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March 27, 2008
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The Unbearable Reality of Love: The Passion of The Christ, by John Zmirak
In this film we see with unbearable clarity how Jesus descended into the personal Hell each of us carries around - and purged it clean.

Contraception, Bulimia, and Frankenfoods, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
If it feels good—stop it! Is that all the Catholic Church has to say about sex? A Saint Valentine Catechism.

Killing Terri Schiavo, by Rev. Robert Johansen
Terri Schiavo, the cognitively disabled woman whose husband is attempting to have her denied food and fluids, will be starved to death beginning March 18, unless the courts intervene. This is her story.

Kinsey and Me, by John Zmirak
'Kinsey' distorts history, and makes a lousy date movie, too. The whole idea of eros as a 'science of pleasure' is cold and calculating—and not very sexy.

Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation
A group of volunteers who are dedicated to protecting the life and liberty of a disabled woman.

The Pope at the Garden, by John Zmirak
I was a 14-year-old Catholic high school freshman when I first saw John Paul II at Madison Square Garden in 1979. I remember thinking: 'What a charming man. A pity he has such old-fashioned ideas.’ Little did I know…

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I Am Michael Schiavo

We like to think that we’re better than the man who’s starving his sick wife to death. But think back to Palm Sunday. What part of “Crucify him!” didn’t you understand?

John Zmirak

It's getting hard to open my email or look at a paper without having to see That Hideous Story, the one which makes me sick and sad and furious all at once. I mean, of course, the slow judicial execution of Terri Schiavo. Here's a woman who was not in a coma, was not brain dead, and didn't require elaborate machines to stay alive—just a nutrition drip in the stomach, of the sort any one of us might need after, say, a tonsillectomy. (The feeding tube is eerily analogous to an umbilical cord.) And yet American courts have decided that her adulterous husband has the right to impose her death by starvation and thirst. That second word keeps coming back to me. If Terri Schiavo could speak today, what would she certainly say to us? She would say, with Jesus: "I thirst." In a momentary lapse of mercy, Michael Schiavo at last permitted his wife a single drop of Christ's Precious Blood.

Death by thirst is slow, agonizing, almost unthinkably awful. As St. Louis neurologist William Burke told author Wesley Smith, as he was researching his book on euthanasia Forced Exit, people deprived of water "go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the drying of the mucus membranes, and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining. They feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Imagine going one day without a glass of water! Death by dehydration takes ten to fourteen days. It is an extremely agonizing death."

If Terri Schiavo could speak today, what would she certainly say to us? She would say, with Jesus: “I thirst.” 
Have you ever seen pictures of immigrants found parched to death in the Arizona desert? Imagine that happening in a nice, clean hospital room, by order of the court. (Cue "God Bless America" for the soundtrack.)

All this came to a head at the worst possible time—Holy Week and the Easter season. If I were the suspicious type, I would say there was a conspiracy afoot, that current events are colluding with pushy Providence to make us think about the Cross. Personally, I don't resist the thought that Jesus died on my behalf. (Better Him than me.) I went to see The Passion (though I fled for coffee during the scourging), and on Good Friday, I spent much of the day in church, listening to the Seven Last Words of Christ, venerating His cross and burial shroud. I'm grateful, and moved, and feel stirrings of piety when I look upon the Cross. Just don't try nailing me up there.

Another creepy coincidence: Terri's last name, "Schiavo," means "slave." There was a major figure in the Bible who, it's said, shrugged off divinity's privileges and "took the form of a slave,"then died hideously, at the hands of a callous ruler, who washed his hands of the case. I'll give you a hint: He has a Puerto Rican first name.

When I read about Terri's husband, hear his arrogant interviews with the press, my first reaction is to make like good, dopey St. Peter in the Garden, and decide it's Killer Time, remembering that if Michael Schiavo were to "assume room temperature," Terri's parents would get custody and save her... It's enough to give a guy from Queens some crazy thoughts. Illegal thoughts. Best to banish such notions of violence by meditating on Jesus's words to Peter, "Put away thy sword. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword." If that doesn't work, think about the prison rape statistics. Best not to go there. Sorry, Terriyou're on your own. Why don't you try calling upon Elijah?

