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April 14, 2005

Terri Schiavo, Martyr

Topics: Commentary

Deacon Keith Fournier weighs in on Terri's death. He considers her to be a martyr, one who has lived a sacrificial life that changes the world. That her life was full of deprivation and her death brutal is undisputible. Will her life and death change the world? That is up to us.

Terri Schiavo, Martyr

By: Deacon Keith Fournier

© Third Millennium, LLC

The news out of Pinellas Park, Florida breaks the hearts of all decent people. It should shake us to the core. Terri Schiavo is dead, intentionally deprived of food and water, with the force of the raw power of government holding the hands of the executioners. She was killed deliberately, by starvation and dehydration. No Court, Legislative body or Chief Executive had the courage to stop this killing. She was deprived of her substantive due process rights by every branch of government.

Terri was not dying. She was not receiving any "extraordinary medical treatment." She was being fed and given water, as many disabled people are at this very moment, with assistance. She had trouble swallowing because she was disabled by damage to her brain. She would have lived for many, many years, bringing great joy to her family and changing the world. But now she is dead; killed by the complete abject failure of a system that has lost its soul.

The Greek word for "witness" is "martyrion". In our use of the word over all these centuries of Christian history, we have emphasized those who shed their blood for the faith. However, there is also a tradition of "white martyrs", those who live sacrificial lives that change the world. That is what Terri did. None of us will forget her smile. We all adopted her beautiful family. We now mourn her loss and share, at least a little, in their deep pain. We must also become outraged at the sheer evil of this killing and we must act.

Terri Schiavo is a martyr. She had her life taken away by the enforcers of a New Rome. Remember, the old Rome also had an elaborate system of courts and a highly developed legislative system. It prided itself on its culture, its arts and its claims to "civilization." Yet, it legally sanctioned horrors such as the practice of exposure, where children, the disabled and other "unwanted" persons were left on rocks to die by exposure to the elements or to be killed by hostile passers by. We now do the same.

The killing of Terri Schindler must mark a turning point in American history. Terri was killed while "the law" was unwilling to intervene. Her death stripped away the veneer of civility painted on the face of the current culture of death. It was a diabolical event, plain and simple. The rejection of the inherent value of every human life as a foundation of our whole understanding of ordered liberty is a clear and present danger. We face a serious risk to both life and liberty when reference to the truth is removed as the measuring stick for our behavior. Authentic freedom has been replaced by a counterfeit. The very foundation of decency is shaken.

To honor Terri, we should dedicate ourselves to the long term work of building a new society, a culture of life and civilization of love, where the dignity of every human life will be the polestar of all public policy; marriage and family will be protected as the first mediating institution and defended against those who aim to replace and eradicate them; authentic freedom will be exercised in reference to truth and within a moral constitution, and our obligations in solidarity to one another, and most especially those who have no voice, will be upheld by elected and unelected public servants.

With all the talk of the "religious influence" in America, the martyrdom of Terri Schiavo reveals the lack of a national soul. Terri was killed in a manner reminiscent of past evil regimes. I am reminded of the old adage attributed to the English Philosopher Alisdair Macintyre who, commenting on the decay in English society, once said "The Creed of the English is that there is no God but it is proper to pray to him once in a while." Without reference to the Source of unalienable rights, the One who placed the hunger for true justice within every human heart, we have become unmoored as a Nation.

Terrible injustices sometimes mark turning points in the political history of Nations. I pray that Terri's death becomes such an event; an impetus for a new coalition for life, family, freedom and solidarity. If it does, Terri's martyrdom will not have been in vain.


Deacon Keith Fournier is a member of the Catholic Clergy and a human rights lawyer.

Priests for Life
PO Box 141172
Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. 888-PFL-3448, (718) 980-4400
Fax 718-980-6515
Email mail@priestsforlife.org

Cross-posted on Powers That Blog.

Posted by powersthatblog at April 14, 2005 8:53 AM

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I will always believe that Terri, as well, is a Saint in every sense of the word. I just can't help but believe that God had very special reasons for calling on all of us to fall in love with this sweet girl. This doesn't mean we're not called on to love others, but I'll always believe Terri was very important, very special to our Father.

I've said this all before, but I have to say it one more time. I was looking at a video of Terri last night, her mouth open, her eyes blinking as she looked this way and that. There was something about the expression in her features which seemed striking and familiar to me, something I couldn't quite identify - until it suddenly so seemed obvious. It was a look of marveling wonder in her features, something almost childlike, something we might see on the faces of others who we suppose "in their own world" rather than ours. Who or what was it that Terri was gazing toward in wondering amaze? I'll always believe that Terri, in ways the rest of us can't understand, has been gazing into the face of God these past fifteen years. She came back for moments, smiled for her mother, a smile you and I know with our hearts was something so much more than reflex or anything of the sort. If with a half percent of the capacity the rest of us have, you and I know in our hearts that Terri's smile for her mother was the emotion of her own heart spoken for her mother, the love of her heart for her mother.

And then Terri turned her eyes back to God, a God who has asked of her patience in ways incomprehensible to the rest of us. I'll always believe that Terri has been saying yes, your will be done, for fifteen years now. And why should Terri be so important to us? I can only believe that Terri is all of humanity in ways we haven't seen in a very long time now, Terri simply the one person in the world at the moment to whom God wishes us to devout our attention, not to the exclusion of others, but in a very special way.

