Below is a link where you can download the discussion questions.
In a culture where death is seen as the ultimate failure, where suffering is to be avoided at all cost, and assisted suicide is increasingly the answer, what is there left to say about end of life issues? And, what’s love got to do with it?
Perhaps it’s counterintuitive, but once we recognize that love and suffering, forgiveness and dying emerge from the same inner place, a place of radical surrendering of self, we can begin to view end of life issues differently. As authors Lynch and Mariconda say, “If we learn to suffer well, we’ll learn to love well. To forgive others and life. And when we do these things well, we’ll die a joyful death.” As contemporary as it is mystical, as practical as it is inspirational, After the Diagnosis…A Guide for Living takes the reality of dying and death beyond simple acceptance to a place of true transformation. It is also a must-read for caregivers who often become the silent victims of a loved one’s disease. Why not learn to walk this shared journey together in a life-giving way.......
Continuing Reading Here: https://religionnews.com/2018/04/17/love-changes-everything/
After seven years of collaboration, our book is finished, up on Amazon for sale, and people have started to read it! Feedback has been exceptionally positive, and we're thrilled about the fact that the book is being so well-received. Mostly though, we're excited that all of this hard work will pay off by offering validation, encouragement, practical suggestions, and inspiration for anyone in the throes of serious illness and/or loved ones serving as caregivers. Interestingly, what we're hearing most of all is that this isn't just a book about the challenges of sickness and dying - it's a book about living every moment of life to the fullest, in a stance of love. One of our readers, after getting about halfway through the book herself bought ten additional copies for family and friends - none of whom are, at the moment, dealing directly with serious illness. She's hoping to engage her loved ones in these life-changing conversations during the "green times" when the opportunities for real conversion are abundant.
When facing serious illness it’s natural to turn to God for help and sustenance. It’s also a good time to take stock of the quality of our relationship with God. The following questions can help evaluate our faith lives.
Reflect on each one:
- Does my faith empower me to live and to die well?
- Does my faith help me to access the living and loving God within me?
- Do my religious beliefs provide me with hope when I have to stand in darkness?
- Does my faith tradition help calm my fears and anxieties when they’re inflamed?
- Does my religion provide a sense of peace – that inner stillness that allows me to respond to life in a loving way versus reacting against it?
- Do my religious beliefs and practices help me to stand in and make meaning of suffering?
- Does my religion help me to see my situation in the context of a much larger story?
- The naïve faith of our childhood is not enough to carry us through the challenges of a difficult illness. If the answer to any number of these questions is “no” it may be time to deepen your faith in an intentional, mature way.
Some Suggestions for Deepening Your Faith:
- Have a conversation with your pastor or spiritual leader and discuss your answers to these questions in order to see what your church community can offer you.
- Read books that can inform your understanding of spirituality and faith.
Some suggested titles:
- Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
- Five Steps to Spiritual Freedom by Thomas Ryan
- The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham
- Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue
- Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky
- After the Diagnosis: A Guide for Living by Fr. Thomas Lynch and Barbara Mariconda
- Find a “Soul Partner” who can guide and support you on your quest. (see Chapter 23 of After the Diagnosis: A Guide for Living by Fr. Thomas Lynch and Barbara Mariconda)
- Engage in spiritual practices – prayer, meditation, solitude, silence, reading Holy Scriptures, fasting from negativity (see Chapter 17 of After the Diagnosis: A Guide for Living by Fr. Thomas Lynch and Barbara Mariconda provides a good overview. There are many other excellent books on each of these practices. (A Taste of Silence by Carl Arico is an excellent introduction to centering prayer or meditation.)
- Keep a “God and Gratitude” journal where you can ask questions of God, reflect on your challenges, and list the large and small things you’re grateful for each day.
These are just a few suggestions that can help you begin a serious journey of mature faith that can anchor, sustain, and enrich you through whatever lies ahead.
One of the most natural and at the same time most challenging questions children ask is this: What happens to us when we die?
Our response, geared to the young, is meant to offer solace in a simple, straight-forward way. We say, When we die we go to heaven. Or, grandma is up in heaven looking down on us.
These explanations might temporarily satisfy an eight-year-old, but it does little to assuage the fears of adults as they face the biggest transition in their lives. Those of us who hold some kind of traditional religious beliefs usually acknowledge, in an abstract or a theological way, that there’s something more than life here and now. Catholics and other Christians profess this, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, the resurrection of the body, and life eternal, Amen.”
Somehow, though we recite the words, when we receive a serious diagnosis, they don’t seem to resonate, because as adults, that question – What will happen to me when I die - begs a greater response.
After years of studying the Scriptures in the context of the Catholic Church’s tradition and walking this path with so many, I’ve found the following imagery helpful. Think of an escalator that carries us from the moment of birth to eternity. Let’s take a ride on this escalator through the three phases of the Journey of the Soul.
