms of pleasure and pain, oscillating between these two poles as they instinctively gravitate towards pleasurable experiences, and engage in “mechanisms of avoidance” when they come up against pain or discomfort. Animals really can’t do much else in the face of their suffering apart from trying to skirt around it or passively endure it. Because of our strong sense of empathy, we find it more emotionally acceptable to “put the animal to sleep,” rather than watch it go through a long and agonizing death.

It would be a false empathy and a false compassion, however, to promote the killing or assisted suicide of suffering family members. Just like the animals, on an instinctual level, we tend to recoil and do our best to avoid suffering. We can respond, however, in a way that animals cannot, even to the point of deciding to willingly accept, and “offer up,” our sufferings. Every person encounters some suffering, even if it may be purely internal, like the pain that comes from loneliness, isolation, depression, or rejection. Every person must, in one way or another, confront suffering along the trajectory of his or her life, and human maturity is partially measured by how we address and deal with it.

Suffering challenges us to grasp the outlines of our human journey in a less superficial way, and to value human life and protect human dignity in sickness as well as in health. Victoria Kennedy spoke eloquently to this point when describing Senator Ted Kennedy’s final months: 

“When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, he was told that he had only two to four months to live. … But that prognosis was wrong. Teddy lived 15 more productive months.… Because that first dire prediction of life expectancy was wrong, I have 15 months of cherished memories. … When the end finally did come—natural death with dignity— my husband was home, attended by his doctor, surrounded by family and our priest.” 

As human beings, we reach beyond the limits that suffering imposes by a conscious decision to accept and grow through it, like the athlete or the Navy Seal who pushes through the limits of his exhaustion during training. We also provide a positive example, and teach strength of character and encouragement to the younger generation as they witness our response to, and acceptance of, our own terminal circumstances. Our trials and tribulations also can serve to teach us important lessons regarding reliance on God and remind us of the illusions of self-reliance.

On the other hand, if our fear of suffering drives us to constant circumlocution and relentless avoidance, even to the point of short-circuiting life itself through euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, we miss those mysterious but privileged moments that invite us to become more resplendently human, right in the midst of the messiness, awkwardness, and agonies that are sometimes part of the dying process. 

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK, PH.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, MA, and serves as the director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. See www.ncbcenter.org

Preventing Opioid Abuse At Home

Here are some measures to help prevent opioid misuse and abuse in the home, according to the CDC:

Communicating with the doctor. Anyone requiring opioids should work with his physician to create a plan for managing pain. Options should be considered that do not involve opioids. Side effects or concerns should be discussed, with regular follow-up as directed.

Taking and storing opioids correctly. Directions should be followed; medication shouldn’t be taken in greater amounts or more frequently than directed. Opioids should not be mixed with alcohol, with other opioids, or with other medications including benzodiazepines (such as Xanax or Valium), muscle relaxants (such as Soma or Flexeril), or hypnotics (such as Ambien or Lunesta). Opioids should not be shared or sold. They should be stored in a secure place, out of reach of others – children, family, friends, and visitors included.

Disposing of unused opioids properly. At the end of treatment, unused opioids should be returned to a community drug take-back program or flushed down a toilet.

 Signaling help. If you know someone who needs help for a substance-use disorder, talk to a doctor or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

What The Murdicks Want You To Know

Here are three main points Tim and Kim Murdick hope families will take away from their talks about opioid addiction:

Be informed. “Know healthy choices for what is put in your body. Ask questions.”

 

Be vigilant. “Don’t think it cannot happen to your family or your loved ones. It can happen to anyone at any point in their lives.”

Be hopeful. “Despite our story, we truly believe that there is hope, and that recovery is possible. There are people who want to help families who need it.”

‘Wound’ perils of listening to other voices

During my childhood, I learned to tune out God’s voice in my conscience when I justified my sins. I thought I was living in freedom by making my own choices, but without realizing it, I was quickly becoming a slave to my human passions and to the evil forces lurking behind those seductions. At the time, I did not realize I was listening to and obeying other vices that were in opposition to God. It started when I listened to the voice of temptation through my brother and friend, but eventually those tempting voices emerged from within my own mind and heart. I discovered how quickly we can be seduced by our own passions, the seductions of the world, and by the deceiving voice of the father of lies.

These other voices are constantly presenting before us false illusions of distorted love and a counterfeit happiness which will never satisfy our deepest longings for genuine love.

