The beginning of life, like the end of life, is shrouded in mystery. The human person at each end of this spectrum is drawn into it, turned about within it, slowly compelled to stare at it. Life’s full blown mystery beckons…..
Gen 3:19 “…till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Eccl 12:7 “…and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
Job 1:21 “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Mystery begs contemplation! And the unborn child is immersed in mystery… for in the dust, the human spirit, the nakedness, and yes in the “beckoning” – there is mystery abundant.
Compounding the metaphysical mystery of the unborn child’s life is the existential mystery of his/her passage through a nine month journey of incipiency, a phenomenal rapid growing unparalleled by any other human experience. Throughout this developing awesome growth the unborn child tastes, hears, sees, touches – and then even dreams of these experiences, and in a primitive self-reflective manner – ponders or wonders….
Psalm 139:13-16 “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb…. Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”
In a sense, an unknown yearning sense, the unborn child longs for “the days that were formed for (this child)”…”every one of them”… This is more than a mere instinct for survival – this is the holy Will of his/her Creator that beckons the unborn child onward. A primordial hope welling up within the unborn child’s maturing heart as it timidly images the Great Heart of God.
Birth! The newborn scrambles onto the human stage post haste. Humanity, Beauty and Creation embrace the child! Within the newborn heart the engine of Hope draws the child from disorientation to expectation! And from without, human Love carries this newborn contemplative through the mystery of those early days…!
Our Lady de la Esperanza. Our Lady of Divine Hope.
Iglesia de San Martín.. Sevilla. Photo: Rafael Marquez
Towards the end of the Bible that now famous “great multitude in heaven” cry out, with what might be called in the news media a ‘sound bite’: “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…” (Rev 19:1). This is a most poignant triple touchstone for understanding God. Given the focus of this blog, we will briefly consider how the Archangel Gabriel touches upon these three aspects of Mary’s Son when he announces to her the fast-approaching Incarnation of the Son of God. We will look at ‘glory’ and ‘power’ first then conclude with ‘salvation’. Gabriel tells Mary that her son:
- “will be great”
- “will be called the Son of the Most High”
- He will have given to him “the throne of his father David”
- “he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever”
- “there will be no end” to “his kingdom”
- “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God”
We see repeated references and implications here to Jesus the Son of God being filled with glory and power, exercising unending and unlimited power, and manifesting His glory and the glory of His Father.
But what does Gabriel say about “salvation”? Before all of these other titles and expressions of power and glory, Gabriel says: “…you shall call his name Jesus”. The name ‘Jesus’ means: “Yahweh is salvation”. So the first title from the angelic lips of Gabriel – the name of her son – points directly to the salvific life and mission of the son Mary would bear.
This saving power that the Son of God was bringing into our world was attested to by angels in association with each trimester of Mary’s pregnancy. At the immediate beginning of the first trimester Gabriel makes his annunciation to Mary (Lk 1:30-35). Around the second trimester the angel of the Lord tells Joseph in a dream: “…you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). And immediately following the third trimester, an angel of the Lord appeared in the Bethlehem sky to the shepherds and told them: “…to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11).
So we can say with great thanksgiving, paraphrasing Rev 19:1 – “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… and even to unborn baby Jesus”.
Representation of the Child Jesus in the womb of Our Lady of Divine Hope. Photo: Rafael Marquez
In Numbers 13 the Lord instructed Moses to send spies into the land of Canaan to scope out the land and the people and the various fortifications around their cities. The spies went into Canaan and spent forty days there as the eyes of the Lord. They returned, but most of them were weak in their faith and gave pessimistic anxious reports of what they saw. Joshua and Caleb however, were true faith-filled spies and saw things more optimistically – they had a more inspired interpretation of the land, its inhabitants and God’s designs for Canaan and the chosen people.
Eyes, apparently are not enough to see clearly. The eyes function in unison with the intellect and the heart. Joshua and Caleb saw things as God wanted things to be seen and understood.
In a unique and singular sense, as the time for the Incarnation of the Son of God approached, – God’s radical invasion of our world – and then later during those initial months and years of the Incarnation, the Virgin Mary’s eyes were God’s eyes in Israel. Her outlook was dependable. As the angel Gabriel said to her: “…you have found favor with God” (Lk1:30). But more, for that particular time in the history of the world, God wanted maternal eyes scoping out the land and the people and sheltering His only-begotten Son.
Mary’s maternal eyes – and her maternal heart – were key to the Incarnation of the Son of God. She could see the will of God – she could understand the will of God as well as any human heart could fathom it. She became during those days – as Joshua and Caleb did in their own time – a Faith Leader for the people of God!
In our own time, we look to Mary and we must see in her this continuing role of Faith Leader for the Church. And more, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, she becomes a mystical Faith Leader for each member of the Mystical Body of Christ. She helps each member of the Church to see the Presence of God in His Church, she helps each one to see the unfolding designs of God for His Church, she encourages each one in following the Will of God. We can say that she understands the Incarnation and the Plan of Salvation and helps interpret these mysteries for us, in our individual lives.
When Mary reports to you what she has seen in God’s plan for your life – listen to her! She is only human, but 2000 years ago God specially equipped her for her role then and now in these latter times, God has specially equipped her for her new ongoing role within the Church, for now and for ever.
