610 “Look at my face. I will be the face of Christ, the face of love for you.”
Day 610 Monday, November 15, 2021
‘“Look at my face. I will be the face of Christ, the face of love for you.” (Announcements too)
By Helen Prejean
The one time I was allowed inside a death chamber was as the State of Virginia took Joseph O’Dell’s life in 1997. That night, I stood close to the gurney, looking into Joe’s face, with my hand firmly on his shoulder as I prayed. In my prayer I asked God to affirm Joe’s worth as a beloved son possessing a sacred dignity that even the ones killing him could not take from him.
Upholding the God-given dignity of the condemned has been the core reason I, a Catholic nun, have served as a spiritual adviser to seven men on death row. And nothing conveys a greater sense of dignity to a human being — especially one whom society designates as a despicable “untouchable” — than loving, respectful touch.
Joe was on my mind when I got a call from the American Civil Liberties Union to participate in an amicus curiae brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of John Henry Ramirez, a death row inmate in Texas. Mr. Ramirez is requesting that his Baptist pastor, Dana Moore, who has ministered to him for five years, be allowed to lay hands on him and pray audibly as the State of Texas takes his life.
(John Henry Ramirez)
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied his request, informing Pastor Moore that he would have to stand silently in the death chamber and would not be permitted to touch Mr. Ramirez as officials carried out the execution. But the same day Mr. Ramirez was scheduled to die, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on his request, which snatched him, at least for now, from death in the Huntsville killing chamber. He would have been the 573rd prisoner to be executed by the State of Texas since 1982. The oral arguments are due to take place today.
Mr. Ramirez is not innocent. Seventeen years ago, he killed a man, Pablo Castro, whose family still suffers grievously from his loss. I pray that this family finds lasting peace.
I believe that Mr. Ramirez, while responsible for his crime, is worth more than that singularly worst act of his life. As one who seeks to follow the teachings of Christ, I believe that Mr. Ramirez can be truly remorseful, love others and change his life. The courts, however, have determined the opposite: that Mr. Ramirez’s heinous crime reveals the core of his true nature, which is incapable of personal transformation and, therefore, irredeemable. They demonize him, which is why, perhaps, they feel justified in denying his inalienable human right to live and in depriving him of a trusted pastor to lay hands on him as he dies.
For many Christians, the laying on of hands is at the heart of prayer rituals. The New Testament is filled with examples of touching: Jesus touches a leper and heals him; Jesus takes children into his arms and holds them close; the apostles of Jesus lay hands on religious seekers, empowering them with God’s spirit.
And it’s not only in a religious context that human touch has meaning. The extended isolation and distancing imposed by the Covid pandemic have reminded us of how desperately we crave the touch of our fellow humans. Studies have shown that premature babies who are massaged, gain weight faster and leave hospitals quicker than those who aren’t.
As humans, we are deeply wired to connect with our fellow human beings, especially when we first come into this world and when we leave it. During the pandemic, some of the most tragic accounts are of the people who died of Covid and were deprived in their last days and hours of their loved ones, holding them close.
I can viscerally feel something of the agony and terror Mr. Ramirez may experience as he is strapped down and killed. From the time of his trial, Mr. Ramirez has received countless signals that he is worth nothing more than disposable human waste.
In April 1984, as Patrick Sonnier took his last steps on this earth toward the electric chair, I gripped his shoulder tightly as I prayed for God to hold up his legs. He was the first human being I accompanied as spiritual adviser to his death. Not allowed in the chamber, I touched him in the only way I could. I told him:
“Look at my face. I will be the face of Christ, the face of love for you.”
All the other witnesses for the state sitting there that night wanted to see him die. Mine was the last face he saw. And when I emerged from the witness chamber in the deep dark of that night, I threw up.
I pray that John Henry Ramirez will not die at the hands of Texas executioners. But if he is killed, I pray that his faith companion, Pastor Moore, will be there with him, laying his hands on him, shoring up his dignity, commending him to God.
Sister Prejean is an anti-death-penalty activist and the author of “Dead Man Walking.”
Yes! We did record our ZOOM celebration from yesterday, November 14, 2021:Thank you Steve and Dan for all your work. You inspire us.
Here's the link:
Alice Waco reminds us there is still time this morning (until noon) to take part in the silent auction annual fundraiser for the Peace and Justice Center:
Click on the link
Root and Branch presentations on the Synod:
R O O T & B R A N C H
A SYNOD THAT STARTS WITH WOMEN AND DOESN’T END THERE
Here's the link:
The Doctrine of Discovery Reflection:
Day 486 Thursday. July 15th, 2021:
“This particular doctrine has been used to justify both political and personal violence against Indigenous nations, Indigenous peoples and their culture — their religious and their territorial identities,”
Jim Keck has been asking lots of questions about the Church's "Doctrine of Discovery." As we find out more about the treatment of Native Americans and First Peoples it's important to examine the Church's role in encouraging the domination of lands and peoples in the "New World."
Check out the Blog entry at: