By Lisa Everett
“The Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God’s goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendor of that ‘Yes,’ that ‘Amen’ who is Christ Himself. To the ‘No’ which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living ‘Yes,’ thus defending the human person and the world from all who plot against and harm life.”
I have always found these words of St. John Paul II particularly moving, from the first time I read them decades ago in his apostolic exhortation on the family, “Familiaris Consortio.” They seem to me to be a beautiful and stirring manifesto of the church’s motherly love for every human being, even those — no, especially those — who are sick or handicapped or suffering in any way. Imagine my surprise when, sitting down in a theater with my family two months ago, I saw this same conviction portrayed subtly, yet powerfully on the big screen in a secular film. The pro-life message had arrived in an altogether unexpected way, packaged in a poignant story that was appealing and accessible to modern audiences in a movie called — you guessed it — “Arrival.”
If you have not yet seen the movie, this article contains spoilers. But I encourage you to see it when it comes out on DVD in February. “Arrival” has received 10 nominations from the Critics Choice Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, and the National Board Of Review recently designated it one of the Top Ten Films of 2016. While the director, Denis Villeneuve, certainly must relish this kind of critical acclaim, it is clear that he did not intend the movie’s pro-life message. He is on record in a recent interview confessing, “I was honestly afraid that because of the nature of the story, it could be seen as a pro-life movie, which is not for me.”
Much to Villeneuve’s chagrin, I imagine, “Arrival” is being perceived precisely this way, and not only by pro-lifers. The film is, in fact, challenging the perception of what it means to be pro-life among those who generally consider themselves in the opposite camp. Consider this assessment by Elizabeth Logan in her article for glamour.com, called “Amy Adams’ Arrival Complicates Morality and Motherhood in a Way We’ve Never Seen Before:” “I’m still parsing what, exactly, the politics of this film are. It seems to have an underlying pro-life message, not in an antifeminist way but in a pro-living, pro-people, pro-heartbreak, pro-humanity kind of way. Literally, it is for life. … Have the baby and treasure the moments you do have, the film says.”
This comment is referring to the central theme of “Arrival,” a deeply personal drama intertwined with an international sci-fi thriller. Adams plays the lead character, Louise Banks, a linguist summoned in an attempt to communicate with aliens who have suddenly landed all over the planet. As she learns their language she acquires their ability to perceive the future, and she sees that one day she will have a daughter who will die from an incurable illness at an early age. But instead of avoiding this terrible pain by foregoing motherhood, Louise decides to go ahead and have a child anyway. “In so doing she becomes a pro-life figure for the ages,” New York Post reviewer Kyle Smith wrote, “a stand-in for all those brave mothers who give birth to children they know through prenatal testing are destined to be born with untreatable diseases.”
Smith hits the nail on the head, for while the premise of “Arrival” is firmly grounded in science fiction, it parallels a scenario that is all too real for many parents — those who discover that they carry genetic diseases that can be passed on to future children, as well as the more than 100,000 expectant couples each year who receive the devastating news of a difficult prenatal diagnosis. It may be the detection of a chronic condition like Down syndrome, spina bifida or cystic fibrosis, or a life-threatening disorder like anencephaly, Trisomy 13 or Trisomy 18. With little or no information or resources available to support the option of carrying the baby to term, many of these pregnancies end in abortion. When offered a service of comprehensive support, however, the majority of parents choose to carry to term and cherish the precious child they have been given.
Miriam’s Blessing is a new ministry of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend that is designed to provide comprehensive support to parents who receive a difficult prenatal diagnosis. It is based on the national program Be Not Afraid, which utilizes a peer ministry model of support and presence. Peer ministers provide empathetic emotional and spiritual support based on their own experience of having carried to term after a poor prenatal diagnosis, or having experienced a perinatal loss such as miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant loss. Support extends through three distinct phases: the pregnancy, the birth and the postpartum period. Families are typically followed for one year after the birth, no matter the outcome.
Miriam’s Blessing is a beautiful expression of the motherly love of the church, which, as St. John Paul II so eloquently put it, believes that every human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God’s goodness. Amy Adams’ character in “Arrival” speaks a language that is alien to many in today’s culture, but not to the countless mothers all over the world who decide to carry a child whose life may be difficult or brief but filled to the brim with love. As Elizabeth McCracken wrote in “An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination,” her heart-wrenching memoir of the stillbirth of her first child: “I would have done the whole thing over again, even knowing how it would end.”
If you or anyone you know might benefit from Miriam’s Blessing, please get in touch with one of the diocesan coordinators:
Fort Wayne area: Mary Glowaski
Email: [email protected]; phone: 260-422-4611
South Bend area: Lisa Everett
Email: [email protected]; phone: 574-234-0687
Lisa Everett, is co-director of the Family Life Office for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
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