Looking to a Spiritual Ally in the Struggle for Life

Last fall, the Pope John Center for the Study of Ethics in Health Care and the Archdiocese of Portland organized a day-long symposium on physician-assisted suicide in anticipation of Oregon's referendum on whether it should be legalized. The odds were against a prolife victory and, regrettably, they held on that November election day. Oregon thus earned the sad distinction of becoming the only jurisdiction on earth that legally sanctions physicians to help patients kill themselves.

In the Providence of God, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the great champion of all vulnerable life, died just before the symposium. The bishop administrator of the Portland archdiocese at the time, Bishop Kenneth Steiner, aware of the great odds against the pro-life position in the physician-assisted suicide debate, and confident in the power of the prayers of the saintly nun of Calcutta, opened our symposium by asking for her blessing.

Throughout the Church's history the faithful have always turned to those of heroic virtue after their death, to invoke their prayers. Bishop Steiner's eloquent words serve as a moving tribute to a saintly woman who lived a remarkably Christ-like life. Mother Teresa, as did our Lord, poured out her life for others. I also believe the bishop's prayer can serve as an inspiration to those involved in the pro-life struggle.

It seems particularly appropriate to share his words with a wider audience as we mark the 25th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court rulings that removed the nation's protection of the unborn and laid the groundwork for the euthanasia movement. The struggle for life continues to become ever more intense, and the odds against the pro-life movement seem ever greater. We must use every means at our disposal to restore respect for innocent life in our society; prayer, fasting, publishing, research, political activism, assistance to mothers in distress, and assistance to their babies. We should certainly never forget our allies in heaven who stand before God's throne.

Bishop Kenneth Steiner's invocation of the prayers of Mother Teresa:

“Mother Teresa, saint of the slums, patroness of the dying, lover of God and his people, servant of the poor, healer of bodies and souls, Missionary of Charity, pray for us.

Mother Teresa poured out her life for others.

Mother Teresa, teach us to care for each and every person in the name of God, who created all in his image and likeness, in the name of Jesus, who suffered and died that all might come to eternal life.

Mother Teresa, teach us our true dignity as children of God, that we may bring dignity and grace to all as you have … the dying, the elderly, the suffering, the disabled, the poor, the children, the lepers, the AIDS victim, those without faith or hope, the unwanted and unloved.

Mother Teresa, aid us in offering faith and hope to the sick, not assisted suicide; aid us in offering peace and joy to the dying, not encouraged suicide; aid us in providing true dignity to the weak, not forced suicide; aid us in giving the love of Jesus to all, not the means of death; aid us in offering a loving community to those facing death alone.

Mother Teresa, you said:

‘The fruit of silence is prayer.’ Teach us to pray.

‘The fruit of prayer is faith.’ Help us to believe.

‘The fruit of faith is love.’ Guide us to love.

‘The fruit of love is service.’ Strengthen us to serve.

‘The fruit of service is peace.’ Lead us to peace.”

Dr. John Haas is president of the Pope John Center for the Study of Ethics in Health Care in Boston, Mass.