How needed is a caress from the Nazarene!
“Existence is a space that has been given to us and that we have to fill with meaning, always and in every situation” (Enzo Jannacci, Corriere della Sera, February 6, 2009).
But how can a life like Eluana’s be filled with meaning? Does it still have any meaning?
The death of Eluana hasn’t closed the door on this question at all. It’s not all over, a failure of hope for those who wanted her to continue living, or liberation for those who held that the situation was no longer bearable. Precisely now, the challenge becomes more radical for everyone.
The death of Eluana goads us to ask ourselves how we collaborated to fill her life with meaning. What contribution did we give to those who were more directly struck by her illness, beginning with her father?
When reality has us up against the ropes, our measure can no longer offer the meaning we so need for going on. Above all, before painful and unjust circumstances that don’t seem destined to change or be resolved, we begin to wonder what meaning there can be. Is life just a rip-off?
The sense of emptiness advances if we remain prisoners to our reason reduced to measure, incapable of withstanding the impact of contradiction. We find ourselves bewildered and alone with our powerlessness, with the suspicion that deep down, everything is nothingness. Can we “fill with meaning” a life when we find ourselves before a person like Eluana? Can we bear suffering when it exceeds our measure? Alone, we can’t make it. We need to run up against the presence of someone who experiences as full of meaning a life that we ourselves instead experience as a devastating void.
Not even Christ was spared the shock of pain and evil, to the point of death. What made the difference in Him? That He was more perfect? That He had more moral energy than us? No, so much so that in the most terrible moment of His trials, He asked to be spared the cross. In Christ, the suspicion that life is ultimately a failure was defeated: His bond with the Father won.
Benedict XVI reminded us that to hope, “The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances.” (Spe salvi 26).
The presence of Christ is the only fact that can give meaning to pain and to injustice. Acknowledging the positivity that overcomes all solitude and violence is possible only through the encounter with people who testify that life is worth more than illness and death. For Eluana, these witnesses were the nuns who cared for her for so many years, because, as Jannacci said, today as well, “How needed is a caress from the Nazarene; how badly we need a caress of His,” of that man who two thousand years ago said to the widow of Nain, “Woman, do not cry!”
February 10, 2009
Communion and Liberation
*[Eluana Englaro, in a coma for 17 years since a car accident when she was 21, died this week 72 hours after she was deprived of water and food, in the midst of a government emergency session to overturn the decision of the Court of Cassation in Rome, the highest appeals court of Italy, allowing her father to order her death. The nuns and staff at the nursing home where Eluana had been cared for had refused to obey the court order to stop her water and nutrition, even entreated her father to leave her with them, and let her live, but last week he transferred her to a clinic willing to participate in her death. Finding such a clinic was quite difficult, as the Italian Minister of Health and Welfare had issued guidance saying that under Italian law, withdrawal of food and hydration from helpless disabled persons in the care of public health facilities is "illegal." In January 2009, an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg was rejected because the pro-life coalition presenting it did not have a legal link with Eluana. Considered the “Terri Schiavo” case of Italy, this event has been the subject of searing political debate, even causing a breach between Premier Berlusconi and President Napolitano, the former who pressed for the emergency legislation to save her, the latter who refused to sign it into effect.]