 These seducing voices gradually pull us out of communion with God, often imperceptibly. We may still be going through the motions of religious worship with our mouths, but our hearts have drifted away from genuine intimacy with God (cf. Mark 7:6). We become more like the Pharisees, the ones Jesus refers to as hypocrites (the word literally means “actors on a stage”). Like the Pharisees, we may find ourselves projecting our guilt and shame onto others, judging them mercilessly for their sins and condemning them for not measuring up to our self-righteous standards. Inevitably, the measure we use to judge and condemn others comes back like a boomerang to become our judge. We end up condemning ourselves (cf. Luke 6:37-38). Self-condemnation in turn increases our feelings of shame and unworthiness.

In the long run, listening to these deceiving voices only serves to increase our buried guilt and shame, resulting in a more intense spiritual suffering. As our sins accumulate, our minds become darkened to God’s truth. Our hardened hearts then are unresponsive to His love. We slowly lose our God-given capacity for spiritual and emotional intimacy and instead become addicted to sensual pleasures in our search of counterfeit happiness. Over time, the seven deadly sins become our replacement for authentic joy. We worship created things because we have lost the capacity to enjoy intimacy with our Father and Creator.

Excerpt by Dr. Bob Schuchts, from his new book Real Suffering: Finding Hope & Healing in the Trials of Life (Charlotte, North Carolina: Saint Benedict Press, 2018), pp. 136-138.

DR. BOB SCHUCHTS is founder of the John Paul II Healing Center in Tallahassee, FL, and is a nationally renowned speaker, presenter, and writer. He is recently retired from his private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist, now devoting his time to writing and healing conferences.

A Tough Pill To Swallow

There’s an opioid addiction crisis nationwide, and it affects even the best of families. To swallow a tough pill here’s how it started and what we can do about it.

Sean Murdick of West Sand Lake, N.Y., was a co-captain of his high school football team who took a few classes at local colleges before finding work in construction. After he fell and broke his arm on the job, his doctor prescribed a 30-day supply of oxycodone to manage his pain.

His mother, Kim Murdick, didn’t think the opioid prescription was a good idea. Sean reassured her:

“Mom, I got this,” he said.

Before his prescription had run out, however, Sean was addicted. He began buying oxycodone on the street. Soon after, he switched to heroin, a cheaper and widely available alternative, to feed his addiction.

When his parents learned he was addicted, Sean asked for help. Tim and Kim Murdick checked out treatment centers for their son but found either that Sean didn’t meet admissions criteria or that insurance would not cover the cost. The Murdicks exhausted their savings as Sean went through several three- and five-day detox stays and intensive outpatient programs. Nevertheless, Sean repeatedly relapsed. At one point he described his opioid addiction as “this demon inside me.”

Sean finally was accepted to a Florida residential treatment center that helped him get clean. Six months later, struggling against relapse, he checked himself back in for a week of stabilization before returning to his sober home. Later that month, his roommates found him on the bathroom floor, dead from a heroin overdose. He was 22.

“We thought we did all of the right things,” Kim Murdick said. “We don’t expect that when you get a prescription for a broken arm that it’s going to end up with a drug addiction, but that’s what can happen.”

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

Sean’s tragedy illustrates the crisis of opioid addiction in America, which has seen overdose deaths rise from 8,048 in 1999 to 47,600 in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often addiction has developed from the use of opioids prescribed by doctors as painkillers.

Opiates like morphine and codeine derive from opium, while opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone are synthetic or semi-synthetic drugs that mimic the pain-reducing properties of opiates. Morphine was used as a battlefield anesthetic during the Civil War to treat wounded soldiers, but many became addicted. In 1898, Bayer began commercial production of heroin, which is synthesized from morphine as a supposedly less-addictive alternative. By 1924 all narcotics required a doctor’s prescription, and the sale or production of heroin was outlawed.

In 1980, the New England Journal of Medicine published a 101-word letter to the editor describing a very narrow hospital study that found addiction to be “rare” among medical patients treated with narcotics for acute pain who had no prior history of addiction. Other researchers and journals began citing that study out of context, and by the mid1990s pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, makers of Oxycontin, began aggressively promoting opioids to doctors with the assurance they were not addictive to patients.

Prescribing opioids for home use or to manage chronic pain, however, opened avenues for misuse and abuse. So as prescriptions for opioids skyrocketed, so did addiction rates and deaths.

