Sunday, December 18, 2005

When Exactly Did Mary Become The Mother Of Our Savior?

(Fourth Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on December 18, 2005, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Luke 1: 26-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2005]

As I was sitting in front of my computer one day last week, pondering what I was going to preach about this weekend, an email suddenly dropped into my mailbox. I took that as a sign—especially after I read through its contents.

The email contained a copy of a letter to the editor of the Providence Journal, written by David O’Connell, who is the executive director of The Mother of Life Center in Providence. The Mother of Life Center offers help and services to women in difficult pregnancies.

Mr. O’Connell wrote his letter in response to an op-ed piece by Froma Harrop, which had appeared in the Journal a few weeks earlier. There Ms. Harrop categorically denied that the so-called “morning-after pill” has the potential to cause a spontaneous abortion under certain circumstances. Her point was that since the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) has decreed that pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg actually implants itself in the wall of a woman’s uterus, anything that happens before that moment is to be considered contraception and not abortion.

In his letter, Mr. O’Connell agreed that the morning-after pill will function as a contraceptive if it’s taken before fertilization (that is to say, conception) has occurred. However he rightly added that if conception has already taken place, the morning-after pill can cause a spontaneous, chemical abortion, since it makes the wall of the mother’s uterus hostile to implantation.

But why does the FDA disagree? Why does the FDA say that it’s always contraceptive and never abortive?

Very simply, it’s because they’re following the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who changed their “official definition” of pregnancy back in the 1960s!

Did you know that? Many people don’t.

In the 1950s and earlier, common-sense biology ruled the day, and it was understood that pregnancy began at the moment when conception occurred in the mother’s fallopian tube.

But then came the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, when artificial birth control became a big business in this country through the introduction of the birth control pill and the marketing of devices like the IUD.

The problem with the IUD, of course, was that it didn’t prevent conception from taking place. Rather, it prevented an already fertilized egg (in other words, a new human being) from implanting in the mother’s uterus, thus causing a spontaneous abortion!

The same scenario was possible with the birth control pill—and all the experts knew it! Ask any honest medical doctor and he or she will tell you that the birth control pill does not always prevent either ovulation or conception. But since the pill also has the effect of changing the lining of the uterus, if it fails to prevent a woman from ovulating and conceiving, it will likely prevent the newly-conceived child from taking up residence in its mother’s womb.

Thus you have, in effect, a spontaneous, chemical abortion.

For those in the contraception business in the 1960s, this created a big legal problem, because in that decade abortion (thanks be to God!) was not legally permitted in most places.

So what did the makers and promoters of the pill and the IUD do?

Why, they did what any immoral group of people would do in similar circumstances: they lobbied the medical establishment, and pushed them very hard to change the definition of pregnancy! In that way, they could have the “game” without the “name”! They could cause abortions, without being called “abortionists”. They could say, “Pregnancy doesn’t begin until the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus. That’s the official, medical definition. So our products don’t cause abortions; they just prevent pregnancy.”

This is yet another example of what St. Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:10: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

Which leads us to consider a very interesting question about Mary, our Blessed Mother:

When exactly did she become the mother of our Savior?

Was it in today’s Gospel scene, at the Annunciation?

Was it when she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word” (as we’ve always presumed)? Or was it sometime afterward?

Was it the next day? Or the day after? Or a week later?

What would the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say?

Not that what they think on the issue really matters; but, given their nonsensical definition of pregnancy, it’s an interesting question to ponder.

And if Mary did not really get pregnant until the fertilized egg (which contained the Savior of the world!) implanted itself in her uterine wall, could she have reconsidered her Yes? Since experts say it can take 6-10 days for implantation to take place, could she have chosen to have an abortion during that time without it being a sin?

We can’t imagine it, can we? We can’t imagine Mary even considering such a thing!

And, of course, she never would have. She treasured life too much.

Although, by today’s standards, she had all the “legitimate” reasons for terminating her pregnancy, did she not?

Think about it. . . She was young, probably only 13 or 14 years of age. She was poor. She had no marketable skills; she had no trade with which to support herself and a family. She was not married (in the sense that she was living with her husband). And initially her life was in grave danger because of the very fact that she was pregnant! As many of us know, if it had been made public that she was with child before her marriage to Joseph was finalized, she could have been stoned to death.

You talk about a “health of the mother” exception! Without question, Mary had one! And the Supreme Court of this country would have agreed!

Oh, how far we have fallen in just a few decades!

Are you uncomfortable right now?

I am.

I’m uncomfortable even associating Mary with abortion. No doubt many of you are as well.

We can’t imagine it, first of all, because we know how holy and how loving Mary was!

But that’s not the only reason!

We also can’t imagine this happening because we have put a human face on that zygote, that embryo, that fetus in her womb!

We know it wasn’t simply a “cluster of cells” or a “product of conception” that she was carrying and nurturing in her body for 9 months: it was Jesus Christ!

The Son of God had a human face. On one level, at least, that’s the message of Christmas.

Well the fact is, every child today—from the moment he or she is conceived—has a “human face” (in other words, a human identity). Just like Jesus!

And every woman who conceives a child is like the Blessed Mother, at least in one important respect. Mary was called to bring the only begotten Son of God into this world. Every mother today is called to bring an adopted son or daughter of God into this world.

This means that both mother and child deserve our love, our encouragement, our respect, our assistance, our prayers—and the protection of our laws!

May they someday receive those things from every Catholic, and from every citizen of this country. May we come to look upon them—and to treat them—as we would look upon and treat Mary and Jesus.