A life-giving vision for the way we live love - An interview with Leah Perrault

Leah Perrault is the Director of Mission at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon by day. On the side, she speaks to audiences across Canada, writes books and blogs about faith and life at leahperrault.com.

She is happily married to Marc and engaged in the adventure of raising their four children: Robyn, Eliot, Charlize, and Atticus.  Leah is a faithful disciple of Jesus, with a passion for using stories to inspire and activate a faith that sets the world on fire!


On April 6th, you will be guest speaker at the Tri-Diocesan Catholic Family Conference, where you will be putting a lot of emphasis on listening to God’s voice… (1)

Yes! God continuously reveals Himself to us in and through our everyday experiences. We need to be sensitive to that voice and retune ourselves to how He speaks in a practical way. When we look back on our day, we can ask ourselves how God was present. Sometimes, God speaks through an encounter with a cashier at the grocery store. Or at soccer practice. When the coach said something to me, I can see how it was the voice of God.


Our God is a down-to-Earth God…

Absolutely. He’s not distant and theoretical, but very much present and accepting, through the messiness of our daily lives. God’s love is incarnational. He walked among us, and with us, as a human being. God is close, communicating to us through our senses, through experiences that touch us visibly in our lives. He gives us visible signs that point to an invisible reality.

When I think on that truth, it always amazes me. God created us, on purpose, as people with bodies, with a purpose. When we say Theology of the Body, we’re really talking about a whole anthropology, the way we live and encounter God as human beings. When babies start kicking in the womb, parents marvel. And when they’re born, babies become signs. Without being able to even speak a word, they’re gifts. They point us to God.

So, the Theology of the Body is not only just about our sexuality, although that’s certainly an important aspect of human life. It’s about the whole human person, in relation to God and in relation to others. It’s a life-giving vision for the way we live love. We can experience pieces of heaven now, through life’s experiences, and by listening to God’s voice in our daily lives.


And yet our daily lives are not always easy. Life can be painful.

That’s quite true. Catholic families are struggling. There’s an awareness of a decline of Christianity’s cultural influence. And as a Church, we’re struggling with the abuse crisis. These can be despairing things.

And of course, each of us experience pain of some sort, whether we’re young or old. There’s the job you don’t want, or even severe illnesses like cancer. There’s death, even infant death. I’m certainly not immune to life’s pain. I’ve struggled too. I’ve known the pain of miscarriage and the grief of having my twin sister murdered.


And yet your faith keeps you going…

The key is to reflect and meditate on the Incarnation. What does it really say about God? Not only did God design and create our humanity, He became on of us to show us how to love.

Part of that love is that our God was betrayed, abused and tortured, but chose forgiveness on the cross. Our God knows our pain. He knows our frustrations and struggles. He cares deeply and is near. And because he knew pain, He helps us deal the pain of illness, of life’s transitions, as well as our insecurities and anxieties. With Him though, we learn how to let go and continue to love Him and each other with confidence.

Our surrender also offers us pieces of heaven. That means so much to me. It’s a reminder that I have so much to give. We all do. To each other in our families. To our friends and colleagues. To society. Our Catholic anthropology has so much to offer to the world. There’s an incredible capacity for us to deal with our bodies and our everyday lives, with all its joy and pain, as an essential part of spiritual life.


You mentioned an awareness of a decline of Christianity’s cultural influence. Not an easy thing to grapple with if you’re a teenager…

When you’re an adolescent, you’re trying to discover who you are while facing pressure to conform to our culture’s values. That’s why I titled my talk for teens So What God?! What difference does God make in my life? That’s the question. And teens, as well as all of us, are faced with it 24 hours a day, every day. Who does God want me to be? And to do?

But I focus on teens because there’s an amazing pressure on them. It takes tremendous courage to go against the culture. So, the talk focusses on why God is important, and why our attitudes and decisions in our daily lives matter. Like all of us, teens are called to be disciples right now. We all need to practice listening to God.

We they practice listening to God, teens have positive, strong relationships with their parents, teachers and mentors. They become great friends. By helping others, for instance helping a friend respect a curfew at a party. By being reliable and trustworthy. And by not being afraid to disagree about current sexual attitudes. And by choosing wisely the people they hang out with.

Teens can be a profound witness by being good disciples, which means following Jesus moment by moment. It’s not about being perfect, but intentional, in striving to become a more loving, forgiving disciple.


Discipleship is not always easy…

Of course. But as Saint John-Paull II reminds us in his Theology of the Body, our actions become our habits. And our habits become our personality. Every good choice, every bad choice matter. If I decide not to take a walk today, it becomes easier not to take a walk tomorrow. And my health could be harmed. We must keep choosing to follow Jesus for our spiritual health. Do our choices take us further away from Him, or closer?

So, when a teenager chooses discipleship, we all must support and the constant choices he or she makes. We need to recognize the challenge and validate the choice with a lot of encouragement. So that when teens are asked So What God?!, they can answer: Everything!

 (1) National Week for Life and the Family: Tri-Diocesan Catholic Family Conference – Saturday, April 6
This year for the National week for Life and the Family, we are pleased to offer a free, enriching Catholic family conference for families: parents, grandparents, children and youth while exploring the theme: “Listening to the Gospel – Renewing the Family Bond”. The conference is on Saturday, April 6, 2019, from 9 am-4pm at the St. Boniface Cathedral Hall, featuring dynamic guest speaker, Leah Perrault. There will be presentations and activities aimed at renewing the family bond while exploring faith and the Gospel today. Donations gratefully accepted. Please register online here. For more information: Nadine Fetherston mfl2@archsaintboniface.ca or (204)-594-0295. For conference schedule: click here. To view the poster, click here. For a more detailed bulletin insert, click here.