First Phase of Living: A Spirit in God – Birth – Life – Dying
Even before our birth, each of us existed as a spirit in God. When we’re born into this world, this spirit of God continues to dwell within us. Though we’re largely unaware of it, there’s a “generative thrust,” a deep longing inside us that continually draws us toward wholeness and a sense of oneness with God and all God’s creation. We’re born with the gifts of God’s unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness, and healing. If we open ourselves to these gifts, if we explore and nurture them, we recognize that the question God is always asking is this: Will you let me love you?
Unfortunately, as we grow and become members of the culture, we often lose touch with this core spirit of God that gives us life. We grow into adulthood, establish ourselves, build our ego strengths. At the same time, life wounds us. People let us down, we experience every kind of loss. Often, we hurt ourselves. Through it all, our God waits, eager for us to open the gifts we have inside, asking again: Will you let me love you?
The degree to which we recognize the indwelling of God and cooperate with the life-giving thrust also changes the texture of how we deal with every aspect of life. The rest of this book explores the earthly portion of the escalator ride – how we can cooperate with God’s generative thrust, and how we can respond to his ongoing overture of love.
Regardless of the extent to which we respond to God, death allows not only the complete release of our bodies and of all of our human concerns - it also releases the self-induced restrictions on the God-given gifts that we’ve had inside us all along. Death is the doorway that brings us to Phase Two…
Second Phase of Living: Resurrection of the Dead – Purification – Oneness with God
At the moment of death, we emerge from the darkness and travel toward a great light – the living and loving presence of God. We call this “the resurrection of the dead.” This departure of the life force, the energy, the very essence and soul leaves the body inert and empty. Though the body is present, we say things like “He’s gone,” or “She’s passed.” What moves on to this second phase is the heart and the soul, carrying with it any unhealed wounds and sins. But that’s not all. We also carry with us God’s gifts of unconditional love, mercy, forgiveness, and healing. These gifts had been given to us at birth, but the challenges of the first phase of living often prevent us from being open to them. But, in phase two we have the opportunity to experience God’s gifts in a greater way.
Sometimes people worry. They say to me, “But Fr. Tom, I wasn’t much of a church-goer.” Even for those who had little interest in their faith during most of the first phase, when seeing their God face-to-face, have the opportunity to say “yes” to God’s question: Will you let me love you? They can finally open their hearts to a loving encounter with their God. When I explained this to one family, the wife, who was just a month away from death said to me, “Fr. Tom, this is good news! It gives me tremendous hope.”
Of course, some may choose not to say yes to God, intentionally extending the isolation they established during Phase One – and we call that separation hell. The choice is always ours. I tell families that this is why it’s important to pray for the dead – to pray that they may finally say yes to God’s open invitation, to surrender to God’s love. When this happens they will be able to love those left behind as God loves them – unconditionally.
The wounds of the heart are very much entwined with the spirit self, and during the process of purification (sometimes referred to as purgation) the spirit fully opens to God’s compassionate love (which we call God’s mercy). This involves the cleansing of any sin that remains, and the healing of any stories or wounds that, during life, prevented us from letting ourselves be loved by God and others. We experience God’s forgiveness so that we can, at last, forgive whoever or whatever placed these wounds on our hearts during the first phase of living. In other words, hanging onto un-forgiveness prevents the wounds of our hearts from being healed by divine love. When we allow ourselves to be unconditionally forgiven and healed we can finally and fully enter into oneness with God – our hearts becoming one with God’s heart.
In Phase Two we continue this movement toward “wholeness” in a deeper way, and realize our true, undefended selves in God. We embrace this new oneness with God and all that is - Where God is - that is where we are: in all of creation, in every person we left behind, as well as all who ever lived (Catholics call this the Communion of Saints). Pope Francis affirms this powerful reality: “There is a deep and indissoluble bond between those who are still pilgrims in this world -– us – and those who have crossed the threshold of death and entered eternity.” I tell families, “When your loved one dies, the rest of you will be left behind in the first phase of living. But when you access the God within, you’ll also touch into the love of the deceased.” In this oneness with God the deceased also shares in God’s longing, “Will you let me love you?” Unlike human love, their love for you is now pure and unconditional. This love doesn’t present itself as a dramatic apparition or message from beyond. Instead, you will be presented with gentle promptings of the spirit that encourage you to respond to God’s presence within you. Experiencing a greater ability to love, to forgive, to serve others – these are the fruits of this divine union.
Third Phase of Living: Resurrection of the Body – Life Eternal
At the end of all time, at the close of the world as we know it (the last days), we will be birthed again into a glorified body to embrace life eternal, in love with our God and with all that is. This is the promise, the covenant between God and humankind, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Book of Revelation (Chapter 21) God promised us “new heavens and a new earth.” But what this will look like remains a mystery.