I can't lift a finger to help you, nor can your parents, nor, apparently, can the President and both houses of Congress. The Sanhedrin has spoken, and their carefully vetted crowds of activists shout in unison to crucify you, and set your Barabbas free. Barabbas has better lawyers, and the judge in his pocket—besides, he represents our deepest and truest aspirations as Americans: the chance to start fresh, to walk away from the dying wife's sickbed and trade her in for a younger model, take the cute new chick to Cancun on the insurance money. I wonder if our poor soldiers guarding Abu Gharib ever step back to realize that this is Why We Fight: So Barabbas can get the new girl and ride off into the sunset, listening to Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville." Fade to Black.

I’m grateful, and moved, and feel stirrings of piety when I look upon the Cross. Just don’t try nailing me up there.
Who am I to throw stones? Unlike some other writers on this site, I haven't the fortitude to minister to quadriplegics. Far from it. To be brutally honest, I can't even bear looking at pictures of Terri Schiavo—or for that matter, retarded children. Does that mean we're allowed to kill them? God imposed the Ten Commandments some time ago to stop us from acting on such animal instincts. Mother birds will peck to death their defective chicks; alas, we're held to a higher standard.

But I have to ask myself, what would I do with a wife who was crippled and non-communicative, whom the doctors called a vegetable? Would I live as a celibate, sitting vigil by her bedside, reading aloud to her from Anne Katherine Emmerich about the value of redemptive suffering, offering up my own deprivations for her good? As if.

Absent a sudden explosion of supernatural grace, I'd do the obvious, worldly thing: I'd probably find a girlfriend, and walk away. If my guardian devil were on his job, I might even look for some theological justification to pull the plug. Are you sure that allowing oxygen in the room doesn't count as an extraordinary means? I'd like to think that I wouldn't withdraw food and water, but then I'd also like to say that I'd have shouted against the crowds for Pilate to set Jesus free. But would I really? Would you?

Try a little Ignatian exercise here: Use each of your senses to see, hear, smell, feel, even taste the crowd's outrage at this crazy prophet who made such excessive, outrageous demands, and flouted the leaders of our favorite right-wing sect. Imagine your favorite televangelist, or bishop, urging you to cry for His conviction, and let yourself forever off the hook. Should Pilate set free this eerily gentle, impossibly authoritative man who demands you join Him on the cross? Or the sensible, practical, hothead who stands on the left? Barabbas is us.

Remember what the missalette told you to say on Palm Sunday, in unison: "Crucify him!" "Give us Barabbas!" It felt weird, didn't it? Because it cut too close to home. In our heart of hearts, don't we prefer Barabbas to Jesus, Michael Schiavo to Terri? Which of the Schiavos would you rather have as a roommate? Compare their Craig's List ads: "Self-reliant, healthy young man with normal drives and a nice new girlfriend seeks couch where he can crash." Or "Suffering shell of a person with a crippled brain, whose greatest achievement is occasionally to smile at visitors, seeks someone to turn her body several times a day and changer her diapers." Be honest, please. Give me Barabbas.

But this is not the end of the story. There is hope for Michael Schiavo, even for you and me.
Some observers profess hope that the ugly spectacle of Terri Schiavo on the cross will awaken Americans to the sanctity of life. Well, as the gorilla guard told the caged Charlton Heston, who asked when he might hope to be released: "You may HOPE any time you like." More likely, I fear, Terri's suffering will make us think of quicker, less openly cruel means to speed the end of life. The other night, the BBC interviewed working-class residents of Detroit. These churchgoing Americans were horrified at Terri's suffering, and asked why she couldn't be put swiftly out of her misery. "How much could a lethal injection cost?" one mother inquired. "If it's good enough for our felons, why not for our brain-injury patients." We'll recut The Passion to rate it "G," and offer our future Terris when they cry "I thirst" no more than a sponge soaked in sedatives. It's good enough for our felons.