Advance Care Planning and End-of-Life Decisions - What Catholics Need to Know

Advance Care Planning and End-of-Life Decisions

What Catholics Need to Know

Thinking about death and dying, or what kind of medical care you want when you are too ill to communicate your wishes, are not comfortable subjects for many. Katarina Lee, clinical ethicist at St. Boniface Hospital, will be giving a workshop on the topic on March 2 (1). She offers Catholics some helpful information about the benefits and pitfalls regarding advance care planning and end-of-life decisions.

Who should think about end-of-life decisions and advance care planning?

Everyone. Certainly anyone above the age of 18. Technically, under Manitoba legislation, anyone 16 years or older can make decisions for themselves, if they have the capacity to do so. The trouble is that too many people say to themselves Oh, I’ll think about this later in life. I’ll tackle advance care planning when I update my will.

The expectation is that this is only a concern for older people. Of course, the reality is that hospitals have many twentysomethings who are dying and are incapacitated. They can’t make decisions. And unfortunately, they haven’t prepared for that eventuality.

 How do you make decisions if you’re incapacitated, then?

The only legal avenue in Manitoba is to designate a health care proxy. That’s someone you direct to make health care decisions for you when you are incapacitated. Designating a health care proxy is a relatively easy process. You can simply fill a Manitoba proxy form. The bigger challenge is preparing the medical directives that help your proxy make the proper decisions. That’s what advance care planning is all about.

It’s important then to choose a good proxy…

Absolutely. It’s essential, even. A proxy should be someone you know well and have a solid, personal relationship with. It’s also important that you’ve engaged in a conversation, preferably several conversations, about your wishes and that you’ve clearly expressed your philosophical and religious beliefs. Because advance care directives have pitfalls. You can’t account for every circumstance. Your proxy must decide for you. If he or she knows your wishes well, it helps the decision-making process.

So what does a Catholic need to think about in preparing advance care directives?

As Catholics, we’re called to preserve life from conception to natural death. That’s the guiding principle.

When one is incapacitated, one can preserve life by using ordinary or extraordinary means. Take a cancer patient. Ordinary means would be to make the patient comfortable as possible, and to give him or her treatments that heal and allow quality of life. This usually means proper nutrition, hydration, antibiotics and less aggressive treatments.

There are gray areas. An aggressive chemotherapy could be argued to be extraordinary means. So could high doses of aggressive antibiotics.

Are extraordinary means to be discouraged?

No. Extraordinary means can sometimes save a patient. Say our cancer patient opts for aggressive chemotherapy. The treatment could lead to a full recovery. Then again, if the cancer is so advanced that the only thing aggressive chemotherapy will realistically do is extend life for a brief time, with little quality of life, would that be truly beneficial? What would we be really doing, preserving life or extending it to the fullest extent possible, simply for the sake of extending it?

Though they can be beneficial, there is no obligation to receive extraordinary means. A valid choice for a Catholic in this scenario might simply be to opt for good palliative care, followed by a natural death if the disease progresses.

It’s clear that every case is unique…

Yes. Even ordinary means like hydration and nutrition can, in some circumstances, become more harmful than beneficial. In some cases, nutrition can cause distention of the stomach, and cause fluid overload. A lower amount of food or stop/start nutrition can be helpful and more comforting.

With all these gray areas, what’s the most important thing to do when preparing advance care directives?

Above all, say who you are. Christ calls us to declare our faith. We recite the creed on Sundays. This is really no different. We are called to follow Jesus, who is the source of life itself. In your advance care directive, state confidently that you are a practicing Catholic, and that you believe life begins with conception and ends with natural death. And because of the culture we’re now in, state clearly that you are not seeking medical assistance in dying (MAID), and that it isn’t an option. Specify that MAID doesn’t fit in your philosophical and theological views. Indicate that you want solid palliative care, if and when it’s needed.

There are resources to help you. The Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan has an excellent booklet to guide you in writing your directives and choosing a proxy.

And make sure your proxy and your family and friends know where to find your advance care directives. In an emergency, they need to know exactly where it is.

Katarina Lee is Manitoba born, and was raised just outside of Carman. A devout Catholic, she became interested in questions surrounding medical care at age 12, when her grandmother was hospitalised for 19 months. Those questions led her to study philosophy, law and bioethics. She is the clinical ethicist at St. Boniface Hospital and an assistant professor in Family Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

(1) The Marriage, Family and Life Service of the Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface is pleased to offer a Free Advance Care planning, End-of-Life Decisions & MAID workshop, Saturday, March 2, 2019, from 9:30 AM – 11:30 AM in the Saint Boniface Cathedral Hall. Presented by Katarina Lee, this workshop will provide education, benefits and pitfalls regarding advance care planning, including the use of advance care directives and health care proxies. Discussions from a Catholic perspective of medical decisions such as nutrition, hydration, resuscitation and ventilation will also be explored, as well as, palliative care and an overview of Medical Aid in Dying and the impact recent legislation has had on society and the practice of medicine. Space is limited, please register online at: bit.ly/careplanning1

For more information: mfl2@archsaintboniface.ca or 204-594-0295. To view the poster,
click here.