Rediscovering the Art of Dying by Sister Nuala Kenny

I have recently finished an interesting book on Rediscovering the Art of Dying: How Jesus’ Experience of Our Stories Reveal a New Vision of Compassionate Care, by Sister Nuala Kenny.

I rate this book mixed. It has both some great content and some to be desired commentary. I think the book does offer some helpful reflections on dying, but fails to emphasize the most important thing which is to realize ones sins, repent make amends and trust in Jesus.

The best content in my opinion is the suggestion to read a medieval text called the ars moriendi (The Craft of Dying -provided in a link at the end of this post) It presents the reader with a series of temptations that a dying person may faces and how a family member can help prepare the dying person.

The book deals with Jesus’ experience of death and the Catholic understanding of how we relate to death in light of Canada’s legalization of assisted suicide or assisted murder depending on your preference in language.

It provides relatable experiences of different people who have passed away from various circumstances and relates them to Jesus death and passion. It is a great way to find relatable material between, cognitive decline (Jesus being taken to the Cross), loss of mobility (needing others to carry crosses), isolation (disciples run away), loss of dignity (striped naked, being mocked), having your wishes know (having John look after Mary) etc.

These reflections can help others in a world focused on autonomy and not being a burden (as is pointed out in the book), that killing oneself, is not the Christian way. Reflection upon Jesus’ passion can help one to know Jesus had to experience many things that most people dying go through. It helps one realize that medicine sometimes focuses on autonomy and solutions that are not always possible or present instead of the whole person which includes the soul and a good death in line with the Church’s teaching and Jesus’ example.

Overall the book I feel is a great place to start thinking about helping some loved ones or yourself that are close to or approaching death. It provides relatable stories to get you thinking, but should not be your last stop. A more profound approach will be to then start reflecting on God’s Love, repentance of your sins and how to amend your life and pass on a witness of a good death to your loved ones. It was for our sins that Jesus died, not just because he was a nice guy and to give us an example for our natural death. I feel that some stark and confrontational conversations (All after a good helping of accompaniment and mercy) may have to be had before it gets to late which the book alludes to in some circumstances but does not emphasize. Don’t leave getting your life on track to the last minute like some examples in the book. Not everyone gets a slow death where assisted suicide is even a consideration, Many die fast or by accident and we all need to be ready for a good sudden death just as much as a long drawn out one.

I feel the book could have better detailed the Christian view that suffering and evil are ultimately mysterious when we have a God who is both Love itself and perfectly powerful. The concept of suffering is hard for some to grasp and only makes light when we grasp it in light of the entirety of the faith. (CCC 385)

The book also does not make known the need for final repentance and final sacraments including confession and anointing of the sick in much detail. The person who has confession, anointing and the eucharist before they die fares a greater chance at eternal life than those who do not. Reflections on the death of Jesus and learning form the books stories are great but they are not the means to salvation, the sacraments Jesus institutes are the gateways to eternal life.

Unfortunately I do have several negative things to say about the book. On Page 68 it promotes a theological error. Quote “As fully human, he [Jesus] matures and grows in self-awareness, just as we do. Scripture scholars agree that there are several gospel passages that show this growth in Jesus’ understanding of his identity, which reaches its ultimate point in his surrender on the cross and fulfillment in the resurrection” Jesus was fully human but he also was fully God. He new from the very beginning who he was and what he was to do. The author references James Martin, to back up its claim on page 68. Unfortunately, Sister Kenny quotes from James Martin several times in her book. James Martin has no place in serious Catholic thought.

Sister Kelly also quotes from a book written by ‘Cardinal‘ Bernadin on page 124 who has been credibly accused as a homosexual Satanist predator. (Her book was published in 2017 so she may be removed the guilt of doing so knowingly as only some but not all allegations had come to light by 2017) The author uses the quote to back up her idea that Jesus on the cross quoting the start of Psalm 22 was not necessarily to reference the end which is hopefully but something that could have actually been isolation and feeling abandoned by God. This again is theological error. Jesus was God, he could not have felt abandoned by God. Nothing the Satanist predator Bernadin says about his own death experience should be taken as an example of Christ as the author shares. Mary is our example of the virtue of Faith in feeling abandoned but still hoping. The Mystical City of God by Mother Ágreda is a great example of development of this thought.

Sister Kelly also promotes an error on page 28 (with another quotation from James Martin) Quote “In Gethsemane, Jesus is not yet experiencing pain or other physical symptoms.” This seem ridiculous, clearly Jesus was sweating blood or some sort of great pain. Even if the source was a inner expectation of pain, the results were still physical. The logical mind knows that we are physical-spiritual beings. Can there be spiritual pain which does not manifest in someway as physical pain in a composite human being? James Martin may want to argue so for other reasons regarding his “ministry” to homosexuals to separate the mind and the body, but I find such a claim dubious.

The book also quotes from Raymond Brown in several places. Conservatively I would disregard those paragraphs as well even if they seem well and fine. I find Raymond Brown to be far to liberally inclined for serious theological consideration.

The above being said, due to Sister Kelly poor choices in theological guides I also question if several of the authors I don’t have access to nor the competency to read in the medical field are also questionable in their stances.

It is interesting to note that although the book has a forward written by a Bishop no imprimatur and nil obstat is on the book.

Now even with the negatives mentioned above, I still left off reading the book with a positive feeling. It presents the Catholic Church’s stance of assisted suicide well and provides numerous examples of real life patients who could have benefited from a deeper reflection and preparation with loved ones on the final moments of life. I surly benefited from it greatly and hope to use it as a starting point for the serious work of repentance needed before death.

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