Heroin sparked a second wave of overdose deaths beginning in 2010, and illicitly produced fentanyl – often laced into other drugs and 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine – initiated another deadly spike in 2013.

Drug manufacturers and suppliers now face major lawsuits for their role in the opioid epidemic as state and local governments seek compensation for the cost of responding to the crisis. Doctors have been accused of overprescribing, and many patients have admitted to using opioids irresponsibly; in 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids in the past year. There’s enough blame to go around.

“In the beginning, there was certainly the emphasis on treating not only acute but chronic pain with opioids, leading to increased marketing, production, and prescriptions of opiates,” said Dr. Cynthia Hunt, chair of the National Opiate Task Force for the Catholic Medical Association (CMA). Pain came to be seen as a “fifth vital sign,” and physicians were required to receive continuing medical education in pain management. “Unfortunately there was a definite misunderstanding about the addictive nature of opioids.”

Another contributing cause is a trend in “self-medicating” not only physical pain but emotional and spiritual pain as well, Hunt added. “There is widespread abuse, trauma, and neglect that individuals suffer which contribute to the desire to ‘numb’ oneself.”

Other gateways to opioid addiction in addition to prescription drugs exist, and most individuals who are treated for acute or post-surgical pain with opioids do not become addicted, she noted.

But as the Murdicks found, securing help for someone with opioid addiction can be difficult.

“When someone has a substance use disorder, very often they are resistant to recognizing, seeking, and accepting help,” Kim said. “Yet far too often when the person has recognized that they want help and are willing to go into a treatment facility, there are so many barriers that treatment isn’t always available. That was the case with our Sean.”

CATHOLIC RESPONSE

Lawmakers and government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels have taken steps to address the opioid crisis and make treatment more available. Churches and other nonprofits have taken the lead as well. Catholic Charities agencies are tackling the epidemic as are many Catholic hospitals and ministries.

Last summer, Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg, PA issued a pastoral letter outlining a 14-point action plan for responding to the opioid crisis in a holistic way. He called for the diocese, its parishes, and the faithful to work with existing health care facilities and social service agencies to address the problem. He also stressed the importance of prevention and education — as well as prayer.

The CMA’s Opiate Task Force that Dr. Hunt leads was formed eight months ago to educate Catholic leaders about the struggles of addiction, to bring together existing treatment centers regionally, and to strengthen the faith-based approach to healing of the whole person. It has identified several pilot dioceses to help identify models for “best practices” for facilitating biological, psychological, social, and spiritual healing.

“Spiritually, we are a wounded society, and addiction is part of this spiritual malady,” Hunt said. “Most deep healing will arise with spiritual means, surrendering to God our entire being including our brokenness.” She cited “primarily spiritual” 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous as successful examples of this holistic approach.

“To the extent that suffering can be relieved without harm to an individual, that should be our goal,” she explained. However, “with Jesus, suffering can be redemptive and can actually bring us closer to God, in union with Our Lord on the Cross.”

SHAME AND STIGMA

Out of their grief, the Murdicks founded NO piates, a nonprofit organization that seeks to raise awareness about opioid addiction and advocate for solutions. They share their story of Sean with other families, young people, and decision makers.

“We are seeking access to housing, employment support, addiction treatment, and community-based recovery supports,” Kim said. “Progress has been made regarding the treatments for those who suffer with the disease of addiction, but there is so much more that needs to be done.”

Some of the progress includes hospitals that offer detox and medical stabilization services to assist with physical withdrawals, as well as increased recognition of the value of peer-supported recovery. “It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all recovery,” she said.

Many people still need to understand that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing. “Shame and stigma are still deeply rooted in the disease of addiction for those who suffer from substance use disorders and those who love them,” cautioned Kim.

Dr. Hunt agreed that society must overcome the stigma of addiction so that those affected can be open to the professional help they need.

“If addiction is suspected in oneself or a loved one, it is so important to name it, ‘destigmatize it,’ recognize it as an illness — biologically, psychologically, and spiritually — and obtain help in a holistic manner as soon as possible,” she said.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff write

Lent grooms us for Heaven

I recently heard a Catholic say, “We have enough problems these days – why do we need Lent to suffer even more?” He was serious.

Christine Valentine-Owsi

Today, suffering in any form is disdained and seen as unnecessary and unsophisticated. Even in Church circles, there’s the greatest emphasis on mercy, yet scant notice of God’s justice.

Well, not so fast.

