Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Holy Week-a Time for Family

Published March 30, 2005

This time of the year is truly joyful and penitential in our family. We’ve been immersed in the season of Lent for the last 33 days commencing on Ash Wednesday which will culminate with the Easter Sunday Mass this week. J.D., the kids and I have tried to make good on our Lenten resolutions. We do this in our Catholic tradition because it disposes us more fully to the joys of Easter Sunday. It also is a great time to clean the house. Holy week is filled with chores, lists of things to do and times to be in church. It is a time to also reflect and look into our interior lives.
The girls and I have been enjoying our choir rehearsals, and saying our extra prayers. Some of our Lenten resolutions were fulfilled to give up one thing or another, but more importantly it was a time to give back. We had the honor of taking into our home a friend, who was temporarily homeless while in a job transition. He stayed with us for about three weeks and in that time we were able to foster a deeper friendship in sharing our home and meals with him. Two people came home from the hospital, one recovering from a horrible auto accident 10 months ago and another with a new baby. Delivering meals and gifts was a tremendous joy. Through this time, the children learn about works of mercy both corporal and spiritual, in both the doing and in the praying for others.
As we ready ourselves for our Easter celebration, we enter into the passion and death of Christ through fasting and praying. We observe holy hours and a time of mourning. Each year’s participation in these traditions strengthens our faith. Sunday is reserved for a fabulous Easter Morning Solemn High Mass, an Easter egg hunt and travel to my sister’s house for a fabulous Easter feast.
Whether it’s coloring eggs, buying new Easter clothes or visiting the sick, one has a sense of hope this time of year. The trees deadened and dried by the winter chill are now blooming again. The weather is warmer and the mud swallows return again for the annual assaults on my front porch and driveway. My kids are gearing up for Spring fever. I know summer is not too far around the bend. Even though Easter came early this year, the time spent so soon after Christmas preparing for it was a good time for our family to pause and prepare.
My kids are growing up fast and I wish time would just slow down a bit because for some strange reason the days go by slow, but the years seem to fly fast. Birdy was pulling out pictures the other day of when she and her brother and sisters were small in their brand new Easter outfits. I’ve never seen joy more expressed than in the faces of the little ones all dressed up for Easter.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

Monday, March 07, 2005

School of Suffering

Published March 7, 2005

Largely ignored by Hollywood and the Oscars this last month, The Passion of the Christ will be re-released March 11, 2005 in a new recut version of the highly acclaimed film. We are looking forward to seeing this on Good Friday as part of a new Lenten tradition which our family started last year. After seeing it in the theaters four times, with different family members, I took away something different with each viewing. I’ve never seen a film in the theaters more than once before. This work of art was the only exception. It was a school of suffering and redemption.

Suffering in any situation is hard to witness, especially with those we love and care about. Grieving the loss of a loved one, losing one’s health, freedom or prosperity can cause anyone to suffer, but what is it in a suffering person that brings out virtue? Perhaps virtues of hope, compassion and perseverance are only born through suffering. Perhaps one can only learn mercy when mercy is shown them in suffering. Some of my life’s most important lessons were in my own suffering. I cannot believe that suffering is devoid of value or purpose.
Suffering brings out virtue in those who endure it and witness it. No one in life can avoid suffering. However we are living in a culture that seeks to deny it and suppress it. Whether through euthanasia, partial birth infanticide or the cloning of human beings, this search and destroy mentality seeks to deny life at the expense of another life or for mere convenience. Are we going to put down people like animals or do people have intrinsically greater value by virtue of their souls?

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta saw God in all the suffering she sought to relieve in those whom society had cast aside and asunder. She claimed it was her work. She taught a worldwide order of nuns to carry it on and assist those who bitterly suffer. The goal of the missionaries of charity is the nourishment of dying bodies and souls. Would it have ever occurred to Mother Teresa to euthanize the people she picked up off India’s streets? Her school taught that love can be given to the suffering through aid and comfort.

In Florida, Terri Schiavo, a young woman with a brain injury, has become the center of national attention. Her life literally hangs in the balance because her husband is demanding that the courts allow for the immediate removal of her nutritional support. This action will cause her to starve to death. In addition to seeking the death of his wife, the husband has denied all therapies the physicians have prescribed and has prevented Terri’s parents from taking over her care which they have desperately sought the court’s permission to do. She is not in a persistent vegetative state as commonly misrepresented by the media. She interacts with her parents and friends, smiles and gestures when spoken to and shows understanding of what goes on around her. She cannot swallow food so she receives her food through a GI tube. She sits in her chair and watches television. She is not on a ventilator nor is she comatose.

Yet a court in Florida says she will die on March 18, unless somehow a higher court of appeal can intervene. How far down this slippery slope will we go? California will soon see legislation that Oregon and other assisted suicide states and countries have passed to their detriment. One need only look at countries that kill their handicapped to see how slippery this slope is. Voters in California are now faced with a grave moral dilemma. Who and how will someone be able to kill themselves or their loved ones in order to relieve “suffering”. Do we want a state mandate that gives this amount of power to anyone? How far will it extend and to whom? Will our slope go as deep and as far as Holland’s where people are killed without their consent? Since when do we as a society, condone the intentional starvation and dehydration of a fellow human being in the name of relieving “suffering”. There is no greater suffering than to die by starvation.

Does Terri’s life have value? Her family and friends seem to think so. Why Terri’s husband has persisted in this remains a mystery since he now has two children with his live in girlfriend, whom he is free to marry if he divorced Terri. What’s his interest in Terri’s death? One wonders.

Can life have value at all stages? Does someone’s life have value only when they are healthy and vibrant? Or rather, do the sick and disabled still have something of value to leave us? How else do we learn what they have to impart to us. When my children have gone to the hospital to visit the sick and dying of our friends and family they usually bring them gifts and they say prayers at their bedside. It has been a school where they have learned mercy, compassion, perseverance and humility. They are not afraid of death or illness. They have learned far more in this school of suffering, mostly courage to face their own illness and death. Caring for aging parents, sick spouses and children, while a hardship, can impart blessings which may not be realized for many years but who can regret such a sacrifice.

Suffering allows us time to prepare, especially when it’s near the end of life. It gives us time to say those things we need to say, mend those fences, build those bridges and make our peace. When someone says “God doesn’t understand my pain or my suffering”, show them the cross, for certainly God knows what it means. He wrote the book on it.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at