Not one of us can predict how we are going to die or in what state we are going to die. Over 350,000 leaflets presenting the Church’s teaching on death are being sent to every parish in England and Wales this week in preparation for Day for Life – the Day dedicated to raising awareness about the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition. This year’s Day for Life, which falls on Sunday 25 July, will highlight the importance of the Sacrament of the Sick, of praying for the dead and of accompanying the dying person as they journey towards God. It will also point towards the consoling presence and support of the community of faith and all of those who ‘have gone before us marked with the sign of faith’.
“Our contemporary culture has difficulty with death,” said theologian, Fr James Hanvey, SJ. “It doesn’t know how to read it well anymore; there is almost an embarrassment about it because society has a fundamentally reductivist approach to the human person. No matter how short a life may be – whatever its condition – every life has a purpose and every life contains a grace. That grace runs all through our life and especially often at our moment of death.” He went on to add that through this year’s Day for Life: “We are not only hoping to nourish those members of our own Church, but we are also saying to our culture, that actually death is not something to be afraid of.”
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK in September and the Beatification of Cardinal Newman is an opportunity to rediscover anew Cardinal Newman’s “beautiful expression of the theology of dying…the way in which he brought before British society in his own day the awareness of the dignity of death; the support of the community around the dying person and the continuing mercy of God through the experience of death,” said the Archbishop of Birmingham and Archbishop for Day for Life, Bernard Longley.
“Day for Life is an opportunity to pray; to highlight within parish communities this particular issue (and) to invite our parish communities to support work for life. From the 2008/2009 Days for Life, we have been able to give over £500,000 in various grants.”
These grants have included amongst others The Anscombe Bioethics Centre (£100,000), Life (£15,000), ethical stem cell research (£50,000) – (£25,000 has been given to Professor Neil Scolding from the University of Bristol Institute of Clinical Neurosciences to support the bone marrow stem cell research programme relating to multiple sclerosis) and £60,000 towards the appointment of a new Mental Health Support Worker who will encourage, inspire and increase the availability of local spiritual and pastoral support and co-ordinate £70,000 of small grant funding for mental health projects.
He thanked parishioners and parish communities for their enormous generosity to the Day for Life collection each year, adding: “I think this has become one of the most popular national collections in the Church’s year.”
The Day for Life website – www.dayforlife.org – has some helpful resources for all those affected by and preparing for death, including award-winning podcast material from Clifton Diocese focusing on bereavement and Care for the Dying; an interview with the Disability Project Co-ordinator for Southwark Archdiocese about preparing people with learning difficulties for their own death and those of the people that they love and, an interview with Mgr Bill Saunders, the former Private Secretary to the Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, Kevin McDonald, about the Patron Saint of the Dying, St Joseph and the Sacrament of the Sick.