-I'm searching yet for consolation, for myself, for those who love Terri as passionately as I do. And for me, that consolation is the certainty that Terri is one of the greatest saints who has ever resided on this earth. How can we know what she has gone through for these past fifteen years? How can we know what prayers she has prayed? For herself. For us. Terri must have prayed a million times, please, Father, I want to come home. And God says, please, my daughter, a little while longer. If you say yes, Terri, just a little longer, you will by your suffering show love for your God which will lead multitudes to heaven with you. Can anyone possibly doubt that Terri has said yes to God, again and again for the past fifteen years now? Can anyone possibly doubt that Terri is still saying yes to God, that Terri is saying yes to God at this moment - that Terri is saying, Father, your will be done. Terri is now home. Remember us to our Father, Terri.

- The last ten minutes of Terri's life, for me, are just one more of a multitude of signs that Terri is one of the most faithful saints who has ever lived on this earth, that an ordinary girl with faults no different than our own has been chosen by God to share in the work of His only Son in a very special way. Terri, my beloved - I'll always believe God said to her - you've said yes to Me for fifteen years now. Terri, I'm going to ask of you now, for another ten minutes, to endure that which I ask of only a very few, that which I ask only of those who love Me with a heart proven by suffering the world cannot imagine. I'm going to ask you to endure that which My own beloved Son endured when He cried out, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me." Terri, My beloved, for ten minutes now you will be alone, separated from those who love you with sincere and honest hearts. Know they are with you Terri, a mother who waits in agony crying out the love of her heart to me. Know that a brother fights earthly powers to be with you. And know that by this final proof of your love for Me, you will lead millions with you to heaven and to Me. We hear now that Terri's eyes were open, that she was frightened - that she knew exactly what God was asking of her. And you and I know with a certainty the world will never understand that God is now holding Terri very closely to his heart, that the rejoicing multitudes of heaven surround Terri as she stands with our Father's arms around her, that God is saying - here is my beloved daughter who has proven her love for me.

Posted by: dea at April 14, 2005 11:06 AM

Thank you Deacon Keith and dea.

Your consoling and uplifting words soften our grief over the loss of Terri. You have honored her well - may God bless you abundantly.

Thank you.

Posted by: TuGGer at April 14, 2005 11:29 AM

What pulls at my heart strings, and angers me to no end is knowing that Michael held her in his "loving" arms and put a rose in her hand when she died. She died in the arms of the man who planned this all along, to kill her, to be rid of his "burden". What horror she must have felt and what sadness to not have been with her parents in the last few minutes of her life. I'm tearing up just thinking about it... :-(

Posted by: Sirena at April 14, 2005 12:02 PM

It shouldn't make you sad, really. Like I say, it's just proof to me that Terri was, and is, very very special to God, that she was praying for fifteen years, that God had such faith in her that she suffered in the end in a way so very similar to the way our Lord suffered on the cross, that she was all alone in the end - and still said yes to God in exactly the same way our Lord did. And I believe this as much as anything else has touched a great many lives. And my belief that Terri is both a martyr and a saint might be just personal for the moment, but I can only call the restoration of my own faith over the past few weeks miraculous (guess that's a hint of where my faith was before God, calling me to pay attention, used Terri in order to do so). Whether or not there will be recognized miracles such as healings - I don't know. But I think God will allow me to jump the gun, so to speak. I have other patron saints who are very dear to me. And I just feel a certainty that I can now call Terri a patron saint both to me and to the world.

Posted by: dea at April 14, 2005 12:52 PM

Dea, I agree. Terri is my saint. I look at photos of her and her videos still and see a beautiful woman, who was child-like, so filled with the glory of God. I will never forget her and I hope to give her a big hug when I meet her in heaven someday.

Posted by: Sirena at April 14, 2005 2:00 PM

I seriously want to know, How does a peson rise to the official status of Martyr? Is there a process similar to being proclaimed a Saint.?

Terri indeed fits the definition of Martyr.....i can imagine no worse psychological torture than being treated as "dead" by the very person responsible for my welfare. Fifteen years of being called a "houseplant". THAT is abuse. Pure and simple.

How does the Catholoic religion recognize martyrs?

Posted by: JoJoFox at April 14, 2005 3:54 PM

Might I make a suggestion here, based on dea's testimony to Terri's Legacy? I really, really think that SOMEONE should start a legacy site for Terri and Michael, to show the enduring good a servant of God does as opposed to the bad a servant of satan does, and let us pray that his legacy does not endure. But just as surely as Terri has brought good into many lives (I've read many testimonies here and elsewhere), Michael's example has struck a chord in other hearts and we are bound to see the results of that too in the future. Such a site could serve many purposes, not the least of which would be as a beacon on a hill, so to speak.

Posted by: mary et. al. at April 14, 2005 3:59 PM

JoJo, just noticed your comment. A saint is usually recognized by the common people who often pray to them and if they are indeed a saint God will often work miracles at their request. As for beatification and canonization, that has to be taken to the Vatican where a trial is held, all evidence holiness, miracles, etc. is heard and a decision is made. Usually saints were members of a religeous order because it takes an enduring body to keep up the petition for the saint's cause as many years as it takes, which can be very many. Joan of Arc was canonized something like 400 years after her death. That's the formal declaration, but often and often the general pop informally canonizes them.

Posted by: mary et. al. at April 14, 2005 4:09 PM

We should not call Terri a saint, that's a job for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, but when you need to pray for Christian unity, give your prayers to Terri and wait for a miracle.

Posted by: gopchristian at June 14, 2005 1:32 PM