Life has dignity from conception to death
Michael C. Barber, SJ
For the past two weeks I have been on duty with the U.S. Navy. As you may know, I've been in the Navy Reserves for the past 22 years, and received permission to continue in the service even after my ordination as bishop.
The main reason is that there are so few Catholic priests in the Navy and Marine Corps to take care of the spiritual needs of our sailors, Marines and their families. I have been assigned by the Navy to Region Northwest, which includes Navy bases at Bremerton, Bangor, Everett and Whidbey Island, all in the state of Washington. So for two weeks I visited those bases, celebrated Masses, heard confessions, offered personal counseling and even baptized a baby on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I also help train the junior chaplains from all denominations in pastoral care and military duties.
What difference does the presence of a priest make on a Navy ship? In 1994 I was aboard a submarine tender with 1,300 sailors in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The alarm sounded for a medical emergency. Corpsmen went flying through the passageways to assist. A young female sailor, who had successfully concealed her pregnancy for six months, gave birth to a premature baby girl. The ship's doctor rushed to the mother's side and tried to save the baby's life, but the little girl died. Before she passed, however, the doctor, who was Catholic, baptized the baby. As I was counseling the mother after the loss of her child, I found out she was indeed Catholic. And although she was saddened to lose her baby, she was relieved to learn the infant had been baptized.
I buried the baby at sea with Catholic prayers, the whole crew attending in dress uniforms, and with full military honors. Although our hearts went out to the mother, there was a lesson for the crew: Every child — even a young one in the mother's womb — is a gift from God and a human being. Furthermore, this baby became something more at the moment of her baptism: She became a child of God and an heir of heaven. Christ at His incarnation took on our human life, and through baptism, gives us His divine life.
When his enlistment was up a year later, the doctor who baptized that baby left the Navy, entered the seminary, and is today a Catholic priest. He studied for years in medical school to learn to save lives on earth. Now he gives the gift of eternal life through the sacraments of the Church.
This month of January we as a Church show our support for the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death. Please join us in the Walk for Life, Masses and vigils for life, or in your heart — by praying for the protection of life in our country and in our world.
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