Are cremation and organ donation OK?

Are cremation and organ donation OK?

Dear Fr. Joe: Is organ donation OK for Catholics? If yes, why? Doesn’t the Bible say that our bodies rise from the dead? How will all that work? What about cremation?

Great bunch of questions! In order to answer them, I am going to give us all some preliminary information that should, hopefully, clarify the church’s teachings. In Scripture, we learn that we will experience two resurrections. First, our souls rise after we die. Second, our bodies join our souls at the second coming of Christ.

So, until the second coming, our souls are at their final judgment. Then, after Christ returns, our bodies rise to join our souls. This is just one of the reasons the church has so many teachings that revolve around respecting our bodies. Our bodies are destined for great things in the kingdom of God!

Anyway, with that background, let’s see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say. This first quote concerns organ donation: “Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.” (2296)

Now, in terms of cremation, the catechism states, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.” (2301)

So, the church encourages organ donation and accepts cremation. Since this is the case, we can assume that neither idea runs contrary to our belief in the resurrection of our bodies. How can this be?

To put it bluntly, when we die, our bodies become subject to the laws of nature. The results of the process of cremation and organ donation is the same result that time will basically have on us. With organ donation, the only concern is that it is done with consent and without harming anyone. With cremation, the primary concern is that our faith in the resurrection of the body is maintained.

How do we know that faith in the resurrection is maintained? This one is hard to judge in others. We can usually only tell about our own belief. A key is that we avoid saying or doing things that indicate that the deceased body is “just a shell.” We treat that body as sacred. Let’s look at some things to avoid, then, if we are going to choose cremation for our burial or the burial of a loved one:

“Its just a shell.”

I hear this a lot, and as Catholics, we have to remember that it is not true. Our bodies are destined for great things in the kingdom of heaven, and we need to remember that God made them sacred.

Scattering of ashes.

We need to avoid this. We must treat the deceased body as we would a non- cremated body. The ashes must be placed in a single container and buried in a columbarium or graveyard.

Wearing of the ashes.

I know that some have taken the ashes of their beloved dead and placed them in amulets that they wear. Again, this is not the way we would treat the body of one who was not cremated, so we don’t do it to one that is.

So, what if we have done one or more of these things already? Keep in mind a really simple premise: God does not judge us for what we do not know, through no fault of our own. All of us have made mistakes in unintentional ignorance. I truly can’t imagine anyone treating the dead in a way the church tells us not to out of malice. So, as God asks us to do every day of our lives, we learn from our errors and accept God’s wonderful, loving and freely given mercy.

Dear Fr. Joe: Why does the Church seem so judgmental?

I appreciate how you worded your question – you avoided judging, didn’t you? Way to go!

Alright, on to the answer ...

I think a lot of times, the church seems harsh and judgmental because she is trying to teach us difficult things. All of us have had that experience of having to be told the difficult thing. Usually, what helps us understand that the person is trying to help us is that we know them.

For example, I remember the time my mother told me to stop playing under power lines during thunderstorms. Sure, at first I was mad at her for cutting into my happy play time, but in the end, I began to see that it was affecting me negatively. Hey, I was only 24.

Okay, bad example. In the end, I guess what it comes down to is, when people we know have to tell us “the hard thing,” it’s easier to take than when a stranger does. Even if we disagree in the end, if we know them and know they love us, it’s easier to take. Well, I think it can be hard to “know the Church.” And that can make the Church seem harsh and judgmental sometimes.

So what do we do? I think we need to see that the motivation for the Church is the same as it is for our parents or friends, who say the hard thing because they love us.

Looking at the word “respect,” we see two Latin words brought together: Re, which means “again” and “spect” from a Latin root word meaning “to look at” – spectator, spectacles, etc. So, if we want to respect the church, we need to look at it again and see what it really is — our Christian mother, teaching us right and wrong and guiding us in our lives.