When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb. –Luke 1:41
We all started off our lives in our mothers’ wombs. We were hidden from the eyes of men, but we were very much alive.
When St. John the Baptist was in St. Elizabeth’s womb, he realized that the Son of God had come to his house. In other words, St. John exercised his mission as a prophet even before he was born.
Christ Himself also exercised His mission before birth. At the moment the Lord Jesus was conceived, God first lived with a human soul. At that moment, Christ made an act of submission to the Father. The act is perfectly expressed in the words of the fortieth Psalm:
I waited, waited for the LORD, who bent down and heard my cry, drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp, set my feet upon rock, steadied my steps, and put a new song in my mouth, a hymn to our God.
Happy those whose trust is the LORD, who turn not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood…
Sacrifice and offering you do not want; but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts and sin-offerings you do not require; so I said, “Here I am; your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart!”
Our lives begin at the moment of conception. Life begins to unfold in the womb. St. John’s mission in life was to point out the Lamb of God. He began to fulfill this mission even before he was born. The Lord Jesus’ mission was to offer Himself completely to the Father, to sacrifice Himself for the redemption of the world. Christ accomplished His self-offering perfectly even while He was still hidden in Mary’s womb. His 33 years on earth were simply a matter of living out what He had already resolved to do.
It is terribly wrong, unholy, and violent to kill babies in the womb. It is a grave sin intentionally to do anything that puts an unborn child’s life at risk. Babies should never be conceived outside of the womb, in some kind of lab procedure. But if they are, they, too, have a right to live. We were all tiny embryos once. Thank God no one thought it would be okay to kill us or use us for lab experiments!
Everybody knows that Catholics are the most pro-life people. On the one hand, this is strange, because our reason for being pro-life is not faith. Our reason for being pro-life is science. Anyone who studies the realities involved in abortion, artificial contraception, in vitro fertilization, or embryonic stem-cell research—anyone who studies these things scientifically sees that you have to be pro-life. It is a matter of justice, decency, common sense.
On the other hand, I think there is a reason why we Catholics are known to be particularly pro-life people. It is not just because we are more scientific than everybody else. The reason, I believe, has to do with the mystery of the hidden-ness of the unborn child in the womb.
As we know, in the womb, the unborn child is altogether alive and kicking. Maybe the reason you and I can’t remember our time in the womb is not because we were learning and thinking little, but rather because we were learning and thinking so much. Our souls were so active while we were in our mothers’ wombs–we were so intimate with God then–that it is too much for our poor little minds to feature right now.
By the way—I think we can say the same thing about people who are so sick, or so severely injured, that they cannot communicate with the outside world. Their attention is completely focused on invisible things like God and the saints. Of course there is no medical device or CAT-scan that can detect the hidden life of the soul.
When my dad lay dying, he could not communicate with the outside world during his last couple of days. Some of my relatives said, He’s gone. He’s gone! But his heart was beating, and he was breathing. He ain’t gone! What he is doing is loving Jesus, and Jesus is loving him. Shut your mouth and pray, for God’s sake!
Anyway, back to the womb: In the womb, the living child is hidden. Our whole religion is about things that are very much real, very much alive—only hidden.
When a priest baptizes somebody, what we see is water and wet hair, but what happens is the cleansing of a soul and the beginning of eternal life. Same thing in the confessional: We hear words, but what happens is invisible spiritual regeneration. At a wedding we see a man and a woman, but what is happening is Christ loving the human race and giving new life.
The hidden-ness is most intense at Holy Mass. When we look at the Host and the Chalice, it is like looking at a pregnant woman. The life behind the veil is hidden from view. But He is here. Jesus is here, as if in a womb. Altogether here, altogether alive–every bit. Just hidden.
We would never desecrate a Host. We would never have a pregnancy “terminated.” Those two things go together.