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What now? Grief over Brittany's suicide prompts Christian response

By MARY REZAC

Portland, Ore., Nov 3, 2014 / 05:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News) - After typing a final Facebook message, Brittany Maynard ended her own life at home in Oregon surrounded by family.

“Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”

For weeks, the 29-year-old has been the face of advocacy for the controversial Death with Dignity laws, which allow terminally ill patients to request lethal prescription drugs from their doctors. To date, physician-assisted suicide is only legal in five states.

Maynard's death came as a shock to many, since just two days prior, she released a heart-wrenching video reconsidering the Nov. 1 date she had set for her suicide. She was still having good days with her family and friends, she said, and she wasn’t sure if it was yet the “right time.” The announcement came on Nov. 2, All Souls Day, when the Catholic Church particularly prays for the souls of those who have died. Brittany Maynard took her life Nov. 1, right on schedule.

But rather than debate and condemn her suicide, many Christians are calling for a time of prayer and love.

Janet Morana, executive director of the pro-life organization Priests for Life, said the first thing her office did Monday morning was to offer prayers for Brittany’s soul.

“Pray for Brittany for the repose of her soul, it’s in the hands of God right now,” Morana told CNA. “What the disposition of her soul was at her moment of death, only God knows, but we can still pray for her that she would one day be with the Lord.”

While the Catholic Church teaches that suicide is a grave sin, it also preaches a profound trust in God’s mercy and recognizes that only God can judge where an eternal soul will go. Especially during the month of November, Catholics are called to pray and sacrifice for the souls in purgatory waiting for heaven.

“Anything is possible with God,” Morana said. “Don’t put limitations on what God can do.”

Kara Tippets, a young wife and mother also facing terminal cancer, wrote Brittany an open letter when she first heard of her plans to take her own life. She begged Brittany to consider the person of Christ, and what the Gospel might mean in the face of her suffering.

After Maynard’s death, Tippets wrote of trying to grapple with sorrow and understanding of brokenness in the world.

“We want to reconcile, to understand, to wrap our minds around all that is broken. And we simply can't,” she wrote.

In her wrestling, Tippets said she looked to Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-36.

In the parable, a Samaritan takes care of a robbed and beaten man, after a priest and a Levite had passed him by. Christ then commissions his disciples: “You go, and do likewise."

“So, how should we respond to this pain, this hurt, this brokenness? Well, Jesus was not vague. He gave us an example,” Tippets writes. “He did not say to enter into hot debates over ethical issues. Jesus did not tell us to speak unkindly to one another. He simply exhorts us to go, go and bind up the wounds of the broken, love the devastated, live His BIG LOVE to the hurting world around us.”

“I don't have the right words in response to Brittany,” she continued. “I simply have prayers as I stumble through today. I fold clothes and cry and pray for her mama. I sit with my young daughter and my mind wanders to the broken heart of Brittany's husband.”

The blog Aggie Catholics, for Catholic students at Texas A&M University, published five lessons learned from the death of Brittany Maynard, and the first called students to prayer.

“This is not a time for condemnation, but one of prayer. To pray for Brittany Maynard's soul, family, and friends is an act of charity. To condemn her is not,” it reads.

“Some Catholics (and other Christians) might feel we need to actively oppose others who back suicide (and they are correct), but this is not the time to do so. She took her life this weekend, not last year. So, the wounds of her death are fresh in the minds of others.”

Besides prayers and love in response to Maynard’s death, Morana said the confusion among Catholics surrounding Maynard’s decision should serve as a call for better catechesis at a parish level on end of life issues.

“I saw so many comments from Catholics saying, ‘It seems like the most merciful thing to do, she’s dying anyway,” Morana said. “To me, that should be a big (red flag) to the Bishops to say, you have to get your priests preaching about end of life issues.”

The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, released a statement several days before Maynard’s death on the Church’s teaching on assisted suicide, and offering a word of hope.

“We stand in solidarity with all those who are suffering and dying, and all those who are struggling to find meaning in life,” it reads.

“Don’t give up hope! We are with you. As friends, families and neighbors we pledge to surround you with our love and compassion until the sacred moment when God calls you home.

And together with you, we look forward to that day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more mourning, no more suffering, and no more death (Rev. 21:4).”

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