As I write this in mid-March I look forward to soon being with two special families, who because of the depth of their love for a family member, found themselves in the midst of an international spotlight they did not seek, and a fierce conflict they did not shirk.
They are the families of Terri Schiavo and Baby Joseph Maraachli. Terri was killed by court-ordered dehydration in 2005, and Joseph was almost deprived of a standard medical intervention that gave him longer life with his loving family in 2011. Both families asked me and Priests for Life for help, and it was a privilege to serve them as best I could.
I will never forget Terri's last night, when I sat with her, with her brother Bobby and her sister Suzanne into the wee hours of the morning. We spoke to her, sang to her, and blessed her. I have often recounted that while she was dehydrating to death, the flowers in the vase just inches from her parched lips were flourishing in water.
As I preached at Terri's funeral Mass, we must never forget, and we must see to it that this kind of murder ceases in our world.
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In the case of Baby Joseph, I will never forget that midnight flight on the medical jet, by which we literally rescued Baby Joseph from a medical and government bureaucracy in Canada that refused to give him a standard tracheotomy to help him breathe despite his neurological condition. With the help of allies in the medical community and pressure from tens of thousands of supporters, a transfer was arranged to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in Saint Louis, MO.
As I flew on the medical jet with the medical team, Baby Joseph, and his father Moe, the story of the Exodus was uppermost in my mind. Moe was literally pinching himself, saying that he could hardly believe it was happening, as he took his baby to a place where a son would get the treatment he needed and a father would have the freedom to love his son as he deserved.
Neither of these families was looking for a miracle. They did not want a shortcut from the arduous path of sacrifice that love demands. They were willing to live with the disabilities of their loved ones for the rest of their lives, and to love them as much as they would love a fully healthy family member. They trusted in God and knew that the value of life is not measured in how well we function or how long we live, but rather in the love given and received in the process.
These two families resisted the temptation to anger, despair, and self-absorption. Instead, they used – and are still using — the tragedies they suffered to reach out to other families with similar problems.
To both families, I say, what an inspiration it was to live through these battles with you! Let us battle on to the final victory!