Q: My wife and I are in our early 70s
and each of us has quite a few medical
problems. If we stopped taking all our
medications and stopped going to our many
doctors, we would shorten our lives. Would
the Catholic Church consider this suicide?
Would it keep us out of God’s Kingdom?
A: Your letter does not indicate that
any of these medical problems is
currently life-threatening. The virtue
of prudence indicates that you should
take care of your body, using good medical
At a certain point, you may judge
that the negative side effects of a particular
medication or medical treatment
outweigh the good it is intended to
accomplish. You are obliged neither to
take every medication recommended
nor to submit to every surgical procedure
proposed by your doctor.
The key here is a frank and honest
exchange about the pros and cons of
various options. You and your wife
need to explore those options and
make careful decisions about them.
Over the years, the Catholic Church
has chosen to speak of “ordinary” and
“extraordinary” means of preserving
life. Our January 2006 cover story (“Are
Feeding Tubes Morally Obligatory?,”
by Daniel Sulmasy, O.F.M., M.D., Ph.D.),
explained that Catholic theology has
understood “ordinary” means as those
that are required and “extraordinary”
means as those that are optional.
Some medicines and surgical procedures
may eventually offer little hope
of addressing a particular patient’s main
medical problem. The virtue of prudence
means that there may come a
time to say, “Enough is enough.” That
same virtue, however, argues against a
decision by someone in relatively good
health who says, “No prescriptions of
any kind, no surgeries.”
You and your wife need to talk very
seriously about your wishes in this matter,
in case either of you should be
unable to communicate directly. You
need to give your wishes legal standing
through Advance Medical Directives
(one for each of you). Even if you do
not go into a hospital for scheduled
treatment, you could find yourself there
because of an accident.
Making your wishes known now to
the person whom you designate to
make medical decisions if you cannot
do so is an expression of your love and
care for your spouse. You should probably
indicate a second person in case
the first person is unavailable at the
time such a decision needs to be made.
God, the Lord of all life, expects that
we take sensible care of our bodies but
not that we try to cling to life by increasingly
extraordinary means. There
comes a time to surrender our lives
back to God. That is not suicide.
Can Second Cousins Marry?
Q: A niece of my husband has become
very close to one of her second
cousins. They and some family members
are questioning if they are too closely
related to marry one another. Are they?
A: The Catholic Church’s current
laws permit a marriage between
second cousins, that is, between a man
and woman who have a common
The canonical term for family relationships
too close to permit a marriage
is called consanguinity. This is
subdivided into direct (grandfather-son-granddaughter)
and collateral (uncle-niece-great-niece). Marriages within the
direct line are always invalid. Those in
the fourth degree of the collateral line
are invalid (Canon 1091), but a local
bishop can give a dispensation for the
marriage of first cousins (Canon 1078).
Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law,
the marriage of second cousins was not
permitted. Under the 1983 Code of
Canon Law, it is. Second cousins are
related in the sixth degree of the collateral
line, as the New Commentary on
the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press,
2000) explains. The new Code prohibits
marriage up to and including
the fourth degree.
These are the Catholic Church’s
requirements. Civil law can make other
provisions. I am not aware of any U.S.
state that prohibits the marriage of second
Q: A dear friend recently died. Her
parish priest came to the hospital ICU room and administered the Sacrament
of the Sick—she was unconscious.
He said, “I absolve you from all your sins.”
Did she go right into heaven?
Also, after she died many perpetual
Mass cards were given. If she went to purgatory,
would all the prayers said on her
behalf help her get to heaven?
A: That absolution presumes that
she is truly sorry for her sins
and would want to receive forgiveness
for them had she been conscious. God
knows the truth about such things and
judges accordingly. The Church’s practice
reflects its belief in God’s love and
Regarding prayers offered for people
who have died and enrollment in more
than one perpetual Mass group, God
sorts that all out. We are never wasting
our time or energy in praying for someone
who has died. That’s part of what
belonging to the Communion of Saints
means. Our prayer also prepares us to
comfort bereaved family members and
other friends by appropriate words and
actions—not simply at the time of the
funeral but in the weeks and months
What if the deceased person for
whom you pray is already in heaven?
Even then, the prayer is not wasted.
You are a better follower of Jesus for
having prayed for that person.
Q: Our parish provides weekly contribution
envelopes that ask us to give
five percent of our pre-tax income to the
parish and another five percent to charities
of our choice.
If we assist relatives or friends who need
help, can this be considered part of our
tithing? Is it O.K. not to meet financial
duties such as rent to meet the 10-percent tithing goal?
A Protestant relative says that we must
always give 10 percent even if that means
not paying certain bills. I do not agree. Also,
he says that helping others besides the
Church is a love offering and is not part of
tithing. What can I respond?
A: Let’s begin with the biblical description
of tithing, giving one
tenth of some product to God. According
to John L. McKenzie’s excellent Dictionary
of the Bible (MacMillan, 1965,
re-issued by Simon and Shuster in
1995), this practice was already in use
before Abraham, who paid a tithe to
Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20).
Tithes on grain, wine, oil and firstborn
animals are required in Deuteronomy
14:22-29. Every third year
they are to benefit Levites, aliens,
orphans and widows. Tithes are also
mentioned in the Books of Leviticus,
Numbers, Nehemiah, Malachi and 1
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus refers to
how zealously Pharisees pay tithes. In
Luke 18:12, he describes a Pharisee
boasting to God about paying tithes.
Hebrews 7:1-10 also mentions tithes.
Without using this exact term, Acts of
the Apostles describes the common
fund that meant that no follower of
Jesus was in financial need (4:34).
Although most followers of Jesus do
not understand tithing as required,
many Christian groups encourage it.
Must 10 percent go to the local parish
or congregation? No. Can private gifts
or donations to charitable organizations
be considered as part of a tithe?
I would say yes to that and to assisting
financially one’s friends and relatives.
In biblical times, there was no social “safety net” that most Western societies
now provide by means of taxes.
Even so, there are many genuine needs
addressed by charitable organizations,
some of which advertise in this publication.
Give what you can, after you have
paid your bills (including your rent)
and made reasonable provision for your
future. All we have comes from God
and should be used in a way that reflects
Q: I have visited a Web site that has lists of saints. However, I see saints
listed there whom I have never seen listed elsewhere—for example,
Saints Adam, Eve and Seth (all biblical figures). Where can I
find a comprehensive and current list of Catholic saints?
A: I have read that the Bibliotheca Sanctorum series lists over
10,000 saints! The 2001 revision of the Martryologium
Romanum identifies over 7,000 saints but includes few biblical
men and women who lived before Jesus. That does not mean they are
not saints, however. We know that Jesus led the righteous into heaven
between his burial and his resurrection.
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