But this is not the end of the storythe blood-soaked ground, and Judas hanging in a halter, serenaded by the buzzing of the flies. There is hope for Michael Schiavo, even for you and me. Many of the men who compassed Jesus' death would be transformed by it. Cardinal Ratzinger reminds us in his Way of the Cross that many of the Jews in the crowd who called out "Crucify him!" would be converted at Pentecost, and spill their own blood after His, following Him to resurrection. Ancient tradition tells us that Longinus, who pierced Christ's side, went on to die a Christian martyr, that Barabbas repented and became a disciple, that even that most unjust of judges, Pontius Pilate, in his old age took up the cross. In our day, we read similar testimonies: Norma McCorvey, a simple woman who allowed her story to be twisted into a lie to unleash the scourge of Roe v. Wade, now spends herself to reverse that crime. Robert MacNamara, an architect of America's saturation bombings of Japan and then Vietnam, has spent three decades atoning for it; in Errol Morris' The Fog of War he agonizingly explains how far he went astray from human decency and Christian tradition in targeting civilians, and embraces once again the firm limits sets by Just War teaching. In The Hand of God, the pioneering abortionist Bernard Nathanson traces for us the bloodied steps of his conversion. Fr. Jacek Buda, the chaplain of Columbia University, recounts how Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz, at the end renounced his life as a missionary of Hell, and cheerfully accepted his own death sentence. That cannot comfort his victims upon the earth; perhaps he will spend eternity ministering to them in heaven. Likewise, the death of Terri Schiavo may prove a redemptive mercy. One wonders if the Christians of America, having seen the "justice" of their judges, will ever sit back and allow the appointment of further Pilates to our courts. I think they will not. I think that in God's Providence, we have hit bottom—and reached a turning point.

So let us pray for Michael Schiavo, the one who walks the earth, and the piece of him which each of us bears in our flesh, in genes from fallen Adam. Let us imagine him as the decades wear on, and pleasures dull, and conscience gnaws, and shame creeps in like rust, becoming a very magnet for God's mercy. Let us picture him, grey and aged, at a microphone in a dank church basement, giving his testimony. We will welcome him with the mercy we crave ourselves.

Happy Easter, my friends.

March 28, 2005

JOHN ZMIRAK is author of the upcoming 'A Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living' (Crossroad, 2005), and a contributing editor of The American Conservative, and GodSpy.

©2005, John Zmirak. All rights reserved.

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07.14.05   fpk3 says:
Kenny,I am encouraged to read the story of how you have changed. I look forward to seeing what you think about other issues.Fred

07.13.05   Patrice Conn says:
You talk about Michael's "normal" drives, Man no longer has "normal" drives or urges, instead, we are filled with all sorts of other ones.John your writting is beautiful. You are not Michael Schiavo. You may be something else. I don't know.

05.13.05   kennyw says:
I have not been here for awhile because of an outburst in which I took to task two opponents of assisted suicide. In the interim...let's say I saw something that turned me if not 180 degrees around then toward a far different point of view on "life" issues.First was the euthanasia bill passed in the Netherlands. No, I didn't read about it on a Catholic site, but on Bruderhof. What they are permitting is perfectly horrible. I did not rationalize or think about it, I felt sick. I still do. "We are preventing those babies from pain." How do you know that?Then was Terri Schiavo. It was indeed relentless, the Lenten horrorshow whether you are Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic. No difference. Same Christ, same Cross, same insane horror of a family preying upon itself over the body of a dying woman who--let us just say this and get it done--was sacrificed so Michael Schiavo could lose his guilt at putting his penis inside another woman. This was not mercy killing, it was legalized convenience, on the same level morally as an abortion.Finally, there is my former brother-in-law. In mid-March, after living with my ex-wife his sister for a year, after being out of work for two years, he went someplace or other and slashed his veins. He did a Help Me routine that went horribly wrong. He's not dead but I don't call what he has a "life" either. He's been in a coma for two months. His traumatic wounds aggravated a heart condition, diabetes, high blood pressure, and gross obesity. He doesn't know people. He has breathing tubes.He has a feeding tube. Just like what's her name.I pray for him every day: to wake up or simply to go back to God, before anyone else has to choose. I pray for my former wife who hasn't told me a word of this (my sons go behind her back), that she and her sister will be spared a decision.And I pray for myself because blessedly I have lost all emotional attachment to this situation. It got me to do an Advanced Directive, which is a blessing. And it made me feel some of the awful pain of the Schindlers.No, I don't hint like that professional opportunist Sean Hannity that Michael Schiavo deliberately murdered his wife, but he didn't exactly break his rear end to keep her alive either.

