The Wine of Hope

by JOHN EVANGELISTA 

November 7, 2021 passed by like any other day in Aotearoa New Zealand. One of the highlights of the day was probably the magnitude 5.5 earthquake which shook central New Zealand at 4:16pm. But again, isn’t this something normal and ordinary in our part of the world? 

      Dr John Evangelista

What many people have missed was a far greater magnitude “earthquake”, which was something definitely out of the ordinary.  On this day, the End-of-Life Choice Act took effect.  November 7 will forever be remembered as the day that euthanasia was legally made available in New Zealand. 

It is not surprising as to why there are frequent environmental earthquakes in New Zealand, since we know that we are located on the boundary of two of the world’s major tectonic plates – the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate. Likewise, the passing of the End-of-Life Choice Act is not altogether a surprise. Probably this is the culmination of the slow deterioration of the moral fabric of society. In 1980, the divorce law came into effect and threatened the basic unit of society – the family. The overwhelming majority in Parliament who voted for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013 was another “nail in the coffin”.  Was it really a surprise that the Abortion Legislation Act 2020 permitted the termination of pregnancy for up to 20 weeks of pregnancy and removed abortion from the Crimes Act 1961?  Like the all-too-frequent and ordinary minor environmental earthquakes, the devastating effects of the End-of-Life Choice Act of November 7, 2021 was expected and given little importance by many in New Zealand. 

Many have asked if this sequence of events is a failure on the part of the Church. It is definitely a fair question to ask, but probably it would be more prudent not to dwell on the failure, but focus on what needs to be done to “rise from the fall”. All of us who form part of the Church would need to reflect personally and collectively on what have we done (or failed to do) so as to be able to move forward and “bring back Christ into the world”. The call of Pope Francis to synod and synodality allows us an opportunity to do just that. 

Following the events of November 7, the letter “Samaritanus Bonus” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by Pope Francis in 2020, is a timely reminder of what it means to love when we take care of the sick and the dying.  “Love” and “Hope” are precisely the pastoral elements that would provide the wholeness to this otherwise broken and inhumane society. 

“’The wine of hope’ is the specific contribution of the Christian faith in the care of the sick, and refers to the way in which God overcomes evil in the world. In times of suffering, the human person should be able to experience a solidarity and a love that takes on the suffering, offering a sense of life that extends beyond death. All of this has a great social importance: ‘A society unable to accept the suffering of its members and incapable of helping to share their suffering, and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society’.” (Samaritanus Bonus) 

Solidarity and love need to be shared and experienced, not only in times of suffering, but should form part of the culture of love within the family, marriage and community. It would be difficult to be authentically “com-passionate” if we have not lived love and solidarity at every moment of our lives. A child who has not been shown love and taught solidarity will have a difficult time to show “com-passion” when the time comes when parents are suffering and on the point of death. 

As a community, in schools and parishes, we need to share love and show solidarity to everyone, especially those who are in need and vulnerable – not only to the sick and dying, but to the elderly in general, and to those living alone, the disabled, new migrants and those new in the community, those who are bereaved, and all those who are suffering both physical and moral pain.   

Mere words and preaching are not sufficient. We must start extending our hand, offering our shoulder so that others’ burdens will be lightened, not only at the moment of suffering and death, but at all times. Many times, it could just be an attentive and listening ear that would suffice to show “com-passion”.  Just like the early Christians, may others be able to say, “see how they love one another”. 

 

  • Dr John Evangelista is a medical doctor and practising counsellor. He studied theology and is currently the Dean of Te Kupenga – Catholic Theological College. 

 

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