Last weekend, I shrugged off some overdue housework and settled in on the couch with a cup of tea, my Yorkshire terrier and a classic movie. For a Saturday night, the city streets around my house were relatively quiet — no sirens, no thundering car stereos, no shouting. As the film began, I offered a quick prayer of gratitude for that calm, however fleeting it might be, and drifted into the faraway world of the movie.
I’m not sure if I dozed off, or if the noises of the city resurged in a blur — because I never heard the 11 gunshots that killed a pregnant woman and her child just a few blocks from me at that very moment.
It wasn’t until the next morning I learned a neighbor had been ambushed while returning home from her own baby shower, gifts in hand. And before the details emerged in the news reports, a police friend advised me the murder had almost certainly been an intentional one, with both the woman and the unborn child specifically targeted by the shooter — likely someone the victim knew. Several of the bullets had been aimed at her womb.
The shock, revulsion and sorrow I felt deepened when I realized the murders had taken place just as Advent was set to begin — Advent, the season when we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior as an infant, One who showed us the face of God and redeemed us.
In fact, the slain woman was even due to give birth close to Christmas.
With Philadelphia now counting more than 500 homicides this year alone — a record high — many shake their heads in despair and say, “Life has become cheap.”
And the numbers certainly seem to add up to that conclusion: as of September of this year, some 1,369 migrants have died this year while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to flee poverty and persecution. Analysts admit an accurate total can’t be ascertained; from 2014-2018 alone, some 12,000 people drowned during the attempt, with their bodies unrecovered.
In the Middle East, war-torn Yemen has been labeled by the United Nations (UN) as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with 21 million in need of assistance. For the 11 million children included in that total, the land has become what the UN calls “a living hell for every single boy and girl,” half of whom suffer from chronic malnutrition and almost nonexistent access to health care. Every 10 minutes, a Yemeni child dies from an easily preventable disease.
Many of the world’s children don’t even live to take their first breath. Since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, over 61 million abortions have taken place in the U.S., an average of 2,000 per day. Globally, there are a total of some 73.3 million abortions each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute – a number at least five million greater than United Kingdom’s current population, and almost 15 million more than the United Nation’s 2019 crude death rate, or total number of deaths worldwide in a given year.
None of these tragic outcomes, to which far more could be added, were what the Lord had in mind when he made man in his image and likeness.
And when he chose to redeem us by becoming one of us, he embraced us more deeply and fully than we ourselves can comprehend, as St. Irenaeus reminds us: “When Christ became incarnate and was made man, he recapitulated in himself the long history of mankind and procured for us a ‘short cut’ to salvation, so that what we had lost in Adam, that is, being in the image and likeness of God, we might recover in Christ Jesus” (“Against Heresies,” 3, 18, 1; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 518).
Though he provided that short cut, Jesus himself didn’t take one, St. Irenaeus notes: “Christ experienced all the stages of life, thereby giving communion with God to all men” (Against Heresies, 3, 18, 7; CCC 518).
In the Child whom we now prepare to seek, we find a peace “not as the world gives” (Jn 14:27) and a salvation that could only be wrought by God himself. This Advent, may we have the grace to know how desperate we truly are — and how precious to the Lord who, having shed his blood for us, knows full well the true value of human life.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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