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 life.
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.