What makes you valuable?

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Mass for the Life Is Very Good Rally, at the George Mason University Patriot Center in Fairfax.

I have a question I want you to think about for a moment: What makes you valuable?

Is it your GPA or your athletic ability? Is it your sense of humor or your musical skill? It is your looks, or maybe a special talent you have?

Like you, I was once in high school. Yes, it was a few years ago. (You probably think that we used to ride to school on dinosaurs! No, not quite) Even back then, the most popular students were usually the most attractive, the most athletic or the most talented. I'm sure it is still the same today. But as we know, not every student can be in the honors class. And some students end up sitting on the bench or not even making the team. Many cannot attain the body images we see in magazines and on the Internet. Are these students less valuable?

The answer is a resounding "No!", because our value is not decided by how we look or what we can do, not determined by whether we are the valedictorian, the star of the football team or the first chair in the school orchestra.

No, we must never confuse what we do with who we are. Let me say that again: Never confuse what you do with who you are. The world often tells us the opposite is true: that our value is determined by what we offer. But all of us - regardless of our intellect, our strength, our talent, our beauty, or our age - are infinitely valuable because of one thing we all share: We are infinitely valuable because of the One who made us!

The theme of this rally, "Life is Very Good," reflects this truth. It is taken from the Bible, which tells us that when God created the land, the seas, the stars, the flowers and the animals, He said, "It is good," but when He created Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman, He said, "It is very good!" And He said this even before the two of them had done anything to impress God. No, they were very good because God made them out of love for them, and because of that love, He made them in His image and likeness.

Like Adam and Eve, who were very good at the moment they were created, each baby in the womb is very good in God's eyes, too, even though he or she hasn't "done" anything yet. Our value is found in God's love for us, which existed even before He brought us into being. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah wrote, "The Lord called me from birth, from my mother's womb He gave me my name." Then, the psalmist says, "You knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

The theme for this year's March is, "Every Life is a Gift." Every one of us is a gift of God and should be treated with respect, dignity and gratitude. And there are signs this is improving in our nation, because in the past several years, the number of abortions in the United States has decreased. Thanks be to God!

Unfortunately, at the same time, the percentage of children aborted after being diagnosed with birth defects is increasing. For instance, in our country, it is estimated that 70 percent of children who are diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome are aborted. That means for every child born with Down syndrome in this country, there are two more whose lives are ended in the womb. It is easy to understand why having a son or daughter diagnosed with a disability would be a shock to the parents. Their child would not be able to do what other children can do. He or she would need more care, more doctor's visits, more medical expenses. That is a lot to worry about.

But ending that child's life is never the solution! We need to celebrate the value of each child. "Every life is a gift!" And when we realize this, we see just how beautiful the world can be.

There was a news story in our diocese a few years ago that received national attention. A woman told one of our parish priests, Father Vander Woude, that she was going to abort her unborn child, who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Father Vander Woude knew the true value of her baby, so he asked the mother if she would carry her child to term provided he could find a good home for her baby. She said, "Yes." So the Parish sent out a request on social media, and within hours, the parish was flooded with hundreds of responses. In fact, after a few days, it was estimated that over one thousand couples offered to adopt the baby - couples that understood that every life is a gift; couples that understood that all life is very good. In fact, children with disabilities are God's special gifts to us!

The world often rejects people with disabilities, but we must also remember that when Christ came among us in the flesh, the world rejected Him, too. The Gospel reading we heard told us, "He came to what was His own, but His own people did not accept Him."

Look at Christ on the cross. Stripped naked. Beaten. Abandoned by His friends. Mocked by His enemies. Executed by a foreign government. Buried in a tomb that was not His own. In that moment, the world might say He had no "value." But we know the truth! It was in that moment that Jesus saved us from our sin! By His Death and Resurrection, He gained for us eternal life! All of us are adopted sons and daughters of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.

You are a son of the living God. You are a daughter of the King of Kings. Your life is a gift! I hope you realize that, because if you don't, it will be hard to recognize that gift in others. We are all one family, and a family stands up for each other, especially when a member of the family is in need. There are many more babies - each one a precious child of God - who need to be born, but sadly we live in a country that can legally deny them that right. I hope that you will do what you can to change that law.

But it's even more important that you do what you can to change people's hearts and show them by the way you live and treat others that every life is a gift and all life is very good. Changing hearts is so essential! Today, we do that by marching in Washington, D.C. But how will you do it tomorrow? Will you speak up in your classroom? Will you show dignity to the person at your school that people make fun of and treat poorly? Because that is what it means to be pro-life, … to be Catholic, … to be a follower of Christ.

I am honored to march with you today, and I pray that the Lord will help all of us more deeply understand that our true and fundamental value is centered on who we are, not on what we do. And who we are - persons created in God's own image and likeness - affirms that Every Life is A Gift because Life Is Very Good!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015