St. Ambrose, 4th-century bishop and doctor of the Church who fought early heresies and faith errors, said: “God is displeased not only with the sinner, but also with him who does not punish sin. For if there were more to punish sin, there would be less sin.”

But today it’s fashionable to let things ride, dispense from penalty, even blame the victim instead of the perpetrator.

This is why modernity has become the perfect breeding ground for liberalism, where ‘freedom of choice’ eclipses right and wrong. Liberalism actually denies natural law – which God has inscribed in our hearts. When crime isn’t consistently punished, or parents won’t oppose kids’ sinful choices, or depravity is rewarded … voila! … we get an amoral society without respect for anyone. Especially for God.

Secular liberals exhibit vapid intolerance for any person or scenario which contradicts their credo. Yet their act-outs – like bullying in public those they dislike; demanding the ‘right’ to eliminate preborn or newborn infants; parading unnatural sexual behavior; even intimidating Christians into a sort of public square practical atheism – are lauded as forward-thinking. Many Catholics unwittingly play into this, and recoil at defending God’s law for fear of losing comrades or comfort.

But Christ Himself gave us the key to lasting friendship with Him: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat 16:24). He asks for our voluntary self-denial in doing His will, in surrendering what we naturally like – our comfort zones – in order to please Him. The very things He requires of us will separate the sheep from the goats. Our own final judgment by Christ won’t be politically correct, but it will be eternally just.

Catholic teaching says that omission of punishment of sin is a participation in its guilt. God forgives sin, but we must redress offenses to Him before we can be admitted to Heaven. Further, our own mortification before Him shows our willingness to surrender our most precious possession – our self-will.

It is for this purpose that we have the gift of Lent. Our sins – those confessed already – must be expiated before God, easier done now. We each owe a personal debt that’s incomplete in satisfaction. In addition, we must re-orient our interior and exterior demeanor to be properly mortified for Heaven.

The late Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. explained it this way.

“Only mortified persons are willing to love God in the patient endurance of whatever crosses He sends them. If we are willing to mortify (“cause death to”) our self-will in this world, we shall gain eternal life in the world to come. On these terms, only mortified people will enter Heaven.”

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK  is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Real Suffering: Finding Hope & Healing in the Trials of Life

Dr. Bob Schuchts
St. Benedict Press, 188 pages

 

Dr. Schuchts, a marriage and family therapist, encourages us to turn our trials on their head by seeing them as something positive. Pain thus becomes a gift, an alarm that calls us to respond, seek healing, and allow God to restore us to wholeness so that we may become who He calls us to be. We must recognize the transforming power of the Holy Spirit as He draws us into closer communion with Christ and our fellow man. “Only when we experience our suffering in light of the Holy Spirit does it make any sense to us,” Schuchts said in a recent interview. Pain has a redemptive purpose, and we ought not let it go to waste.

 

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Waiting for Christ: Meditations for Advent and Christmas

Blessed John Henry Newman
Augustine Institute, 160 pages

Blessed John Henry Newman was a 19th- century leader of the Oxford Movement by which many intellectuals left the Anglican Church to embrace Catholicism. He also was an outstanding orator and prolific writer who inspired many to understand and live their faith more fully. These meditations stretching from Advent through Epiphany are in this vein as they invite us to contemplate such themes as our need for truth, our dependence upon God, Mary’s role in salvation, the meaning of suffering and martyrdom, and in what true joy consists. Pick up a copy now to reinvigorate your interior life this Christmas.

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In God’s Hands: Living Through Illness with Faith

Maureen A. Cummings
Our Sunday Visitor, 115 pages

As a cancer survivor, Maureen Cummings knows a thing or two about the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges that accompany a person who must endure serious illness, as well as the difficulty for their loved ones. In this concise paperback, she provides succinct guidance and encouragement for those facing similar circumstances. Acceptance, prayer, trust in God, courage, dealing with inevitable changes, and preparation for the battle as well as for death itself are covered in simple and comforting fashion. Catholics know suffering can be redemptive, and this little book is crafted to help them make the most of it.

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Taking refuge in God’s heart

It is said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe it is also true that what can and will kill you can make you stronger. My beautiful sons are living proof of this.

Joe Sikorra

When our older son John turned seven, my wife, Lori, and I shared a parent’s worst nightmare: “Your son has a neurological disease. It is fatal,” the specialist said. Our hearts had been dealt an unimaginable blow from which I could not imagine recovery. It couldn’t be worse. Right?

