The diagnosis that an unborn
child has a life-threatening disease or anomaly is a particularly heavy
cross for a family to bear. The hopes and dreams that accompany a pregnancy
are thrown into chaos, and the joy of the anticipation of the child's birth
becomes intense anxiety. But there is one factor that does not change: the
love which the family-and the rest of us-can give to that child.
Some wonder why a baby who will die shortly should even be brought to term.
But are we not all to die shortly? How are we to evaluate what is long and
what is short when we compare life to eternity? Nobody knows how long he or
she is to live, nor do we measure the love we give based on the length of
Why should a baby who will die shortly be brought to term? Because we love
that child for as long as that child lives, whether life be measured in
decades or minutes. Why should we be there for anyone who is suffering? Why
should we share in their pain? Why should we stay up all night for a sick
toddler? Why should we wait by the bed of a loved one in the hospital? Why
should we accept death for anyone, including ourselves?
The alternative to accepting death is to try to control it by giving
ourselves the authority to take life before life will make too many demands
on us. Hence we have abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Just take
control. Don't let life hit you too hard. Eliminate the suffering by
eliminating the person.
The late Terence Cardinal
Cooke wrote a beautiful letter for Respect Life Sunday in 1983. Its
eloquence was enhanced by the fact that he was dying of cancer as he wrote
it, and died two days before it was read in all the parishes of the
Archdiocese of New York. He wrote, "The 'gift of life,' God's special gift,
is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger
or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at
these times, human life gains extra splendor as it requires our special
care, concern and reverence."
His words are true no matter how old or young we are. Love means
welcome-that is, I open my heart to you as you are -- not wanting-that is,
you must meet my needs and expectations.
One of the most beautiful examples of this in our day is Karen Garver
Santorum, whose book, "Letters to Gabriel," tells the story of her medically
complicated pregnancy and her child whose life was so short. She and her
family loved their child in his frailty in the womb. Describing his birth,
she writes, "As sad as it was, the time with you gave us a chance to love
and care for you." And that is the very meaning of life.
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