Written By Cameo C. Anders JD, MA

In our July newsletter we talked about the First Principle of the ‘Ethics of Care’, Taking Responsibility and Investing in Life, and about the need to be the Good Samaritan to those around us, to trust in Christ’s invisible grace, to be prompted to the generosity of supernatural charity, and to take responsibility for and invest in life.  The second principle is to do so with a contemplative gaze.  What does that mean exactly?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, several people had ‘viewed’ the poor and beaten man left in the ditch and passed him by.  What was the difference in the way the Good Samaritan ‘viewed’ the man?  He was likely to have been equally as occupied as the others.  Could it be that he was compelled to stop and offer care because he viewed the man through a completely different lens- a lens that saw the man as his neighbor, as a unique and unrepeatable wonder whom he welcomed as a gift into his busy and hectic life?

The Letter Samaritanus Bonus guides us to view the fundamental and inalienable good of each human person.[1]  Even more so, it tells us that we have a moral responsibility to do so and that in doing so, we develop a contemplative gaze “that beholds in one’s existence and that of others a unique and unrepeatable wonder [to be] received and welcomed as a gift.”[2]  How often do we receive and welcome someone as a gift?  Especially the most fragile and vulnerable?  How often do we view another as unique and unrepeatable?

The Letter goes on to tell us that this contemplative gaze is the “gaze of the one who does not pretend to take possession of the reality of life but welcomes it as it is, with its difficulties, and sufferings, and, guided by faith, finds in illness the readiness to abandon oneself to the Lord of life who is manifest therein.”[3]  There must have been a readiness in the Good Samaritan to welcome life, not as he wished it would be, but as it was with all its difficulties and sufferings.  Do we welcome life as it is?  Are we ready to find in the difficulties and sufferings the manifestation of the Lord of Life?  What a strange place for the Lord of life to manifest Himself.  What an unlikely place for the spiritual reality of who we are (sons and daughters of God made in his image with an eternal destiny in heaven) to be viewed clearly.

Yet, if the human person is a body informed by an immortal spirit, then perhaps it is the perfect place for the Lord to manifest Himself.  Isn’t it when the mortality of our body is most recognizable that our immortality takes a place of prominence in our thoughts?  Perhaps it is in the moments of the decay of earthly life that we can most uninterruptedly turn our attention to the heavens and the hope for eternal life…and to the Lord.

This does not mean that medical and nursing care should cease completely as our body begins its final decay.  Care should be provided to the end, even if a cure is not attainable (the distinction between care and treatment will be taken up later when we discuss palliative care).  Instead, it means that “[t]he contemplative gaze calls for a wider notion of care…[including not just ] physical, [but also] psychological, social, familial, and religious support to the sick.”[4]  In addition, the emotional, social and spiritual support of family, doctors, nurses, and chaplains is necessary to that wider notion of care for they “can help the patient to persevere in sanctifying grace and to die in charity and the Love of God.” Which is the ultimate reality for which we live- to enter the “fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of …earthly existence, [and to share in] the very life of God.”[5]

When we haven’t developed such a contemplative gaze upon those around us and ourselves as unrepeatable wonders, when faith is absent and we cannot see the Lord made manifest in the difficulties and suffering, then, “in the face of the inevitability of illness, especially when chronic or degenerative, fear of suffering, death and the discomfort they entail is the main factor driving the attempt to control and manage the moment of death, and indeed to hasten it through euthanasia or assisted suicide.”[6]

Reflection: How can this second principle guide our decision-making and our actions?

How do we gaze upon the world and those within it, including ourselves?  Have we developed that contemplative gaze in which we recognize each individual as a unique and unrepeatable wonder?  Do we welcome life as it is and find in our difficulties and sufferings the Lord God Himself, made manifest?  If so, do we stop, as the Good Samaritan did, and offer a wider notion of care-care that provides the means for another to persevere in sanctifying grace and to enter the fullness of life in charity and the Love of God?

[1] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Samaritanus Bonus, 2020, found at https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20200714_samaritanus-bonus_en.html

[2] Samaritanus Bonus, part 1.

[3] Samaritanus Bonus, part 1

[4] Samaritanus Bonus, part 1

[5] John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae no. 2, found at https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae.html

[6] Samaritanus Bonus, part 1

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