Six months later we were told our other son, Ben, four years old, suffered from the same disease. Two sons stricken with the same debilitating disease, and a lifetime devoted to dealing with the effects.

“How tragic. How awful,” we heard. Yes. But can you also imagine these very same lives experiencing joy in abundance? Overflowing love and laughter alongside such heartbreak? Is it possible for all of these contrary emotions to exist within one heart?

St. Paul, whose life personified struggle, redemption, and joy, knew the words of Jesus to be true: “Not for man, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Along the difficult journey, Lori and I made numerous and wonderful discoveries about struggle, loss, life, death, friendship, resilience, support, depression, anger, faith, the power of choice, marriage, guilt, humility, pride, acceptance, and barbecuing. (Not all discoveries have to be life-changing.)

I didn’t choose the Batten disease road. Most people don’t choose pain. And Batten’s would bring all kinds of pain. But how we chose to engage in the struggle was made up of a myriad of choices daily. The battle was to find light.

Socrates once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To do that, I would not only have to examine, but act, trusting that each step would bring me closer to that light.

The struggle was crushing many days and understandably, for many families and marriages, the weight of those circumstances would have been too much to bear.

Our struggle was not against a diagnosis. That was a one-day event that quickly became history. If victory over the past were to occur, it would have to be found in the moment. But how? We would meet the enemy each day in the declining health of our sons. And each day we were given a choice as to how to meet it: either with courage, love and laughter or with despair.

We didn’t always win. Sometimes fear, rejection, and depression ruled the day. The battle was long and victory never assured. Love, hope, faith, and trust would be fashioned in struggle and tears.

Yet faith and hope would provide nothing if they remained just words found in scripture used as slogans. Those were the weapons offered, and if we used them well, the victory would yield peace and joy. Our lives seemingly continued to grow and become increasingly enriched as a result of the struggle that continually brought us to our knees.

We had to take refuge in God. The only other option was to turn away from Him.

As Paul writes, “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:11-12). Happiness isn’t found by keeping struggle at bay. Nor can it be denied. But if we learn to embrace it, we can utilize it to learn and grow and ultimately experience true joy in Christ Jesus.

JOE SIKORRA writes about his family’s struggle with the diagnosis of Batten’s disease for his two sons in his new book, Defying Gravity: How Choosing Joy Lifted My Family from Death to Life (Ignatius). He is also a marriage and family therapist and host of “The Joe Sikorra Show” on Relevant Radio.

 

The problem with pain

As a child, I was always looking for ways to get out of my chores, and in my teen years, I didn’t get much better at ducking my responsibilities. My brother Andrew and I — the oldest sons in a family of nine children — grudgingly accepted our duties. But our attitude gave rise to one of my father’s favorite sayings: “You boys are allergic to two things — work and pain!” As a teenager, I didn’t see much difference between the two!

When I got a little older and started earning a paycheck, I began to appreciate work for more than just its economic benefits. But I have never come to embrace pain wholeheartedly. After all, pain hurts!

In Mel Gibson’s brilliant depiction of Christ’s final hours, The Passion of The Christ, Jesus does something very subtle when he’s given his cross: He kisses and embraces it. In fact, one of the thieves being crucified with Christ chides him for it: “Why do you embrace your cross, you fool?” His only response to this reproach was to pray, “Father, my heart is ready.” As he had made clear prior to his passion, no one would take his life; his kiss demonstrated that he laid it down willingly.

The Church has always taught that Christ’s suffering was more than adequate to atone for our sins. However, in his great love for us, Jesus calls us to be “partners … in the paschal mystery” by taking up our cross and following him (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 618).

Saint Paul took this call seriously when he wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1: 24).

Paul fully understood what it meant to be Christlike. He was ready to empty himself spiritually and physically, sacrificing everything for the Gospel. He traveled at least 6,000 miles spreading the Good News, most of it on foot. In the end, Roman Emperor Nero had him beheaded.

Few of us will be called to make the ultimate sacrifice for our faith. However, one great lesson we can learn from St. Paul is to “rejoice in our sufferings” — not because suffering in and of itself is good, but because Christ allows us to join our sufferings to his and turn it into a “good.”

At this point in my life, I don’t have very many crosses to bear. However, by God’s grace, I am embracing those I do have and “offering them up” for the salvation of souls. I fully expect that as the years go by, the Lord will allow me a greater share in his suffering. Perhaps by then, I will have surrendered enough to say, like Jesus, “Father, my heart is ready.”

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.