13 years ago when Terry Schiavo, in the wake of a mysterious and catastrophic brain injury, was pulled off life support after nearly two decades on a feeding tube, I watched the whole thing on the news – what a spectacle it was! – and I thought wow, her family’s got some nerve forcing her to stay alive. The dubiousness of her husband’s claims didn’t seem to matter much to me, at least not enough to change my opinion, my terribly ill-informed opinion. When it took her two whole weeks to finally succumb to dehydration and starvation, I was a little shocked (Didn’t they just die when you “pulled the plug”?) But I maintained an entirely Scroogian mentality. “If [she’s] going to die, then [she] better do it and decrease the surplus population!” Because why bother maintaining life for a person who seemed to have no quality of it. What did it matter if one person, a person who “dared” to go off and get herself a brain injury, decided to keep living and breathing for another 15 years. Let everyone move on, for crying out loud! Save the money and the energy. Life is burdensome enough!
That cold, unfeeling opinion could not have changed more since Terry’s death in 2005. I’ve come to much different conclusions since then. The implications of these changes are hard. It means I must come to a new reality about what I have done, what friends and family have done, the choices we’ve made, the choices we’ve supported in others. But while difficult, I stand by my convictions and know that God is all good and all knowing and, thankfully, all loving and merciful to the extreme.
Life isn’t burdensome. No life is burdensome. It is a beautiful, undeserved, inspired gift from God. His second greatest to us next to the very salvation He offers to everyone, even to icy unfeeling people like me.
Terry’s name was nearly completed wiped from my own memory, until recently, watching an interview that Father Mitch Pacwa did on EWTN with Terry’s brother, Bobby Schindler, as well as Bishop Chaput, the bishop of my archdiocese here in Philadelphia. It seemed poignant that this episode that I stumbled upon came swift on the heels of the Irish repeal on their nation’s abortion ban.
Fr. Pacwa said something to the effect of, “You can convince a mother to kill her own child; you’ll be able to convince the child to kill his mother.”
From the beginning of life to its winter, that quote illustrates how abortion, euthanasia of the elderly or disabled are all interwoven. It is the sanctity of life these insidious practices attempt to dismantle.
I read an internet comment after the Irish vote that referred to “the insignificant fetus.” Insignificant? What a terrible, baseless, devilish way to describe a life that God created. He took care to make that child, and his or her life was snuffed out because of a culture that deems a baby, pre-birth, as “an insignificant fetus.”
I’m not blameless in this. 13 years ago, heck, five years ago, I was there in that camp, the one looking to destroy the sanctity of life because, to me, back then, I would’ve agreed with that comment. Sure, do whatever you want! It’s your body! No matter if it’s because of a whim and a fancy and a poor excuse for not taking responsibility for your choices. Babies and pregnancies are just things you’ve got to “take care of.” In high school and pregnant? Wouldn’t be able to graduate in time? Don’t like your boyfriend enough? Too selfish? Not enough money? Then kill the thing that might force you to look Jesus in the eye and realize there is more to life than your own desires.
So what happened to me that made me change from being vehemently pro-choice to bring passionately pro-life?
I got pregnant, out of wedlock with my boyfriend after only being together a year. I had a baby. I held my son and realized there is more to life than just me and I would do anything to protect his life. I wasn’t Christian. In fact, I was a burgeoning atheist but that poorly constructed box I put myself in to avoid God, was beginning to fall, like the Little Pig’s pitiful straw house when faced with the Big Bad Wolf’s blowing wind. I had two more babies after that, and I still wasn’t a Christian.
But finally there came a day when I came to realize that God is real and I belong to him. In an instant, my worldview changed. The iciness within me that desired justice above all melted away with the heat of His Divine Mercy.
I came to know that all life is sacred because God made it. He has a plan, and who are we, mere mortals, to say what His plan really entails? Except for that His plan entails holding life dear, respecting that which He took great care to make.
In a postmodern world, driven by the undercurrents of Nietzsche, we seek to create the Ubermensch, a superior human specimen. We might as well throw the unfit babies from the hilltops as the Spartans did for how much we toss aside God’s great gift to us. We can be anything we want, regardless of biology, we can do whatever we want, regardless of God’s Law. But these “insignificant fetuses” that are sucked up in medical grade vacuum cleaners or done away with the swallowing of a pill, these are babies, they are beacons of God’s hope that with each life He creates, He will be able to bring more of us into a loving relationship with Him. And whether it is a life ended in old age or one ended in the womb, or at any point in between, for reasons that are so very banal and ordinary, we are destroying that gift of life, we are mocking its sanctity.
For those who cry out, “there is injustice in the world! Rape! Incest! Congenital life-destroying disease!” is the answer to this abortion? Who are we to say that it is? God has so ordered the world that every life He creates has a purpose and that purpose is to bring us all closer to Him. And of all those messy, terrible, truly tragic things that happen, what is a more fitting promise of God’s love for us than giving us the gift of life?
Now I know there are horrors in this world, and it’s all well and good to look at a situation from afar and think this, but what if we all thought this way? What if, instead of condemning babies because they change your nightlife and because they cost money, we celebrated them as the very blessings that they are, the gifts of life that God bestows on us so that we might, in some small way, come to better know His love for us? Each and everyone of us needs to accept this reality, even if it is a hard reality. If you are one to withhold the sanctity of every life, change your opinion. Look at life as a blessing even if it seems like it comes at the wrong time or in the wrong place. What each and every one of us thinks matters because what we think drives our actions. Don’t be like the person who won’t vote in an election because how could it possibly be that just that one vote will change anything. That vote, your opinion, doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Love humans, all of them, even the messy and horrifying ones or the ones that come into being because of something messy or tragic. Love the ones starting their lives and the ones who are coming to their end naturally. Because Jesus does, and He has asked the same of us. So far, we have repeatedly failed Him, and look at what the world has become. So why not try something a little different, a little more radical: Value each and every life, regardless of how it started or how it’s ending. Be bold and love all. And see where that might lead us and the world.