Monday, May 31st is the Feast of the Visitation. After Mary conceived Christ in her womb, she “went with haste” to the home of her cousin Elizabeth (probably in Ain-Karim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem); about a 4 day journey. She traveled with confidence; Christ in her womb, the Spirit in her heart, the will of the Father clearly outlined within her intellect, and a peaceful harmony between God’s Will and her own.
The Gospel of Luke gives a wondrous account of Mary’s arrival at the home of Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56). This encounter, this Gospel event of the first magnitude, is regrettably much neglected by believers in general. Yet it is a Pro-Life “Feast Day” of the first order! When Mother Teresa of Calcutta gave her famous Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech she mentioned this prophetic scene of two unborn babies meeting. In his prophetic Pro -Life encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), John Paul II refers to this scene twice (#45, footnote to #61), calling it a “magnificent episode”. Others have marveled at this event as well, for example; Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “when pregnancy met pregnancy” we witness “A Pentecost came before Pentecost” (The World’s First Love).
Mary greets Elizabeth, unborn John leaps “for joy” in his mother’s womb. Luke feels compelled to relay this event twice (verses 41, 44). The Catechism of the Catholic Church weighs in on this beautiful mystery of our faith: “John was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb’ by Christ himself, whom the Virgin Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to His people” (CCC #717, emphasis added).
So, the just-conceived Unborn Christ acts deliberately here! He fills the unborn baby John with His Holy Spirit; virtually a gift of Himself, a redeeming gift which prefigures the salvation of the world. God has singled out one tiny unborn baby – just days after His Incarnation – into whose heart He pours His Spirit (fulfilling Gabriel’s promise of Lk 1:15). An exquisite prefiguring of His Redemptive Mission… and a tender sign of His impenetrable Love for all unborn babies (of whom John is a representative; every unborn baby).
Christians understand Jesus Christ as the answer and solution to our questions and problems. And He is that – the Way, the Truth and the Life for every human person.
But Pope Paul VI once made a telling observation: “Christ’s coming into the world creates for us the problem and duty of knowing Him” (General Audience, 12/28/66). In fact, the Pope said that knowing Christ is our “first duty”…that “we must set out to seek Christ…to study whatever we can know about Him.” He then directs our attention to the Gospel.
Thirty years later, John Paul II spoke about the Gospel of Life as consisting “in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus”, and that “Through the words, the actions and the very person of Jesus, man is given the possibility of ‘knowing’ the complete truth concerning the value of human life” (Evangelium Vitae, #29).
Here we are, in the midst of a ‘culture of death’ and we can see why Christ’s coming into the world is a sort of “problem”…. He is the fullness of Life and a champion of human rights and human life both – hence a champion of the human right to life! This message is not welcome in a ‘culture of death’. Christ’s message is part of who He is. So, in knowing Jesus Christ we come to know the fullness of human life and, as John Paul II says, we come to know “the complete truth concerning” human life.
For Christians, Christ is a problem if we love mammon more than God (Lk 16:13) or if we neglect prayer and the spiritual truths about life. It does seem to be a daily challenge to put Christ first in our lives. There is also a tendency for us all to superficially embrace our faith in Christ and falter in the demands of our faith.
Paul VI speaks of a spirit in the world promoting “systematic incertitude” and “systematic doubt and criticism”. This is precisely the anti-faith pseudo tolerance that is widespread today, which ‘tolerates’ the killing of unborn children while musing on the uncertainties of life and meaning in life. In Christ we find a great Truth, a Truth with certainty about the value of human life, a Truth that is compelling and problem-solving by nature. Christ’s Church has the duty to know Christ and His Truth, and is committed to hold on to this rock-solid Truth.
The strong manly apostle, St. Paul, had a tender side to him and revealed it, from time to time, to his “children in the faith”. For example, in letters to the churches of Corinth and Philippi, he speaks about writing to them with tears (II Cor 2:4. Phil 3:18). But one of his better known quotes advises: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15).
Christ Himself is the model for this. St. John the Evangelist describes a very emotional scene following the death of Lazarus, when Mary the sister of Lazarus falls on the ground weeping before Jesus, and her friends and neighbors are around her weeping as well. John tells us that Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”. Then He asks where the body is laid, and when the people say “Lord, come and see” – Jesus breaks down and weeps. We are told that this is the shortest verse in the entire Bible: “Jesus wept” (Jn11:35).
Over the past few decades, billions of tears have been shed for unborn children. We can speculate that mothers have been the primary source of these rivers of tears simply because they are so close to unborn children, their lives more sensitized to tinier lives hidden within their bodies, their hearts listening for soft heartbeats signaling life close by.
Back in the early 1970’s, as the Pro – Life movement was quickening, there was a powerful photograph of a tiny unborn child removed as a result of an ectopic pregnancy – my recollection is that the people referred to it as “the teardrop baby”. The doctor who took the photo spoke about the remarkable effect this tiny unfortunate “unborn” child had on those present. But the image of an “unborn” baby naturally formed into a teardrop stopped people in their tracks.
Doctors tell us that unborn children feel pain (Watch Me Grow, by Professor Stuart Campbell, M.D., 2004). This is, of course, to state the obvious. 3D ultrasounds show unborn babies grimacing. Do they cry also?
Christ died for us, and no doubt He also shed tears during His Passion for us. In his Letter to the Galatians St. Paul speaks of “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). In effect, St. Paul is saying that Christ ‘died for me’. We can all say this with confidence. Likewise, each of us can say ‘Christ shed a tear for me’. Which also brings us back to the unborn children – Christ shed a tear for each unborn child and loves each one personally.
Divine tears and human tears are a part of our lives now. The tear Christ shed for me is His tear of Hope for me. Because a great sign of the New Jerusalem is that God Himself will be with us and “He will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes” (Rev 21:3-4).