04.05.05   German_Protestant says:
Lori, it is illegal to do with a dumb animal, because even in that animal, cognitive processes happen that did not happen in Terri's head anymore. Yes, I can say that in good conscience. The neurological results are unambiguous. Yes, people said she responded. People who have been talked time and time again that there is a chance she will wake up. People have been duped, and people have been duping themselves, because what must not be cannot be.Also, you are wrong in saying that my line of thinking applies to Alzheimer patients or other mentally disabled. . Alzheimer patients DO have a working EEG of the cognitive parts of their brain. Terri had a flatline. Even most PVS patients have at least 5% normal activity. So it is merely malevolence that suggests my line of reasoning would apply to the stated mental problems, which are comparatively mild to Terri's. QuoteLet us begin with some medical facts. On February 25, 1990, Terri Schiavo had a cardiac arrest, triggered by extreme hypokalemia brought on by an eating disorder. As a result, severe hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy developed, and during the subsequent months, she exhibited no evidence of higher cortical function. Computed tomographic scans of her brain eventually showed severe atrophy of her cerebral hemispheres, and her electroencephalograms have been flat, indicating no functional activity of the cerebral cortex. Her neurologic examinations have been indicative of a persistent vegetative state, which includes periods of wakefulness alternating with sleep, some reflexive responses to light and noise, and some basic gag and swallowing responses, but no signs of emotion, willful activity, or cognition.There is no evidence that Ms. Schiavo is suffering, since the usual definition of this term requires conscious awareness that is impossible in the absence of cortical activity. There have been only a few reported cases in which minimal cognitive and motor functions were restored three months or more after the diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state due to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy; in none of these cases was there the sort of objective evidence of severe cortical damage that is present in this case, nor was the period of disability so long.Having viewed some of the highly edited videotaped material of Terri Schiavo and having seenother patients in a persistent vegetative state, I am not surprised that family members and others unfamiliar with this condition would interpret some of her apparent alertness and movement as meaningful.From: New England Journal of Medicine. 2005 Mar 22; [Epub ahead of print] Perspective by Timothy E. Quill, M.D. Dr. Quill is a professor of medicine, psychiatry, and medical humanities and the director of the Center for Palliative Care and Clinical Ethics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y.Face it, Lori. One needs a brain to engage in normal neurological functions. Terri had scare tissue and spinal fluid. Terri didn't suffer physically or mentally . She had no way to. The doctors her parents hired were trying to sell therapies that no evidence exists would actually be helpful. You still haven't explained why you are so afraid of death.

04.04.05   Lori says:
In my last comment I was referring to German Protestant's post , not the the author.

04.04.05   Lori says:
You just cannot compare the death of the Holy Father's with Terri's! The only similarity between their deaths is that they both died in the same week. The Holy Father died a natural death. Terri was starved to death--something that is illegal to do with a dumb animal. With your line of reasoning we should starve any person who has any sort of brain damage or Alzheimers, because their former personality ceased to exist. Terri could not talk clearly, but NUMEROUS people have said that she responded. Can you say for sure that NOTHING was going on in her head? That she was no longer a person who suffered, who loved her parents? You say, “from the biological point of view, nothing was left.” Can you say this is absolutely true—in good conscience? Even criminals get a fairer deal than poor Terri. We must protect the injured and the mentally challenged from this line of thinking. I shake my head. God’s peace be with you.

