Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pro-Life Means All Life

It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who claim to be pro-life and yet are in favor of the death penalty. Such a position seems patently inconsistent to me. I'm even more dismayed at the number of Catholics who don't realize the inconsistency or disregard it entirely. I think as Cardinal George has said many, many times, we really have to change people’s hearts.

Pope John Paul II forcefully stated that a consistent ethic of life must oppose a “culture of death.” This culture is one in which . . . the powerful predominate, setting aside and even eliminating the powerless . . . unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurably ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumer-ism and materialism. Nor can I fail to mention the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty. . . . This model of society bears the stamp of the culture of death, and is therefore in opposition to the gospel message. (Ecclesia in Amer-ica, #63, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, January 1999).

On the day of Timothy McVeigh’s execution, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the United States Catholic Conference, issued the following statement:

In an age where respect for life is threatened in so many ways, we believe it is important to emphasize that human life is a gift from God, and no one or any government should presume to kill God’s gift. Rather all of us have the responsibility to protect human life from conception to natural death. . . . We offer our deepest sympathy and prayers for all those touched by this horrible crime, especially those who lost family members and friends. . . . We pledge our best efforts to reverse this culture of violence and replace it with a profound respect for the inherent value God confers on every human life.

Sometimes, this is a very difficult concept to internalize. So many crimes are unthinkable, unspeakable. Yet, when I'm feeling especially angry or perhaps even vengeful about some act that some apparent MONSTER has perpetrated, I try to to think back to when that child of God was first born. How perfect and sweet and full of potential. Then somehow in the course of life, something or a series of things goes seriously, seriously wrong. Fate, genetics, poor choices, poor parenting, neglect, abuse, all come into play. These factors don't excuse behavior but they often explain it. When you stare in to the face of Richard Ramirez (Night Stalker), think of him as a sweet, innocent baby who, like my own children, smelled of baby lotion and had had a gummy smile, and who had nothing but trust that someone would protect him from the evil of the world. I'm not blaming the parents, per se. Rather, my point is that we were all beautiful, perfect little bundles and the Devil works really hard to undo all of the love and beauty in the world. Unfortunately, with some individuals, he succeeds. But God tells us that His creations are always worthy of forgiveness.

Our culture often views forgiveness as something that one deserves or is somehow earned. Rather, we are all REQUIRED to forgive, even when it's hard, even when it seems impossible. EVEN WHEN THERE IS NO REPENTANCE. Forgiveness does not mean FORGET. It does not mean OVERLOOK. It simply means that no matter what any of us have done, there is always a chance for renewal though our Father's love. Certainly, there are individuals who are so dangerous that they cannot be trusted to live among us ever again. Understood. I get that. Killing these people, however, cannot be the answer. I, for one, want this evil to end.

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