In three separate encyclical letters Pius XII commented on the life, identity and glory of the Unborn Christ Child. In our last post we quoted from Mystici Corporis (On the Mystical Body of Christ).
Today, we will quote from two other encyclical letters of this saintly pope.
From his November 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei (On the Sacred Liturgy): #17
#17: No sooner, in fact, ‘is the Word made flesh’ than He shows Himself to the world vested with a priestly office, making to the Eternal Father an act of submission which will continue uninterruptedly as long as He lives: “When He cometh into the world He saith….’behold I come….to do Thy will’.”(Ref. Heb 10:7; 10:5-7)
From his May 1956 encyclical Haurietis Aquas (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart): #’s , 57*, 63 .
57. “And finally – and this in a more natural and direct way – it is the symbol also of sensible love, since the body of Jesus Christ, formed by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, possesses full powers of feelings and perception, in fact, more so than any other human body.”
#63: The adorable Heart of Jesus Christ began to beat with a love at once human and divine after the Virgin Mary generously pronounced Her “Fiat”; and the Word of God, as the Apostle remarks: “coming into the world, saith, ‘Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not; but a body thou hast fitted to Me; holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I, “Behold I come”; in the head of the book it is written of Me, “that I should do thy will, O God!’”…In which will we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once.” (Ref. Heb 10:5-7, 10)
Pregnant Virgin Cistercian convent, St. Marienstern, in Panschwitz-Kuckau
In three separate encyclical letters Pius XII commented on the life, identity and glory of the Unborn Christ Child. He did not use the term “Unborn Christ Child” or “Unborn Jesus” as we typically do in this blog, nonetheless, he was speaking about Christ during the nine month period from His conception in the womb of Mary up until His nativity.
Today we will quote from Pope Pius’ June 1943 encyclical letter: Mystici Corporis (On the Mystical Body of Christ): #’s 30, 31, 48, 56, 75* (previously quoted on this blog several times), 98, 110.
#30: “…He (Christ) had been constituted the Head of the whole human family in the womb of the Blessed Virgin…”
#31: “…at the first moment of the Incarnation the Son of the Eternal Father adorned with the fullness of the Holy Spirit the human nature which was substantially united to Him…”
#56: If we examine closely this divine principle of life and power given by Christ, insofar as it constitutes the very source of every gift and created grace, we easily perceive that it is nothing else than the Holy spirit, the Paraclete, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and who is called in a special way, the “Spirit of Christ” or the “Spirit of the Son.” For it was by this Breath of grace and truth that the Son of God anointed His soul in the immaculate womb of the Blessed Virgin; this Spirit delights to dwell in the beloved soul of our Redeemer as in His most cherished shrine.
#75: But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love.
#98: “Now from the moment of His Incarnation, when He laid the first foundations of the Church, even to His last mortal breath, our Redeemer never ceased for an instant, though He was the Son of God, to labor unto weariness in order to establish and strengthen the Church…”
#110: …she whose sinless soul was filled with the divine spirit of Jesus Christ above all other created souls, who “in the name of the whole human race” gave her consent “for a spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature.” (St. Thos., III, q. 30, a.1, c) Within her virginal womb Christ our Lord already bore the exalted title of Head of the Church; in a marvelous birth she brought Him forth as the source of all supernatural life, and presented Him newly born, as Prophet, King and Priest to those who, from among Jews and Gentiles, were the first to come to adore Him
In our next post we will consider two other papal encyclicals in which saintly Pope expounds on Christ time in the womb.
One of the greatest Pro – Life figures of the twentieth century – in fact, perhaps the greatest – was Dr. Jerome Lejeune, a Paris geneticist who discovered the cause of Down’s Syndrome and who worked tirelessly for its cure, and who traversed the globe repeatedly to speak on behalf of unborn children.
There is now in France a Jerome Lejeune Foundation, and its President, Jean-Marie Mene once said the following about Lejeune:
“Lejeune wasn’t afraid of mystery, he saw the promise it contains and tasted its sweetness. His faith and hope were the foundation that sustained him and he accepted the mystery with a smile on his face. The mystery made him stronger and brought him peace, because the truth he was looking for was just another name for beauty and love. It wasn’t an attack but an invitation to go beyond the tangible world in steadfast confidence that comes from the light we pray for….He knew that he lived in an order miraculously established by love and not in a world of tyranny of sheer chance…”
His was a science for Good, for him human DNA was a sign of a tremendous dignity buried within the heart of every human person, that is, the dignity of beings created in the likeness and image of God. When he approached his research, it was with respect for persons and Creation generally, and with serious purpose. Jean-Marie Mene recalls that Lejeune would say that: “medicine was his true vocation and that he became a scientist simply out of necessity”.
Too many scientists today have the wrong view of human life, seeing it as a thing to be manipulated rather than a sacred mystery to be respected and served. Lejeune stands out as a reminder that human life is a gift and mystery. Every person needs to discover both their own dignity and the sacredness of all human life, and live in such a way as to honor both. When scientists neglect these simple truths about human life they exercise Bad science, a science that manipulates rather than serves.
There should be a higher purpose to scientific inquiry, but to get to that higher purpose we need faith and grace. May God bless our world with holy scientists; scientists who fear God but aren’t “afraid of mystery”.