There almost seems to be more reasons in my mind not to discuss Terry Schiavo than to write a column about her. Most obvious is the fact that both sides seem well represented in the media.
In fact, you can’t seem to find one outlet— talk radio, cable and network television, papers and magazines— that haven’t given extensive coverage to the story. That Schiavo's case is getting this attention is surprising in this post-Martha Stewart prison/current Michael Jackson-trial update mania.
Another concern of mine was that I did not want to continue forcing a somewhat private story into the spotlight. This poor woman and her family has been thrust into the glare of the media, while we all sit back and debate their actions, question their motives, wonder about what is really in their hearts. Regardless of which "side" you’re on, we are witnessing devastated parents and siblings and a frustrated husband. There’s a sense inside of me of not wanting to be another person to pile onto this now public battle.
Finally, I definitely have a sense that opining either way or another isn’t going to change anything. More than likely, you have an opinion yourself. Perhaps, cynically, I feel that a few words from a Catholic Priest— who is obviously passionate about letting her live— would be convincing to those on the opposing side. Chalk it up to another experience in this deeply divided America where stalemates seem to be a regular occurrence.
But it was in the midst of that last thought that I became most disgusted with myself and the entire story. I realized why the Terry Schiavo case has bothered me so. It’s not so much that the nation is engaged in a philosophical, moral and ethical debate. It’s that the battleground we’re "playing" on determines whether a woman lives or dies. It’s that at this moment, she is starving to death, deprived of water and food. I can’t help but feel that the political and religious debate her case has spawned is absurd. As each side fights to win, losing sight of the fact that in the end, a woman could or will die.
For Christians, the case is ironically unfolding during Holy Week, a week in which Christians around the world commemorte the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s worth remembering that Jesus was at the center of a political and religious maelstrom. People argued over whether He would provoke a revolution against Rome and whether he had blasphemed God. People passionately took sides, a life was held in the balance, and the side that wom resulted in the death of an innocent human being.
Jesus died because people lost focus of the human being before them, because a civilized society spun out of control. People lost the sense of the divinity that was before them.
Life is a divinity. As a Catholic, Jesus is divine to me because I believe he’s the Son of God. But there’s a divinity in Terry Schiavo as well. It’s in me, it’s in you, it’s in all of us who find ourselves in the midst of this "battle."
I’m well aware of the political and religious arguments that are being brought to this debate. But in the process, I think we are losing focus of the human being before us. We are losing focus of the divinity that is life itself.
We didn’t bring ourselves into this world. We didn’t wish ourselves into existence. How we arrived here is a part of that beautiful mystery that is life. That we grow and develop and become opinionated and have our own unique personalities is what adds the flavor to the greatness and vastness of the world around us.
Will we regain that sense of the divine again? Will we as a nation realize that with every judgment we make on the "vitality" of one’s life we are devaluing all life? And, if it's too late for Terry, who will be the next one sacrificed?
Christians believe that the unjust death of Jesus resulted in God’s most amazing display of love for humanity. It was that very act of cruel inhumanity that opened the door to Jesus' promise that we would "have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
I wonder, as we celebrate that victory this Easter Sunday, will we be hypocrites?
Father Jim Chern is a Roman Catholic priest, ordained in May 1999 with the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. He is a parish priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in West Orange, N.J. He is a 1995 graduate of DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., and graduated from Arthur L. Johnson Regional High School in Clark, N.J. in 1991.