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July 11, 2016

One main lesson of the recent debate over assisted suicide in Canada is the increasingly marginalized place of religious believers in the public square. The weight of Canadian Catholics, Evangelicals and Muslims, in particular, was against the legalization of assisted suicide. Yet, unlike earlier times, the voice of the faithful had little impact on this issue.

Although assisted suicide is now legal, faith groups continue to have a role in this issue. That role has shifted from public advocacy for a political position to the responsibility to educate the flock and accompany the dying to a peaceful death. The Church's role has become one of pastoral care and witness to the dignity of the human person.

Although we have always done that, especially the pastoral care part, it now has a different edge than it has ever had in Canada. Since the foundation of New France, churches have had influence, sometimes substantial influence, over the development of public policy.

The Church now transitions into the role of prophet on society's margins - the role played by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and many others in earlier times, a role in which one can be ignored or face persecution and even death. It is to witness to the power of God's Word and the joy it brings.

More than proclaiming the Word, today's prophet must live it. After centuries of there being tangible material benefits to adhering to Christianity, there will now be costs attached. One may be rejected in one's employment applications and be forced to accept a lower standard of living. One may be ridiculed in public or have one's home defaced by secular extremists.

We will likely be called to a deeper faith, one similar to that of the early apostles who, having been flogged by order of the Sanhedrin, "rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name" (Acts 5.41).

Living the faith is not a dreary thing. Our prophecy will undermine itself if it is negative, harping on the evils of the world. As Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, "We are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink" (86).

The prospect of living on society's margins is scary. It offers the cross, not the comfortable pew. However, the prospect is likely to be scarier than the reality. The more our lives resemble that of Jesus, the more we will be filled with joy. Oddly enough, out on society's margins, the Church may become more fully herself than she ever was when she was one of society's mightiest pillars.