But what we do know is this – after his death Jesus appeared to his disciples as a living and loving presence, but they had a hard time recognizing him in this new form. The Gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener at the empty tomb, and his disciples as a traveler along the road to Emmaus. In his reappearance Jesus demonstrated that there’s life after death, and that we’ll be birthed again in a new form (a glorified body.) This is reflected both in scripture and in ritual. In John 6:39-40 Jesus says, “And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”
(Will you let me love you?)
Likewise, in the funeral rite of the church, at the committal, the presider prays: “The Lord Jesus Christ will change our mortal bodies to be like his in glory, for he is risen, the firstborn from the dead. So let us commend our brother/sister to the Lord that the Lord may embrace him/her in peace and raise up his/her body on the last day.” (Will you let me love you? )
To be human is to be embodied. At our birth, in the first phase, we’re born in flesh and blood, and the promise is that we’ll be enfleshed again in the third phase. Jesus showed us this when he returned to his disciples, emphasizing that “it is real,” insisting that they touch him, speak with him, share a meal together. He wanted them to understand that just as he lived among them in the first phase, so he would live among them again, in a new glorified form. This is our hope as we journey toward the end of our earthly existence. It’s what we proclaim in our creed and celebrate in the Eucharist. It’s just that we tend to look at it theologically and intellectually, with little pause for the ramifications of what Jesus sought to show us.
This is where the escalator stops, at life eternal. It means we’re going to be in love with God, in love with one another, forever. This is our destiny and purpose, at the end of all time.
That is the Good News.
Excerpted from After the Diagnosis: A Guide for Living by the Reverend Thomas F. Lynch and Barbara Mariconda ©2017 No part of this may be reproduced for any purpose without express permission from the authors.
Notice the behaviors and attitudes indicative of the ego and the spirit selves. If our focus is heavy on the ego, it will be light on the spirit. If our focus is heavy on the spirit self, it will be light on the ego. Keep in mind, this is not an “either or” dynamic. The fulcrum of the self is always in flux, but can be influenced through awareness and intention.
Who will you become during your sickness and dying? The choice is yours.
Working on our faith can shift the focus toward the Spirit Self,
changing the relational dynamics in positive ways.
Excerpted from After the Diagnosis: A Guide for Living by the Reverend Thomas F. Lynch and Barbara Mariconda ©2017
No part of this may be reproduced for any purpose without express permission from the authors.
For those of us struggling with a serious illness or that of a loved one, negativity has a way of creeping in and coloring the relationship. As Lent approaches, plan on a new kind of fast – try fasting from negativity and see how the dynamic changes!
An age-old and often misunderstood spiritual practice is fasting. In the early days of the church Christians believed that by refraining from or limiting what they ate they would feed the soul by denying the body (referred to as “mortification of the flesh”). This represented a “death” to the many human appetites that often led to self-absorption and sin. In more recent times Christians are encouraged to abstain from eating certain foods on designated days of the week and during different liturgical seasons, such as Lent.
However, Jesus, in response to questions about the lack of fasting among his disciples, addresses the heart of the matter in Matthew 15:11, saying,
“It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.”
Jesus understood that there are more important forms of fasting. Some forms of fasting require a greater level of “letting go” than others. During Lent, instead of giving up chocolate, or that nightly glass of wine, or whatever else we try to white-knuckle through Lent in order to demonstrate our willpower and righteousness (and often, lose a few unwanted pounds in the process). Instead, fast from what Jesus refers to as “what proceeds out of the mouth” – what we can call the negative relational behaviors. When we’re snarky, chippy, demanding, complaining, or outright confrontational we create an atmosphere of tension, resentment, and negativity that initiates an ongoing cycle of hurt. These negative relational behaviors are all rooted in the ego self (the false self) and tend to be our unintentional, automatic response when we’re threatened. Think about it: we don’t plan ways to lash out at those we love and care for – it’s reactive rather than proactive behavior. We don’t have to “practice the negative behaviors” – they just seem to happen. It’s so emotionally driven by any threat to the ego that we aren’t able to consider the consequences. When we’re tired or depleted, self-absorbed with worry and anxiety, or suffering physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, our level of defensiveness and irritability can skyrocket. The result is that, in varying degrees, we hurt everyone who crosses our path. And those nearest and dearest are generally the bull’s eye on the target.
When threatened we become:
• Preoccupied • Emotionally Withdrawn • Indifferent • Negative • Rejecting • Abusive
• Critical • Ungrateful • Demanding • Self-Absorbed • Resistant • Uncooperative
• Mistrustful • Insensitive • Punitive • Judgmental • Discouraging • Sarcastic
When we fail (as we surely will), get up, make amends, and begin the fast again. Then, when Easter arrives, we can reflect on what has changed, not only in ourselves, but in those we live, love, and work with.
© 2018 – Excerpted from After the Diagnosis: A Guide for Living, Lynch/Mariconda