Conception to holy death

We need to stop praying for life to be protected from conception to natural death and start praying that it be protected from conception to holy death or, even better, from a holy conception to a holy death. The reasons:

1.) Many natural deaths are not holy, many holy deaths are not natural. A person can die of old age in mortal sin or die by violence as a martyr or some other act of loving sacrifice. To pray for a natural death, as such, is to pray for the first in preference to the second, which is nonsensical. What we want is persons to die in union with the Lord, which includes the totality of the natural law and many goods transcending it.

2.) The word natural proves too much and not enough. In the slogan “natural” is both opposed to violent death (and so is praying that people don’t die as victims of war, crime, active eugenics, or capital punishment) and to self-inflicted death (and so is praying that no one commits suicide.) But violent death isn’t necessarily less desirable than a natural one, even for the one dying – e.g. who wouldn’t prefer die violently of a quick martyrdom or heroic self-sacrifice than naturally of a protracted painful illness? Someone also shouldn’t avoid killing himself merely to prefer a natural death, since at their most sympathetic a suicide makes his choice in the face of the tremendous evils that loom in the prospect of a natural death. I want a suicide, even the most sympathetic suicide, to realize that the sufferings and pains he confronts in a natural death have meaning and merit by filling out the sufferings of Christ, and this demands praying that his love terminate in the author or nature and not nature as such.

3.) It misconceives natural law as secular or non-religious law. The reason why we pray for a natural death and not a holy one is that American Catholics want their public slogans to be secular and non-religious. Over the last fifty years or so Americans have internalized a Lemon law of public discourse that takes for granted that any reference to God is out of bounds. To see something as “religious” is to immediately disqualify it from the public sphere. We can call this presumed right to disqualify “secular” or “non-religious law” but it must be absolutely divided from natural law which absolutely does contain the command to worship God.  True, we can’t just ignore the Lemon v. Kurtzman regime that we labored under for so many years, but if you haven’t heard the news, Lemon was overturned (cf. page 11 of the opinion or 2 of the dissent.)

4.) “Natural” does not allow for the licit differences of opinion about capital punishment. The Church allows diversity of opinion on capital punishment, as is clear both from the historical diversity of its proclamations about it and formally from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Insisting on the word “natural” is a passive-aggressive way of insisting that everyone fall in line with one side of an issue that allows for diversity of opinion.

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