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When the Spirit can Soar: Assisted Suicide and the Cross

June 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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Life of Christ (Week 10 of 27)

If the physical, natural, and biological life was saved for pleasure, then the higher life of the spirit would be lost, but if the higher life of the spirit was chosen for salvation, then the lower or physical life of the spirit was chosen for salvation, then the lower or physical life had to be submitted to the Cross and self-discipline. – Life of Christ, Chapter 19, Paragraph 16

When the Spirit can Soar: Assisted Suicide and the Cross

Satan has entered the movie theater. Again. With the release of Me Before You, Hollywood has once again established itself as a clever pied piper, entertaining the public straight down the road to perdition. In denying the cross, the movie subverts The Way of Christ, which is the only path to salvation (John 14:6).

Despite impressive sales upon its release, Me Before You has met with some controversy (thank goodness!). Disability rights activists and anti-euthanasia groups have organized a boycott of the movie, claiming it leaves the impression that one with a severe disability is “better off dead.”

While I haven’t seen the movie, I did read the book this past week. Essentially, the author makes a shrewd attempt to increase understanding and good will toward those involved in assisted suicide through the use of a fictional love story between a quadriplegic and his caregiver.

Bottom line – Me Before You illustrates that quality of life trumps life.

The story features a quadriplegic named Will, and his caregiver, Louisa, whom he calls “Clark.” The romance between the two is well-told and believable; but, their relationship is not enough to make Will choose life. He describes his plight as a desperate and insurmountable longing for his past physical abilities:

I loved my life, Clark. Really loved it. I loved my job, my travels, the things I was. I loved being a physical person. I liked riding my motorbike, hurling myself off great heights. I liked crushing people in business deals…I led a big life…I am not designed to exist in this thing — and yet for all intents and purposes it is now the thing that defines me. It is the only thing that defines me. 

We have become a world defined in terms of the physical. The world of action has so allured us that we cannot even conceive of a world that is still. But God knows our innermost hearts; he knows that the physical world can serve as a distraction. He, Himself, asks us to savor the stillness.

Be still and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10

Sadly, shedding a positive light on stillness is not the focus of this novel. Instead, the author does a disturbingly good job of enthroning the world of the able, physical body and ignoring the soul altogether.

Virtually the only reference to the spiritual in this book is made through Will’s mother, who wears a crucifix around her neck, constantly rubbing it between her fingers. Sadly, this woman is also the coldest character in the story. Coincidence? Not likely.

Rather than demonstrate true triumph over one’s circumstances through a sacrifice of love, Me Before You serves to further rally a culture that places a refusal to suffer in the seat of honor. Refusing to accept one’s fate in life is seen as a demonstration of strength. A powerful conquering of reason over nature. It promotes the notion that I am God. I can decide what I will or will not tolerate. Me Before You celebrates a hero who declares, as did Satan just before he was cast into hell, “I will not serve.

At one point, Will proclaims,

It’s not who I am. I can’t be the kind of man who just…accepts. He glanced down at his chair, his voice breaking. “I will never accept this.”


Life is hard. For some it’s hard because it is a constant motion, from here to there, from this to that, the never-ending scrolling through a list of priorities that runs on and on and on. For these, the spiritual is a challenge – something to be captured amidst chaos.

For others, for people like Will, the terminally ill or the disabled elderly, life is hard because of a never-ending stillness. An ongoing stream of dependence on the motion of others. These souls may be plagued by pain, as well as a feeling of helplessness as they live with a body over which they have little control.  The physical is a great challenge for them.

But the spirit?

The spirit can soar.

Mother Angelica once said,

“One of the lessons I’ve learned is that suffering and old age are most precious. You know why? Because at that point in our lives we’re powerful.” Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence, p. 185

Mother meant that in such a state of incapacitation, one can spend much more time with the Lord in prayer. Additionally, those who suffer in such a way can offer all that pain to God in love, for the salvation of the world, uniting their sufferings with those offered by Christ through His death on the cross.

As His body, we too can offer what is lacking in the world.

There is no shame in bearing a Cross. Any Cross. And those with the greatest Crosses in this world are those who will be most completely united to Christ. Particularly those like Will, who live as quadriplegics. As Christ hung willingly on His cross, was He not, in some respect, a quadriplegic? Perhaps as Christ hung, immobile on the Cross, He was thinking of every soul that would ever suffer the same fate; every body that, in its prime, would be cut off from all the possibilities that an able body provides?

Sheen reminds us that we are all going to suffer. The question is, whether our suffering will be wasted. Regardless of whether we face challenges like Will or challenges in some other form, this issue is not the challenges. The issue is how we meet them:

There was no question of whether or not men would have sacrifice in their lives; it was only a question of which they would sacrifice, the higher or the lower life!

He who tries to save his life will lose it;
It is the man who loses his life
For My sake, that will save it. – Luke 9:24

There is only one way of approaching our challenges that will lead to happiness.

