Homily Given at Memorial Mass for Terri Schindler-Schiavo
By Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Bob and Mary, Suzanne and Bobby, I know that I speak for your extended
family, I know that I speak for everyone here in this Church and outside,
I know that I speak for people who, even tonight, are having memorial masses in
churches throughout the nation and throughout the world. I know that
I speak for our now deceased Holy Father himself. I know I speak for
millions of people throughout the Nation and across the globe when I say to you
tonight four simple words - we are with you.
Pope John Paul II was personally informed of the death of Terri on the day
before his own death. We can be certain that he offered his own sufferings
for her. You know, brothers and sisters, we Christians are strange people
because we can grieve and rejoice at the same time. There is for the
Christian joyful sorrow. There is for the Christian hopeful grief.
That is what we experience here today. That is what we have been
experiencing with and for Terri for a long time. We weep, and weeping is
consistent - is compatible - with faith. Jesus himself wept at the tomb of
his friend Lazarus. Why do we weep? We weep because we love.
Why, at the same time, do we hope? We hope because we know that death does
not have the last word.
St. Paul says, "Yes we grieve but not as those who have no hope" -- not
as those who think that death really is the last word of the human story.
For so many people going through this short and confusing life, the human story
is birth, life and death. Beyond that they cannot see and beyond that they
dare not think and beyond that they cannot hope. But for the Christian the story
is not birth, life and death. It is life, death and resurrection.
We know, we know that the grief we have will be transformed and is
being transformed into joy and this --- the words we pray, the songs we sing,
the psalm we heard and the prayers we will utter as this mass continues -- speak
of joy and celebration even at the same time as they speak of loss and grief and
death. This is the Christian message.
Terri died on Easter Thursday. For the Church, Easter is not just
Easter Sunday. It is a whole week. If you look carefully at the
Church's prayers during the Easter week you will find the liturgy refers to each
and every day of that week as Easter day. The priest is to pray at the
preface of the Mass on Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, Easter
Wednesday, Easter Thursday, Easter Friday and Easter Saturday - he must
say these words, "Father we praise you with greater joy than ever on this Easter
day." At the very moment Terri died - somewhere in the country - somewhere in
the world, a priest was standing at the altar saying, "Father we praise you with
greater joy than ever on this Easter day," because Christ is risen.
Brothers and sisters, when we say that Christ is risen, we do not simply mean
that he conquered his own death. We do not simply mean that he
came out of his own tomb. We mean that he conquered our
death. We mean he conquered Terri's death. We mean he
conquered the kingdom of death. He overturned it. He robbed it of
its power. He rose and lives forevermore and our celebration of Easter,
including our celebration of this mass, is a celebration of the fact that we
share that victory.
The Church, under the leadership especially of John Paul II, proclaims that
life is a gift and that's why this is a celebration because we join with Terri's
family tonight in thanking God for the gift of her life. We see it in no
other way than a gift.
When we say that life is a gift we mean it is a pure gift. It
may not be demanded and it may not be discarded.
When man and woman come together in a loving embrace of husband and wife they
cannot demand from God the gift of a child. They can open themselves to
that gift but they can't say, "Lord you have to deliver, you give us a child
right now." Some people have that mentality that life is something
they can demand. We see it today even with reproductive technologies that try
to artificially produce a child - produce and manufacture a human life.
Life is not something that we manufacture, it's a gift. We receive it and
we receive it if and only if God wants to give it.
Let me ask you a question. Where were you one hundred years ago
tonight? You're laughing. You probably don't remember where you
were. I've got an even better question. Where will you be one
hundred years from tonight? Brothers and sisters, we will be together one
hundred years from tonight rejoicing in the Lord.
But I ask you, where were you one hundred years ago? Well you weren't
yet. You didn't exist. And so how did you come from that nothingness
into being? How did that happen? Well you could say, “My mom and dad
came together and they conceived a child and that was me.” Well, certainly
your mom and dad coming together and conceiving a child was necessary for you to
be here but that doesn't really answer the question. Because when your mom
and dad came together and conceived a child it didn't have to be you. It
could have been anyone of millions of possible brothers and sisters. It
didn't have to be you.
What is the answer to the question of how you came from that nothingness in
which you were one hundred years ago into that life you have tonight?
There's only one answer. From all eternity God knew, chose and loved
you. From all eternity God knew, loved and chose Terri. From
all eternity he knew, loved and chose every human being who was ever conceived…
No matter what the course of their earthly life brought…. No matter what sorrow
or tragedy. …No matter whether life was long or short, healthy or disabled.
God himself brought us into being. And life is always a good.
John Paul II died only a matter of days after the tenth anniversary of one of
the most important documents he ever wrote, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium
Vitae). In that document he said, "Life is always a good” - always…
No matter how frail… No matter how injured or disabled… No matter
how weak… No matter how, in the eyes of the world, unproductive it might
be. Life, he said, is always a good. Why? Because it always reflects
the glory of God. Every human life is a sign of His presence, a trace of
His glory. We touch God when we touch a human life.
Brothers and Sisters, it is in touching another human life, especially one
that is vulnerable, that we find God. Why? Because Jesus said,
"Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there." Why two or three?
Why not just one? Why didn't he say, "Where one is gathered in my name I
am there?" Well he is there but it is only when two or three or more are
gathered that we can love one another. That's why he said that.
It is only when there is more than one human being gathered together that
each of those human beings can give themselves away for the other one.
That's the meaning of life - we give ourselves away for each other. The
meaning of life, the meaning of happiness is never found when we throw other
people out of the way, when we push them aside to try and make room for whatever
plan or scheme or desire we happen to have. No. Human fulfillment is
found when we push ourselves out of the way and make room for the other.
It is found when we pour out that love for the other person no matter who that
We have seen, especially in these last few weeks, an outpouring of love for
Terri from around the world. That's the meaning of life. God sends
us people like Terri to remind us of the meaning of life.
Mother Teresa - Terri shared her name -- Mother Teresa taught us this
in a marvelous fashion. What was her greatness? Her greatness was
that she showed us the meaning of love by giving herself away for the other
person. The night before Terri died and then again on the morning that she
died when Bobby, Suzanne and I were praying over her I commended her to Mother
Teresa. I invoked Mother Teresa. I told Terri to entrust herself to
Mother Teresa who spent so many years lifting with her own hands the poor and
the dying off the streets of Calcutta and embracing them and helping them to
die with dignity - oh, a phrase that is so twisted and misunderstood.
Mother Teresa knew how to help people die with dignity. Do you know
what that meant for her? Show them that they're not forgotten. Show
them that they're not alone. Show them that they have as much dignity and
worth and value as any other person on the face of the earth no matter how
racked their body might be with weakness, with sickness, no matter what it is.
A story is told of one of those dying people that she caressed and affirmed
and loved in Calcutta. As he was dying he looked at Mother Teresa and
said, "Mother Teresa, this Jesus that you talk about - is he like you? And
she said, "No, but I try to be like Him."
That's what we're called to do. That's what Terri's family was called
to do and they responded because they saw Jesus there. Who is this Jesus?
We try to be like Him - giving ourselves away for the other person, not throwing
the other person away.
We can reflect tonight and we heard the beautiful Gospel passage of the
suffering and crucifixion of God Himself. We reflect tonight on the fact
that suffering - human suffering - has meaning. It has value. There
is a clash of cultures and a clash of civilizations and a clash of world views
going on right before our eyes between those who say suffering is
meaningless -- there is no purpose to it, we have to avoid it at all costs
and if a life is so enveloped in suffering and pain that they cannot be
extricated from it then we just throw it away -- and we who call ourselves
Christians, and listen to that Gospel of God Himself who does not simply
watch human suffering from a distance but rather jumps into it.
You know the song, "God is watching us from a distance?" Oh yes, no
matter how far out in the universe you go you will find him but he doesn't watch
us from a distance. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He
does not just watch our pain, he jumps into it. He shares it.
Suffering has meaning and value for us as Christians because we unite our
sufferings, we unite our death to that of Jesus. We heard from St. Paul in
his letter to the Romans, "None of us lives as his own master, none of us dies
as his own master." We do not see, we do not decide when we come into this
world or when we leave. "None of us lives as his own master. While
we live we belong to the Lord. When we die we belong to the Lord."
And there is our hope. We die in and with and through Jesus Christ.
We are celebrating tonight also the meaning of the Communion of
Saints. Can you imagine how many people prayed and are still praying
for Terri and her family? You cannot begin to imagine the number.
What happens to all of those prayers? What happens to all that grace?
What happens to all those Masses? They all accumulate. Brother and
sisters, the power of that accumulates and it pours itself out not only on the
soul of Terri. It pours itself out on you who were closest to her this
life. You as a family have been experiencing the grace of those prayers.
Grace is a mysterious but a very real thing. I might have a toothache
or a headache and I can say, Jesus, I join my toothache to your pains on the
cross. Lord I join my headache to the pains in your hands when the nails
went into them. And because we make that little prayer someone on the
other side of the world might be converted to the Christian faith. You
offer up a stomach ache, you offer up a financial difficulty. You offer up
some emotional distress for a particular reason and a family like the Schindlers
can find extra strength in a time of sorrow. There is a mystical communion
of grace. We all share in the benefits of it. Imagine the grace
pouring out on this family. It is real and it continues and if you ask the
Lord how and where and why did you find strength to go on through this terrible
ordeal, the answer is there.
