Dear Father Angelo,
I often read this website and I thank you for your answers. I want to let you know that thanks to you I corrected many of the wrong behaviors I had, and this is helping me a lot.
I have already written to you about different matters and I am sorry to take away your time again, but I would like your opinion (I looked on the website, but I did not find a similar question).
I write to have a clarification about two different issues: faith as a sentiment and the involvement of technology with the terminally ill. I apologize for the length of my email.
I will start from the second point, with a personal story. I wonder: can the technology that saves our lives become, in a way, “aggressive treatment” (I must use the inverted commas, it is just to explain the concept)?
My grandfather is seriously ill, he is very old (over 90 years old), and a few days ago we have been told that he is going to die soon. Besides understandable sadness – I am very close to him and it pains me to see him suffer -, I know that this is the natural course of events and that this is not eternal Life. So, I help as I can, trying to overcome my sadness, hoping that his hour will come as peacefully as possible.
The problem is that he has a cardiac pacemaker, implanted a few years ago. This device is of course a wonderful achievement: it allows the heart to function better, and it guarantees a healthier and longer life, and this happened to him, too. But now this technological device is not “allowing” him to pass away naturally.
His heart continues to beat effortlessly, while the rest of his body is slowly collapsing: he has a severe pneumonia that is causing him many respiratory failures, and we have been explained that, being his heart “strengthened”, it is more likely (even though not certain) that his sufferings will protract longer.
Where is, then, the limit?
I tried to give myself an answer and I couldn’t: would it be right to “turn off” the pacemaker? I could not do it, because I would never do anything to cause his death.
At the same time, his suffering is devastating and it bothers me to think that there is a little possibility that it has been “induced” or encouraged.
We are doing what we can to be close to him, so that, at the first sign of a crisis, the doctors can promptly intervene to ease his pain, but besides this we feel powerless and full of doubts.
My message may contain both scientific and ethical errors, but even researching carefully and learning as much as I can, this is all I have understood.
Another issue is that my grandfather has never been a believer (like most of my family), even though he is a good and caring man. I want him to present himself well before God, but he is not conscious and his will is compromised. Can I pray asking the Lord to consider my prayers as said by him? And Communion I take, too?
The second issue is that I have not felt the “fire” of faith for years now.
I go to Church, I try to read the scriptures, every day I devote some time to prayer and reflection, I confess regularly, I do soul-searching to improve myself and give thanks.
But I feel nothing, nothing! There was a period, years ago, when I felt a strong vocation to prayer, a strong and positive energy to detach myself from sin, an interminable love towards Him and the others. All this happened when I got closer to Him in a more profound way, around the age of 19 (I am 24 now).
Then, out of the blue, nothing. I blamed my pride, my poor time management, my “not being able to detach myself” from what is material. These thoughts helped me because we are always weak and I discovered new lacks within me… But I do not understand why everything has stopped, and what can be the blame that is moving me so much away from God. The thing is that I live my faith as a book of mathematics, only with my head and my memory.
I remember the “fire” that I felt in me, the tears of joy, the gratitude… Those feelings were not coming from me, and for this I know that He is there and that His word is real. Even if I do not feel that fire, I felt it and this is enough for me to know that it is there. But sometimes it is so exhausting praying without feeling anything, focusing during Mass feeling alone, trying to understand His plans for me (am I doing the right thing?)… I feel so far away from his Voice and I do not know what to do.
Has anything like this ever happened to you or do you know someone who is feeling the same as me? Besides the prayers and not distancing myself from the life of faith, is there something I can do?
Answer from the priest
1. There are some clinical interventions which are irreversible.
We are free to have a pacemaker implanted and to recover a regular heartbeat.
But once we have acquired this status, which is, all things considered, beneficial (it gave your grandfather a few more years to live), we cannot go back even if dying becomes more difficult.
2. Preserving your grandfather’s pacemaker is not aggressive treatment because it was not implanted not to accept an unavoidable death, but to keep him alive in a decent way and to preserve him to the affection of his loved ones.
3. Now the pacemaker has the opposite effect because it may keep him alive against his own will and the others’.
But this is the side effect that has been accepted when it was first implanted.
4. Right now, turning off the pacemaker is the same thing as killing your grandfather.
Especially since he could be conscious, even at a minimal level. And he could not be able to show it.
5. The extension, although unstable, of his life could be useful from a supernatural point of view.
For you, since medicine can only intervene to ease his pain, this is the time of prayer and affectionate closeness.
Prayer brings within your grandfather the presence of Jesus Christ, celestial doctor, and of the Virgin Mary.
As you may know, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy that Our Lord taught to St. Faustina Kowalska is very useful for this.
6. Regarding the end of the fire of faith that was very comforting for you, we should first of all say that the quality of faith does not depend on the fire we feel.
The fire or fervor is a pleasant feeling.
It is a gift from the Lord. Usually the Lord draws to himself those who are distant through these bonds of sweetness and fervor.
Undoubtedly, the fire or fervor encourages to be close to the Lord in the prayer, in the listening of His word and the celebration of His sacraments.
But the Lord sometimes allows these feelings to weaken so that we can look for him with a new fervor, improving the quality of our prayer, which was maybe too inattentive, and the quality of our Christian life, maybe too frenzied for running after so many unessential things and even too attached to things the Lord dislikes.
In other words, the Lord allows this for another conversion.
Or He allows it for a greater purification of our love for Him, that may actually only look for its own spiritual consolation rather than giving Him something.
Or He allows it so that we can come closer to His passion and the work of his Redemption to cooperate with Him in the spread of his Kingdom.
7. The weakening of the fervor is common to almost everyone.
And we feel it for the various reasons I mentioned.
Wishing you a new fire and a new spiritual fervor, I remember you in my prayer and I bless you.
Translated by Francesca Belfiore