23 August 2009

How We Help In The Conversion of Death Row Inmates

A common criticism aimed at pro-life people is that they are opposed to abortion but not the death penalty, therefore they are hypocrites. Now there are numerous faults with this logic not the least of which is the verity of the statement to begin with. The argument continues that it is necessary to oppose the death penalty because we must allow the guilty person an opportunity to repent and by executing him we are denying him that chance to be reconciled to God. The assumption is that a life sentence in prison will provide the greater opportunity for this person to seek forgiveness. But I read something yesterday that I feel is cause for deeper reflection on the issue and places the responsibility for the conversion of death row inmates, or even all prisoners in general, on our praying and making sacrifices for them.

In the book St. Therese A Treasured Love Story by Archbishop Sheen he tells how St. Therese offered herself as a victim for others in imitation of Jesus. She said:

I had been told about an abandoned wretch who had just been condemned to death for appalling crimes, and there was every reason to think that he would die impenitent. He must be saved from Hell. I tried everything. There was nothing I could do myself, but I could offer to God our Lord's infinite merits and all the treasury of the soul of the Church.

I got my sister Celine to have a Mass said for me. I asked it for myself because I was shy about owning that it was for Pranzini, that wretched criminal. I'd rather not have told Celine, but she questioned me so eagerly and lovingly that I had to tell her. And she didn't make fun of me. On the contrary she wanted to give me her help in converting this sinner. I was only too thankful, and I would have liked all creation to join with me in praying for the grace that was needed. And in my heart I felt certain we would not be disappointed.

I did ask for a sign. I told God I was sure He meant to pardon that unfortunate Pranzini, and I had such confidence in our Lord's mercy that I would cling to my belief even if Pranzini didn't go to confession but only made some gesture of repentance. I would like to see some sign of repentance from him while I offered my sacrifices for him. Pranzini went to the guillotine refusing the ministry of the priest. But the priest accompanied him nevertheless, and just before the knife fell, he said to the priest, "The crucifix! The crucifix!" And he kissed it and went to his death.

"Our Lord died for sinners, the Little Flower took on moral guilt for sinners." (Bishop Sheen) So St. Therese did not write on whether or not the death penalty was right or wrong. She did not argue for sparing his life in hopes that he might live a long time in prison and thereby somehow choose to repent for his crimes. No she offered herself as a victim. She actively worked for Pranzini's conversion. Likewise we must follow the Little Flower's example. If we oppose the death penalty on the grounds that it deny's the individual the opportunity to repent we cannot assume that simply allowing this person to live out a life sentence in prison will be any more likely to effect their conversion. We must take an active role in asking God to soften the hearts of hardened sinners.

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