People you will never meet this side of heaven pouring out their prayers -
that grace overflows to you into your soul, into your body, into your mind.
It is real.
The night before Terri died when she was suffering so much and the next
morning we spent a lot of time just in silence next to her, but we also spoke to
her, and one of the things I said to her over and over was, "Terri join your
sufferings to Jesus. Join your sufferings to Jesus on the cross.
Entrust yourself to him. Give yourself to him."
We prayed the Rosary with her and we prayed the sorrowful mysteries of the
Rosary. We reflected on Jesus' agony in the garden, the fear and terror
that he had as he approached his crucifixion. Even though he was God, he
experienced that fear and terror. We reflected on the scourging at the Pillar on
his crowning with thorns, on his carrying of his cross, on his death. And
I said, "Terri, join yourself with Jesus." And she did. That's the
meaning of Christian death. It could not have been more meaningful.
Brother and sisters this mystical communion will continue to give us strength
and that leads us to the next chapter. Tonight we express in a beautiful
way our solidarity with Terri and her family, our grief and also our joyful hope
in the resurrection.
But in the next chapter after this God calls us from this place to build a
culture of life.
God calls us to go forth from this place to and make sure that Terri who had
such difficulty speaking will speak louder than ever to this world.
God calls us to go forth so that those who suffer like she did, those who are
disabled like she was may know that they are not forgotten, that they are not
alone, that we love them and we will be with them every moment of their lives.
And God calls us forth from this place to work together to preach and to
proclaim and to witness together so that what happened in this tragic case will
never happen again.
Pope John Paul II, for whom I had the privilege to work very closely for two
years in the Vatican, loved the word "solidarity," not only because of the
implications of what he did in Poland but in its deep Christian meaning -
standing with, suffering with those who suffer in any way, shape or form,
standing with the oppressed. And isn't it an amazing show of
solidarity - nothing he could have ever orchestrated - but it is an amazing
solidarity what happened last week. It was as if the Holy Father wanted to
teach the world by following Terri into her suffering and into her death some 48
hours later. It is a solidarity that the Pope is teaching us to have and
the Pope leaves us with the guidance we need to build that culture of life.
He leaves us with the teaching that life is always a good. He leaves us
with the teachings in the Gospel of Life, that encyclical letter he
wrote just ten years ago. He leaves us with this teaching, he quotes the
Prophet Isaiah and he says, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who
exchange light for darkness and darkness for light, bitter for sweet and sweet
for bitter." The Pope says we must face things as they are and all things
by their proper name. We will not build a culture of life, we will not
bring about peace and justice and reconciliation unless we first have truth.
We must speak the way things are.
And Pope John Paul leaves us another teaching so consoling to
us in this difficult moment and that is that other is a judge in heaven --that
that Judge and that King is higher than any court on earth -- that that Judge
and that King is higher than any law on earth.
And the Holy Father makes it so clear that any human decision
or decree or law that violates fundamental human rights is no law at all.
So, my brothers and sisters, tonight we grieve. Tonight
we weep. Tonight we rejoice and we celebrate. Tonight we experience
joyful sorrow. Tonight we experience determined hope. Tonight we
resolve to go forth and to do the work that must be done. Tonight we
celebrate Easter. Tonight we here again that Christ is risen and that all
of our sorrow will be turned to joy.
I want to share with you in conclusion one of the hymns I
chanted to Terri before she died. It is a very ancient hymn of the Church.
It is the announcement of the resurrection of Jesus. It's called the
Easter Sequence. It says, "To the Paschal Victim let Christians raise
their songs of praise. The Lamb has bled for the sheep. Christ the
innocent one has reconciled sinners to the Father. Life and death were
engaged in an awesome struggle. Life's captain died but now reigns
And then this beautiful hymn, which I am going to chant for you in the
language of the Church, just like I did for Terri, says these words, "Tell us
oh, Mary, what did you see on the way? I saw (she said) the tomb of Christ
now living and I saw angels declaring that he was alive and I saw the burial
wrappings. Jesus Christ my hope has arisen and he goes before you to
Galilee. We know that Christ is risen. Oh, victorious King, have
mercy on us. Amen. Alleluia.”
Victimae paschali laudes immolent Christiani.
Agnus redemit oves; Christus innocens Patri
Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando;
dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus.
Dic nobis Maria quid vidisti in via?
Sepulcrum Christi viventis, et gloriam vidi resurgentis.
Angelicos testes, sudarium et vestes.
Surrexit Christus, spes mea;
precedet suos in Galileam.
Scimus Christum surrexisse a mortuis vere:
Tu nobis Victor rex, miserere. Amen. Alleluia.
Terri, you do not belong to death. You belong to Christ, and so do we.
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