“Death penalty in the death throes” a byline, by David Von Drehle, an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Friday, February 12, 2021 on this very issue. In this day and age are we still advocating the elimination of another fellow human-being for a crime that has become so anti-social to us? David’s message does great service for those who severely are against this antiquated and brutal way of clearing our world of anyone that cannot live by the standards of organized society.
Respect for life, from conception to death, always has been a sacred theme. We watch as a baby is born, nurtured by its parents and protected in the arms of a loving mother. When that child matures, and because of the influx of bad examples becomes part of crime, commits murder, is now a member of the state institution, deciding on his/her conviction, awaiting execution.
Is the theme “respect for life” appropriate for this person sitting on death row? There have been many advocates for the elimination of the death penalty. Ellen McGarrahan, a young reporter highlighted in David’s article, volunteered to witness the execution of Jesse Tafero, convicted murderer of two law enforcement officers. “What she saw - an electric chair that set the prisoner’s head on fire - changed her life.”
A similar scene, taken from the film “The Green Mile” showed an uncaring prison guard not using a wet sponge on the scalp of a condemned man also had a similar effect. The condemned man’s head eventually exploded from a blotched execution. Although it was a film, the essence of brutal ways to eliminate a man for something he did does not excuse the fact that death by the most severe manner is atrocious, brutal, and beyond reason.
Sister Helen Prejean wrote a novel about a convicted murderer, Matthew Poncelt, and others on death row. Sister Helen’s compassion for Matthew is an incredible representation of God’s grace. Matthew is ultimately executed, but not before Sister Helen is able to reach into his psyche and convert him to God. Even those on death row deserve our care and God’s grace. Remember Jesus dies for them as much as he died for each of us.
What purpose will this prose fit as we enter into Lent and the path to the Cross at Calvary? Everything! Of course, it could be said that Jesus was crucified for the sins of all, except for one who brutally raped and killed a young child. Or, his death did not redeem those who planned and executed the murder of recent church worshipers in our immediate past. When each of us walks through the stations of the cross at each station see ourselves yelling and spurning the God who walks carrying our sin. As we watched and he turned to us, he never asked what we did. He went to his death out of love for you and me. He also went to his death for the one who raped and murdered that young girl, and for those who blatantly murdered the church worshipers.
Ralph B. Hathaway, Lent 2021