This past August, Fr. Greg Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me a link to a story from “CBSN: On Assignment.” The opening sentence of the story indicated that “With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.” In Iceland, close to 100 percent of those women who received a positive test of Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy. Unfortunately, other countries don’t lag far behind in pregnancy termination rates for those who received a positive test for Down syndrome. The report also stated that “according to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011).”
One Icelandic health care professional, when asked about the high rate of pregnancy termination rates for those who have received a positive test for Down syndrome, said: “We don’t look at abortion as murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication …. preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as murder—that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”
Now certainly, the human condition is no stranger to suffering, and efforts to alleviate suffering are laudable. But we all know Down syndrome children and adults who live happy, productive lives. In fact, it’s safe to say that many lives are enriched when we experience the zest and resilience with which those with Down syndrome face life, despite any limitations it brings. Given this, I think it is fundamentally wrong to say that aborting Down syndrome babies prevents suffering. Further, from my perspective, the fact that the health care professional used the words “possible life,” demonstrates the fundamental flaw in their reasoning. In this regard, we need to be clear. Other than nutrients, nothing further is added to the fetus to make life. It isn’t “possible life.” It is life—plain and simple.
The great lie to the above way of thinking is that children with Down syndrome are somehow inferior and undeserving of life. Quite frankly this is wrong. Life—all life—from the moment of conception to natural death is sacred: no exceptions, no exclusions, no qualifications. The sacred image we bear exists from the moment of our conception. We don’t grow into it. It cannot diminish with age. It is bestowed on us by the gracious favor of a loving God. Created in the image and likeness of God, and infused with a soul that seeks to know and love God, all human life is sacred and is to be respected.
For many years now our Church has designated October as Respect Life Month. During this month particularly, we are called to remember and give witness to our belief that life—in all stages of development and in all its manifestations—is a gracious gift from a loving God. There are no qualifications or limitations to this belief. Because God is the author and source of life, all life is sacred. Our task, our challenge is to seek to promote and enhance life at every moment and in every circumstance.
Human life is indeed a precious gift from a loving God. As followers of Jesus, we are called to show our respect and reverence for life in all we do. To the extent we fail to do this, we fail to give witness to our respect for life. To the extent that we do it well, however, we truly live up to our calling as people created in the image and likeness of God.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
Some scripture scholars suggest that today’s Gospel parable may represent an allegorization of another of Jesus’ parables by one of the early Christian communities. The parable of tenants rejecting the many messengers (i.e. the prophets) sent by the owner of the vineyard (God) would have supported this belief. In suggesting this, of course, these scholars are not in any way questioning that it is not the inspired word of God. Rather, they suggest that the early Christian community had begun to see itself as replacing Israel as God’s chosen people. Regardless of the origins of this parable, though, it contains a powerful and ever current message. It invites us to consider how we respond to the many overtures and/or messengers God sends into our lives.
As an important aside, we need to be clear that the Catholic Church does not teach that God has rejected Israel or that its election as God’s chosen people has ended. “The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy deigned to establish the Ancient Covenant.” (The Documents of Vatican II Decree on Non Christians) Our Church also teaches, though, that Jesus Christ, “the Lord, is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings.” (Documents of Vatican II; Decree on The Church Today)
Our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, shares the theme of the Gospel. It speaks of a vineyard that, despite the loving care of its owner, yielded only “wild grapes.” In the Old Testament the “Vineyard” was a symbol for God’s people.
In our second reading today from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that by prayer and petition and thanksgiving we will come to know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Questions for reflection:
- Looking back on your life can you see times when you have not recognized or perhaps even rejected messengers of God’s presence and grace?
- Who have been messengers of God’s presence and grace in your life?
- In regard to this weekend’s second reading have there been times in your life when you have experienced the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding?”
The Basilica celebrates its 2nd Disability Awareness Month this October. After several years of “Disability Dialogues” our community was asked to identify and eliminate barriers to participation. The designation of a month long series of presentations and other events was established based on what the committee heard. This has included bringing in national speakers, partnering with other events at The Basilica, and culminating with a Disability Awareness Resource Fair where local organizations are on hand to educate and communicate to our parishioners the resources available to help themselves, family members, and friends to live more inclusive lives.
Taize Prayer with added accessibility
Tuesday, October 10, 5:30pm, Saint Joseph Chapel
Disability Awareness Ministry Fair
Sunday, October 15, After the 9:30 and 11:30am Masses
Parking and accessibility information