Imagine the crushing judicial power of a modern nation coming down upon you, trying you, sentencing you, and then planning your execution – all while the charges against you remain secret. You might recall that as the plot of Franz Kafka’s paranoiac novel, The Trial, the protagonist of which is a 30-year-old bank clerk. Under the spell of Kafka’s masterful telling, the reader is left feeling almost as though the horror of the sentence pales in comparison to simply not knowing why.
I revisited the haunted feeling of that novel over the past week or so as the case of the 13-month-old baby, Joseph Maraachli, played out in the media. Just as it seemed a few years ago that the juggernaut of state power in the United States had inexplicably determined to crush the life out of Terri Schiavo, now the state power of Canada was turned against an ill infant. In Terri Schiavo’s case, however, there was a family member who was complicit, who had brought the state power to bear; but in the case of Baby Joseph, his parents wanted him to live, or at least to be properly treated until (if as doctors predicted) his degenerative illness carried him away. That is to say, they did not want him denied treatment just because he was only going to die anyway.
With Fr. Frank Pavone’s intervention (along with that of many others), Baby Joseph was transferred Sunday night from the Canadian hospital to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis.
No entity of government in the United States has fixed its malevolent eye on him. Yet.
I’ve just had to ponder this. What is it about a baby? A baby! That creates such murderous rage in the hearts of people that they would collude in his destruction, that the worst news they could receive would be that he is alive and well? Because make no mistake, for the Canadian hospital and their court system, the worst thing that could happen at this point would be that Baby Joseph survives.
We have a Pennsylvania abortionist going on trial for killing infants that survived his crude late-term abortion attempts. We have a president who, while in the Illinois legislature voted against protecting the lives of babies born alive during attempted abortions. In both cases the most unwelcome conclusion was that the babies live. Why? I can’t get that question out of my mind. Unlike Kafka’s hapless protagonist, these babies cannot ask “why” for themselves – they cannot protest, as an assertion of their human dignity, being killed “like a dog.” But the question should haunt the rest of us.
Down through history uncomprehending infants have been killed. Infant heirs of position or privilege have been killed by rivals – we all kind of get that. Offspring killed out of vengeance against their parent/s or family or tribe, etc. — that is sad but still makes a kind of sense. Even Herod’s murderous campaign is understandable as power seeking to maintain itself. But now, something is afoot that human reasons, even greed and venality, do not adequately explain.
I think it really comes down to rebellion against the Incarnation. Every baby’s cry echoes Bethlehem to the ears of the West once won to the Cross and now, having rejected it, the demonic hatred of life and Life cannot be disguised any more by a veneer of civilization. Nothing anymore is feared and loathed so much as a baby.
So we stand on the side of the angels to preserve the lives of babies unborn and born. We stand against the power of states and the edicts of courts. And we point to the tiny toes and dimpled knees, the rosebud lips and eyes wide in innocent wonder, and we say, “Behold, a baby. This is what you are afraid of. Do you even know why?”
(© 2011 Mary Kochan)