Today my parish, Immaculate Conception in Jacksonville, had a special funeral Mass for Teresa Marie Schindler Schiavo. This Mass was coordinated by the Justice Coalition and was attended by Bob and Mary Schindler. The Justice Coalition is headquartered here in Jacksonville, Fl and my pastor Fr. Leon gave them permission to hold it at Immaculate Conception. I would guess that the reason it was held there is that this church is the most beautiful church in the diocese. Fr. Leon told me before that reporters often call him for statements on events because they assume that because of the beauty of this church that it must be the Cathedral for the diocese. Strange how the beauty of church architecture is suppose to be so subjective, yet secular sources don’t seem to have any problem discerning beauty in church architecture.
The Mass was packed today and was standing room only. They also had cameras from the local media present. The Mass was said by our assistant pastor Fr. Keene who beautifully chanted the Mass as he usually does and it was concelebrated by 8 or 9 other priests. Fr. Keene is someone I greatly admire for the way that he prays the Mass and his homilies are usually chock full of the Early Church Fathers and normally containd other keen insights (which is to be expected considering his last name.) Initially I was disappointed when I saw that another priest was to give the homily. I have heard this other priest, whose name escapes me, before and though his homilies are good – Fr. Keene’s are superb. Today though he delivered an outstanding homily by weaving together the stories of Terri and the Pope. He made the usual connections that have been discussed in St. Blogs and when on to expound about the opening words of John Paul II’s pontificate "be not afraid." He said that too many bishops, priests, and laity unfortunately seem to be afraid to speak out and to follow the example of the Holy Father who lived this "every day of his life." He discussed how Jesus death gave us the Eucharist, the Pope gave us this year of the Eucharist, and Terri was able to receive the Precious Blood prior to her passing.
Bob and Mary Schindler were the ones who took the gifts up to the altar and at the end of the Mass Bob Schindler gave a short talk. He mentioned that since Terri’s death that they had received or 10,000 cards and letters in condolences. He read one letter from a Vietnam veteran who had sent them a Purple Heart for Terri. The veteran had received it for being shot in the head during the Vietnam War. The letter said that since some civilians received the Purple Heart in the aftermath of 9-11 that it was appropriate for Terri who was killed by "domestic terrorism" by the mechanism of "judicial homicide." I think it is a myth though that civilians received the Purple Heart since the law was changed in 1997 to exclude civilians. Regardless, it was heartbreaking watching Bob Schindler read the letter as he was having difficulties holding back the tears while doing so. He thanked those that supported them and helped them out and that he was greatly thankful for the help that was received. When he was done speaking he received a standing ovation for about five minutes. I am not exactly a fan of applause at Mass, but if there is anytime that it was appropriate – this was it. Seeing this couple who are true witnesses to the faith is just so inspiring. Two people who never intended to be in the spotlight, but who responded and valiantly fought to try to save their daughters.
The president of the Justice Coalition, Ted Hires, spoke after Bob Schindler. He gave a passionate speech about what happened to Terri and talked about how the Schindler’s were going to be working in the future to "prevent anybody else from being starved to death." He mentioned that those who participated in the death of Terri will one day meet justice. This was the first time I have ever heard a number of Catholics shout out "amen."
The Schindler’s witness reminds me of the story of Joseph when he was tossed down a well and later sold into slavery by this brothers. When Joseph later revealed himself to his brothers he said "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Evil also lead to the death of Terri, but God will use it for good and through the instrumentality of Terri’s story will save others who might have otherwise died. There are already stories that witness to this truth. This family is truly a witness to the faith as evidenced by the statement made after Terri had died.
Throughout this ordeal, we are reminded of the words of Jesus on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Our family seeks forgiveness for anything that we have done in standing for Terri’s life that has not demonstrated the love and compassion required of us by our faith.