This summer, I spent some time at home in Cologne. However, my time there was marked by an unpredictable and painful event. A friend – let’s call him Peter- who had been ill with Alzheimer’s for a long time, had decided to resort to assisted suicide. He had chosen the only form of euthanasia that has been authorized up to this point in Germany: a voluntary cessation of eating and drinking accompanied by pharmaceutical therapy. Peter decided to call together his friends and acquaintances, myself among them, and announced his decision. Many of those present tried to dissuade him from his decision; others, however, agreed with the step he wanted to take and even tried to theorize its legitimacy.
A few days after my return to Italy, I received the news of Peter’s death. I felt deeply troubled by my helplessness in front of his choice. I began to ask myself if I had done enough to witness the beauty of life, and to the meaning that offering one’s pain and illness can have for one’s loved ones. During a dinner with the brother seminarians of my same class, with whom I share a common living space in the seminary, I revealed this preoccupation of mine. With great patience, and in a fatherly way, one of them pointed out that the concept of freedom I was attributing to Peter’s decision was mistaken. Freedom, he said, does not consist in being able to do what the State allows, but in adhering to the Good and the True. Then, they asked me questions to understand what I had actually done, or not done, to be a witness of this Good. I felt truly loved and my heart was filled with immense gratitude. It was like being taken by the hand by these brothers and accompanied into the intimacy of my person, that is, to the bottom of the reasons for why I was disturbed.
I saw in a powerful way that there is nothing, no lack or sin, that cannot be entrusted to those with whom I live. Because of this discovery, I experienced a great peace in which my heart could truly rest. The peace came not because everything went well – I truly think I could have done more – but because I am not alone. Whatever happens, I can entrust everything to these persons who God has given to me as brothers and who accompany me in every struggle. The house becomes, in this sense, the locus of our healing.
(In the image, a view of Cologne, Germany).