That is to unite oneself to something bigger than the physical. By uniting our crosses to The Cross. In uniting our wills to the Greatest Will – God’s Holy Will.

This may be easier said than done.

But it is something the world seems to have forgotten. In forgetting, we have lost much of the meaning in life. We have relegated its meaning to the physical world, deeming ourselves valuable only to the extent that we can find pleasure in the physical; the material. We have traded the cross for the crown, not recognizing that without the cross, there is no crown.

As Sheen explains, the cross is key:

The Cross was the reason of His coming; now He made it the earmark of His followers. He did not make Christianity easy; for He implied not only must there be a voluntary renouncement of everything that hindered likeness of Him, but also there must be suffering, shame and death of the Cross. They did not have to blaze a trail of sacrifice themselves, but merely to follow His tracks zealously as the Man of Sorrow. No disciple is called to the task that is untried. He had taken the Cross first. Only those who were willing to be crucified with Him could be saved by the merits of His death and only those who bore a cross could ever really understand Him. p. 224

Satan – present all around in today’s culture of death – would not have us so close to Christ. He would rather cut off our blood supply through cunning and lies than to allow us to bear a Cross that might, through the mystery of our union with Christ, contribute to the salvation of the world. He lures us to the crown without the cross. He tells us we can obtain that crown without suffering. Without offering ourselves. Without a true sacrifice of love.

Me Before You encourages the idea that helping our loved ones to die rather than subject them to the suffering involved in a severe handicap is a sacrifice of love. The author helps the reader to identify with the anguish caused by such a decision. She does a beautiful job of making evil sound good. And good sound evil.

But Christ says no. To this idea, He says,

Back, Satan; Thou art a stone in My path;
For these thoughts of thine, are man’s, not God’s. – Matthew 16:23

Rather, He calls us to follow His example.

Rather than declare, “I will never accept!”, we must accept. For Christ is The Way. And His Way is the Cross:

If any man has a mind to come My way,
Let him renounce self,
And take up his cross, and follow me. — Mark 8:34

Reading Assignment:

Chapters 20-21

Discussion Questions:

1. Are there areas in your life where you have been refusing to carry your cross? Spend some time in prayer, asking Our Lord to give you strength, that you might, with love, offer Him the very sacrifice you’ve been unwilling to make.

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. You can also find her at

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  • Mary Therese

    Vicki, this line struck me strongly as well: “There was no question of whether or not men would have sacrifice in their lives; it was only a question of which they would sacrifice, the higher or the lower life!” I need to remember that, whenever I’m up against a struggle, big or little, and I don’t *want* to sacrifice in the moment. Thinking of it in terms of “higher or lower” gives the decision better perspective…if only I can remember to think it!

    I also struggle with seeing “the cross” in the everyday little bitty things that annoy me. I know I can derive much good from accepting all those teeny things, rather than going around looking for a big “cross” that such as illness or tragedy. Not that I want something like that, I surely don’t, and God has been so gentle with me. But I don’t think it means that the little things, struggles are without merit either.

    • Vicki

      Mary Therese, Thanks so much for your comments. I liked that quote too! A constant reminder about why we are here is so important. It’s easy to get lost in this world. And I think the small things are a great challenge as well. Your patron St. Therese is such a great role model there – not all of us have huge crosses; but the little ones can drag us down if we don’t learn to carry them well. – God bless you!

  • Susan McEachern

    Hi Vicki, I was just discussing this topic with my hand therapist the other day. She is Jewish and was supportive of her mother in law’s best friend who years ago went to Europe for assisted suicide due. The friend was in her nineties. I said to her as a Catholic I do not believe in this. I didn’t want to get into a long explanation, so I said to her I believe the hand of God brings you into this world and that it should be His hand that takes you out of it, and that there is merit in suffering. Thank you for this article!

  • Jeanette

    I loved the quote by Mother Angelica: “One of the lessons I’ve learned is that suffering and old age are most precious. You know why? Because at that point in our lives we are powerful.”

    I was at a dinner party fairly recently when an elderly man said to me: “Why do we grow old.” I said, “I know why. It’s then that we have the time to reflect on our lives and our relationships with one another and to draw near to God.” This started a nice conversation.

    Thank God who provides abundantly for us, even and especially towards the end of our lives, in our old age, sickness and infirmities, so that in the silence we can draw near to Him. He so wants us to draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us because He loves us so much and wants us to be with Him in Heaven for eternity.

    • LizEst

      Beautiful! Thanks for sharing, Jeanette. God bless you!

      • Jeanette

        God bless you too!

  • marybernadette

    ‘There is so much ‘unbelief today and I’m sure many people want to end their lives
    because they don’t know the ‘value of suffering.’

  • L Almaraz

    A beautiful expressive article with so much insight for all who are fighting the lures and lies of Satan. Thank you for such insightful thoughts and meditations on this horror the world is selling as merciful killing.

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