Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"It Is A Fearful Thing When Man Sets His Will Against The Will Of God"

(This Worth Revisiting this post was originally published in September, 2014. To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at and Allison Gingras at

"In today's Gospel we read of an unusual event: Our Savior weeps. Yes, the Son of God sheds tears. Whoever weeps must be either in physical or mental anguish . . This is the reason for the tears of Jesus, for the tears of God. . . . Tears for the misrule, the injustice and man's willful refusal of Him and the resulting evils, which, in His divine omniscience, He foresees and which in His justice He must decree. . . . It is a fearful thing when man sets his will against the will of God, and it is because of this that Our Lord is lamenting over Jerusalem."

The Lion of Muenster

Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen
The passage above is the opening of a remarkable sermon [full text here] delivered August 3rd, 1941, in the city of Muenster in the German state of Westphalia. It is one of a series of sermons that summer by Bishop Clemens August von Galen harshly criticizing the policies of the Nazi government of Germany at the same time that Hitler’s Wehrmacht was thundering toward Moscow.  In his homily of August 3rd, the Bishop of Muenster (dubbed the “Lion of Muenster” because of his outspoken bravery in the face of the Nazi tyranny) went on to say:

For the past several months it has been reported that, on instructions from Berlin, patients who have been suffering for a long time from apparently incurable diseases have been forcibly removed from homes and clinics. Their relatives are later informed that the patient has died, that the body has been cremated and that the ashes may be claimed. There is little doubt that these numerous cases of unexpected death in the case of the insane are not natural, but often deliberately caused, and result from the belief that it is lawful to take away life which is unworthy of being lived. This ghastly doctrine tries to justify the murder of blameless men and would seek to give legal sanction to the forcible killing of invalids, cripples, the incurable and the incapacitated.

"Who can have confidence in any doctor?"

Bishop Von Galen stresses that these people are not being put to death because of some crime they committed, or because they represented a threat of some kind:

No, these are not the reasons why these unfortunate patients are to be put to death. It is simply because that according to some doctor, or because of the decision of some committee, they have no longer a right to live because they are ‘unproductive citizens’. The opinion is that since they can no longer make money, they are obsolete machines . . .

He reminds his flock in forceful terms that murder is violation of God’s commandments:

. . .there are sacred obligations of conscience from which no one can release us and which we must fulfil even at the price of death itself. At no time, and under no circumstances whatsoever, may a man, except in war and in lawful defence, take the life of an innocent person.

But he also give a very common-sense argument against the destruction of the infirm, one accessible to people of all faiths, or no faith at all:

Here we are dealing with human beings . . . unproductive—perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live? Have you or I the right to exist only because we are ‘productive’?  . . .
Once admit the right to kill unproductive persons . . . then none of us can be sure of his life. We shall be at the mercy of any committee that can put a man on the list of unproductives. There will be no police protection, no court to avenge the murder and inflict punishment upon the murderer. Who can have confidence in any doctor? He has but to certify his patients as unproductive and he receives the command to kill.

Once the state, or a committee or, ahem, a panel created by the government has the power to declare one human life not worth living, then it can decree death for any one of us, because it will no longer recognize that we have an inherent right to exist. If it has the power to remove such people from their unwilling families, it will have removed one of the last meager checks on totalitarian tyranny. At the same time, it will necessarily corrupt the medical profession, because doctors will be transformed from healers to dealers in death.  Who indeed can trust his doctor in such a world?

The More Things Change . . . 

     I was reminded of Bishop von Galen’s sermon by this story [here], about a young mother whose disabled child has been taken from her by the state, which refuses to lift a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) on the baby, even though the mother has not been declared unfit. A lower court has already sided with the state against the mother and her family. This case did not happen in Nazi Germany, however, but is taking place right now in my own State of Maine.  And, while it doesn’t involve active euthanasia, that is the direct killing of the child, forcing the unwilling family to stand by helplessly while “care providers” allow the child to die is not that far removed. Fortunately, a collection of advocacy groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland have filed amicus briefs on the mother’s behalf, and are providing her with legal help in her appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.  As recounted in the Fox News story, a brief filed by the group echoes the Bishop’s argument cited above [my bold]:

State officials, according to the attorneys on behalf of the girl's mother, have an interest in affirming the medical profession as one that heals and does no harm. "Allowing a physician to mandate that a mother agree to a DNR does not properly respect that duty," the brief continues. "The integrity of the profession depends on its ability to utilize the best practices, with the best information, to promote patient well-being. In contrast, a physician-mandated DNR would be fraught with uncertainty and risk."ADF Senior Counsel Steve Aden said the state is effectively arguing that the girl’s mother is unfit to make medical decisions for her child and called upon the state’s highest court to preserve the value of life.

The brief also argues forcefully for the rights of parents to control the care of their children.

Will We Become "Obsolete Machines"?

     There have been some positive developments in this case the past couple of days: Governor Paul LePage has said that regardless of the court’s decision, he will not allow the DNR order to be put into effect against the mother’s wishes (I’m not looking to make this a political ad, but I can’t help but point out that there are real consequences of electing candidates who are pro-life . . . or not).  That will help in this particular case, but the legal precedent will be set by the court – and even a favorable decision now can be overturned later.  And of course if LePage is re-elected (the oddsmakers don’t favor it), the next governor, regardless of political affiliation, is likely to act differently.  In future cases where the state removes a child from his or her parent, there is a good possibility that families here will be in the position described by Bishop von Galen: “We shall be at the mercy of any committee that can put a man on the list of unproductives. There will be no police protection, no court to avenge the murder . . .”  There is a persuasive argument that such committees are also mandated in the federal Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare).
     Bishop von Galen’s allegations were considered so shocking at the time that German authorities banned publication of his sermons, and allied planes dropped them in leaflet form onto German troops in the hopes of rousing their consciences against their government.  After the war, participation in the euthanasia program was one of the atrocities for which Nazi doctors were tried by the Nuremburg Tribunal [here].  And yet today respected public officials feel no shame about asserting the government’s right to remove those whose lives they consider “not worth living” from their families and allowing (or even causing) those people to die.  We need more von Galens, and not just in the pulpit (although assuredly we need them there);  we all need to find a little “Lion of Muenster” somewhere inside and roar in defense of human life.  Nothing else will prevent our slide into a society where none of us can trust our doctor, or be sure that loved ones won’t be taken away from us to be discarded like “obsolete machines.”

Note: Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 9 October 2005; his feast day is March 22nd.

Update: In late September 2014 the Maine Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the motion to lift the court's do-not-resuscitate order, saying the issue was moot since the Le Page administration made it clear that the order would not be enforced regardless of the court's decision.  Little Aleah Peaslee is still alive, although the order can still be enforced at a later date, and the power of the state to impose such an order against the will of the child's parents remains unchallenged.  

Governor LePage was re-elected in November of 2014 after receiving the largest number of votes ever in the history of Maine Gubernatorial elections.