The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 73)
God in the Womb
As we bid farewell to the Christmas Season, we carry with us the Christmas ethic. Christian morality flows directly from Christian faith. And if we lose the interconnections that unite faith and morals, we have lost the Catholic moral vision. This concern comes to mind especially now as we anticipate the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade and the ethical confusions and contradictions that flow from it.
I have a vivid memory of being with my mother in the final month of her life. During this time I would sometimes read to her from the Holy Scriptures. One Psalm in particular she asked to hear again and again. Psalm 139 is a long and lyrical meditation on the gift of life given and sustained by the Creator. The psalmist celebrates mysteries of God’s deep involvement with the human person from the first moment of being.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew…. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped before one came to be (verses 13-14, 16)
“You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” The words make a good introduction to the way Holy Scripture envisions human life in the womb.“ “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,’ God revealed to the prophet Jeremiah, “before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5) St. Paul likewise remembers his conversion on the Damascus road, “when God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me through his grace…”(Gal. 1:15) In the story of the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth—both women being pregnant—St. Luke’s gospel tells us that “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant (in her womb) leaped for joy” (Lk. 1:41). These passages in their own contexts do not specifically address the moral question of abortion. Their vision of the free and loving personal gift of life sows the seeds of radical reverence for human life.
Faith in the Creator: that is where the pro-life vision emerges. However, it is the mystery of Christ’s coming that enlarges and perfects this vision. Only the coming of Christ explains the new reverence for life in the womb that marked the Christian ethic from the beginning. “the practice of abortion was one to which few persons in antiquity attached any deep feelings of condemnation.” But, “the language of the Christians from the very beginning was widely different. With unwavering consistency and with the strongest emphasis, they denounced the practice…” W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals, 1911, vol. 2, pp. 20, 22.)
What makes abortion unthinkable for the Church is that Christ has redeemed every moment of human life from conception to death. By his incarnation in Mary’s womb and his sacrificial death, Jesus “has been with us in the darkness of the womb as he will be in the darkness of the tomb.: (Gilbert C. Meilander, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, 1996, p. 27).
From the womb to the tomb, as the psalmist reflects:
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I lie down in the grave, you are there too...If I say , “Surely darkness will hide me, and night shall be my dwelling place, darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. (Ps. 139: 8, 11-12)
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