I married into a family that understands the day-to-day reality of living with the disabled. But that's partly why the subject is so poignant to me. (In a way, I wish that I could share more on this topic, but not everything is appropriate to the public eye.) You can see the beauty and value in their lives and at the same time be faced with the reality that many are denied that chance to live.
But this isn't an evil that weighs only on the doctors and parents involved in aborting such lives. We need to consider what *we* can do to make a difference. Being pro-Life is about so much more than voting! We have many opportunities in our lives to support the disabled - and families of the disabled. This involves patience, understanding and sometimes even a little imagination.
For some reason what comes to mind for me is the old Jimmy Durante song that goes: "It's so important to make someone happy, just one someone happy..." I know it's about romantic love, but somehow it works beyond that too. Having the opportunity to share unconditional love with others - without necessarily getting anything in return - is a beautiful and powerful thing.
I'm always pleased when the dignity of disabled people is presented in a beautiful way on television (one particular episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition comes to mind in which the team re-built a camp for severely disabled children - and fell in love with them!) especially in this aspect of love. The disabled can be such a powerful witness of love in their families and communities that these stories are well-worth sharing. Our society needs to see this sort of example!
We also need to strike from our hearts attitudes that lean toward questioning the intrinsic value of those who might not earn an income or be able to live independently. This can be very difficult in a society that tends to value people according to how much money they make.
I really love what Pope Benedict XVI said in his encyclical on hope about being willing to share in the sufferings of others. His use of the words "com-passion"(literally suffering-with) and "con-solation" (or "being with the other in solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.") were particularly striking to me. Although this is partially a repudiation of modern culture, it should also serve as a reminder of the charity we owe to those who suffer.
A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through "com-passion" is a cruel and inhuman society. Yet society cannot accept its suffering members and support them in their trials unless individuals are capable of doing so themselves; moreover, the individual cannot accept another's suffering unless he personally is able to find meaning in suffering, a path of purification and growth in maturity, a journey of hope. Indeed, to accept the "other" who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solation, "consolation," expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude. Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth, and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie. In the end, even the "yes" to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my "I," in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.I think Thomas Vander Woude, who gave his own life to save the life of his disabled son, is a perfect hero for us to emulate, even in the small ways that we can do good for the "least" of our brothers. The opportunities we come across to show our love and support to the disabled (and, by extension, the sick and the elderly too) don't generally involve giving our lives and probably the most difficult part will be to learn to be comfortable treating them as a person with needs, desires and dignity. Prayer and practice will help us see Christ in them.
One more thought on the value of suffering (from Pope Benedict XVI on St. Paul - General Audience, November 8, 2006):
...although faith unites us closely to Christ, it emphasizes the distinction between us and him; but according to Paul, Christian life also has an element that we might describe as "mystical", since it entails an identification of ourselves with Christ and of Christ with us. In this sense, the Apostle even went so far as to describe our suffering as "the suffering of Christ" in us (II Cor 1: 5), so that we might "always [carry] in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies"I've done my share of griping about the amount of parking spots reserved for the handicapped. So maybe the government has gotten a little carried away in places, but honestly, it's nice to see them overdo it on behalf of (and even out of respect for the dignity of) those in need. In the future I'll try to remember to offer my frustrations up for those less fortunate than me.