Life involves suffering. Too often we forget this or don’t like to be reminded of it. But suffering and pain are as much a part of our lives as are joy and celebration.
Easter was celebrated this past weekend. For Christians it was a day of celebration. Jesus Christ was resurrected; He rose to heaven to be at the right side of his Father — a glorious event. But as Father John Neuhaus reminds us in Death on a Friday Afternoon, the darkness of Good Friday preceded the light of Easter Sunday. Jesus had to go through extraordinary suffering and pain before he could fulfill God’s plan for him. Jesus’ suffering was as crucial to the salvation and redemption of Christians as was His final death and resurrection. It is not only His joyous resurrection that allows us to be cleansed from sin, it was His suffering that enables us to be born again.
Writing in the New York Sun last week, George Weigel said that “Embracing suffering is a concept alien to us. And yet suffering embraced in obedience to God’s will is at the center of Christianity. . . . The Christ of the Gospels reaches out and embraces suffering as his destiny, his vocation — and is vindicated in that self-sacrifice on Easter.”
Weigel then explained that John Paul II, in the weakness and suffering accompanying his current illness, is a “tremendous encouragement to the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the dying, who find strength and hope in his example.” The Pope has been suffering through a huge physical struggle. But at bottom he is a “Christian pastor who is going to challenge us with the message of the cross,” Weigel wrote, “the message of Good Friday and Easter — until the end.”
Terri Schiavo is part of the unfortunate army of the sick, disabled, and dying. She is suffering in obedience to God’s will. It is an Easter story, although a very painful one. But the legal establishment and mainstream media elite do not understand suffering in this religious context. So it appears they would rather do away with her.
Inexplicably, the U.S. court system is determined to take Schiavo’s life. I say inexplicably because the courts have chosen to disregard the morality of life, the religious belief in life, the culture of life. Inexplicable because all Americans of faith believe that in situations like this we should, as President Bush has said, err on the side of life. But the courts have chosen to disregard this thought — this belief.
In so many cases our courts are not bashful when it comes to ruling on moral questions, even when it means overruling state legislatures or the intent of Congress or the thinking of other courts. It’s also not uncommon for legislators to weigh in on such matters. National Review editor Rich Lowry recently reminded us of federal habeas review appeals of death sentences, reviews of civil rights violations, and legislative actions in defense of women and the disabled. Think of the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned capital punishment for minors. That decision was based on international opinion and the court’s own interpretation of prevailing social thought on the issue.
By all accounts it appears that Terri Schiavo’s parents were out-lawyered by her husband’s attorneys, a point made by blogger John Hinderaker. Surely the courts were absorbed by legal process — ruling over and over in favor of past decisions — rather than a thorough review of all recent facts. Just as surely the courts made no attempt to empower parenting. Doesn’t this remind of the many counterintuitive decisions made by the courts to prevent parental consent, or even consultation, when it comes to abortion? Or schooling? If Terri Schiavo’s parents are willing to care for her, why not simply let them?
“Bid to Save Terri Schiavo Is All But Finished.” That was the Easter morning headline in the Washington Times. But she will ultimately be saved, either in this life or the next. As Father Neuhaus suggests in his exploration, Schiavo’s suffering is another example of those “who in their troubles find themselves, as they say, at the foot of the cross.” Haven’t we all been there? Isn’t suffering in pursuit of God’s will the exact center of religious life? Isn’t the life of faith all about steep costs and consequential losses on the road to greater wisdom and a better, more faithful life?
For those who understand, accept, and believe in this, Father Neuhaus is certainly right when he says, “If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything.”