04.04.05   German_Protestant says:
If you allow me to comment as a total outsider, I have two problems with this article, one in general scripture, and one in one specific point. I'll start with the more general one first. I think that you are forgetting one part of Easter if you focus on "Crucify him", and you are forgetting that he WAS to be crucified. Matthew 26 51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. 52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? Are not those who threaten the husband and his family with murder "taking the sword"? And are not they themselves -and the more moderate critics- second-guessing the Lord that he intended for modern medicine to keep Terri's body alive beyond its normal limits?I ask myself: Why this fear of death, and why in this case? The other day, I think it was a German Cardinal, who said of the dying Pope: "The great thing in Christianity is that death is not the end. It's when things really start." Is that not equally valid for Schiavo as well as for the Holy Father? They said John Paul II. has returned to the House of His Father. So has Terri.Let's look at the facts: From the scientific point of view, her personality ceased to exist a long time ago, leaving behind a shell running on autopilot. Has she been killed? Or did what made her HER not really die long ago. We're always told to look beyond physicalities, but beyond the physical body, from the biological point of view, nothing was left. No consciousness, no thinking, no personality. Let us look at the spiritual level. Has she been killed? Is it not said in John 3: 16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Not perish, but have everlasting life! How can she have been killed on the spiritual level? It's impossible!When thinking about Easter, do not just think of Holy Friday, and of "Crucify him!". You're forgetting the best part: Luke 24 4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 5 And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, 7 Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. Many of the early Christians, including many Saints, rather than striving to evade death at the hands of their persecuters were willing to meet their fate. They did not flee, even though in many a case, they had the opportunity. Because death is not the end, it is a beginning. I think that he who thinks that one has to fight tooth and nails for every second of life one can still add is missing a great deal of the message of Easter.I think the author has, in part, laudable goals with his "I am Michael Schiavo" thrust. But there are issues he stops short on, as explained, and there are others he overreaches seriously.This leads me the second issue I have with this article, especially as a German. To bring Rudolf Höss into the discussion of Michael Schiavo is, frankly, disturbing. Even more so since such an inflationary use of holocaust comparisons is barely shy of a trivialization. The author also quotes Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger recently had all hands full doing damage control after the new book of the Holy Father was interpreted as including a comparison of abortions to the holocaust. I believe the case the author was trying to make would not have suffered with leaving out this comparison.

04.04.05   Lori says:
Dear Sorrow4you, I can you see that you have suffered through a loved one's painful death. I am sorry for that. You say "Have you ever spent an eternity in a hospital room hoping for God to send a reprieve?" Was this reprieve you were waiting for... for you, or for the patient? You say: "Have you ever spent your time holding the hand of someone you love so lightly because the slightest bit of pressure from your fingers would cause them pain?" If this is true, I am sorry, but in this age of medicine your loved one's doctors did not do their job to ease the patient's pain. You are sorry for--rather angry at--this author, but I see no sorrow for Terry's parents or sorrow for Terry. Before her husband and the government denied her the basic right of food and water, she was not suffering pain; she was enjoying her family--as a baby enjoys her mama and papa--differently, but no less than you or I. God's peace and wisdom.

04.03.05   sorrow4u says:
You should resist the thought that Jesus died on a cross for you...because Im pretty sure Daddy didn't sacrifice his only son for someone like you.You are not outraged at this act, your outraged period. You speak not of compassion, sorrow, or regret for someone who has lived a life caged for 15 years in a body that no longer will allow the soul to embrace, rejoice, and live life on this earth as it is meant to be lived. You ask us to picture Mr. Schiavo in a dank church basement.... I ask you to lay upon a bed surrounded by four white walls for no less than the time of Lent. You remind me of 'Maplethorpe'....you really don't have anything to say and you hide the void of substance beneath an avalanche of 'shock me' discourse.Have you ever spent your time holding the hand of someone you love so lightly because the slightest bit of pressure from your fingers would cause them pain? Have you ever spent an eternity in a hospital room hoping for God to send a reprieve? Have you ever wondered why non-insured cancer, aids, and hepatitis c patients do not get the same care or publicity as Terry? Does anyone ask what would have become of Terry without the financial backing...not just for the husband but for the hospital?You want an honest, upfront, put it in your face opinion....Maybe, we have let technology's obligation surpass that of the spiritual one. We have the medical advancements to achieve incredible things but we lack the courage of limitation, and allow the conflict of financial burden to interfere with moral duty. Why would you keep a soul on earth when it was clearly destined to fly in heaven?

03.28.05   Godspy says:
We like to think that we’re better than the man who’s starving his sick wife to death. But think back to Palm Sunday. What part of “Crucify him!” didn’t you understand?

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