I have always loved the opening lines of Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.
I was reminded of this passage today when I read a moving piece published over at First Things. It is an open letter from JD Flynn to the atheist Richard Dawkins, who recently tweeted that it would be immoral not to abort babies with Down’s syndrome. Flynn knows something about raising children with Down’s syndrome; he and his wife have two adopted children with Down’s.
In his letter, Flynn begins by meeting Dawkins on his own terms, engaging him on philosophical grounds. Flynn never appeals to his own moral authority as a dad with two kids with Down syndrome. He never berates or lectures Dawkins. Instead, Flynn does something different and delivers the coup de grace with disarming simplicity. (It was, in part, the way Flynn treats Dawkins with genuine humanity that brought to mind those beautiful lines from Gaudium et Spes.) Here’s how Flynn concludes:
I wonder, if you spent some time with them, whether you’d feel the same way about suffering, about happiness, about personal dignity. I wonder, if you danced with them in the kitchen, whether you’d think abortion was in their best interest. I wonder, if you played games with them, or shared a joke with them, whether you’d find some worth in their existence.
And so, Dr. Dawkins, I’d like to invite you to dinner. Come spend time with my children. Share a meal with them. Before you advocate their deaths, come find out what’s worthwhile in their lives. Find out if the suffering is worth the joy.
I don’t want you to come over for a debate. I don’t want to condemn you. I want you to experience the joy of children with Down syndrome. I want your heart to be moved to joy as well.
Any day next week is good for us except for Wednesday.
Now, does that “raise an echo in your heart?” Read the whole letter, here.