“Play ball!”; “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
These are canonized expressions declaring, respectively, the beginning of a baseball game and the start of the Indianapolis 500.
Christianity proceeds on a much larger and more significant scale than sporting events. We would expect that there should be a word or phrase that signals the beginning of Christianity. It would not be fitting for this religion to be an afterthought.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) reminds us, in his 1987 book “Principles of Catholic Theology” (Ignatius, $31.95), that Christianity begins with the word “rejoice.” According to Luke (Lk 1:28), this is the first word the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary announcing her conception and forthcoming birth of Jesus. The word χαιρε (kaira) in Greek more faithfully conveys the angel’s greeting than does the English word, “hail.”
For Cardinal Ratzinger, this word, “which inaugurates the history of Jesus and, with it, the history of Christianity, is a comprehensive programmatic designation of what Christianity is by nature.”
Luke returns to this theme on the occasion of the Nativity when he refers to an angel of the Lord who says to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people” (Lk 2:10-11). Conception and birth are both occasions for rejoicing.
Christianity brings joy to the world. Mary is the world’s first Christian. Her conception and the birth of her son are sources of great joy, as is the prospect of salvation for all mankind.
Mary is told by an angel, a most reliable nuncio, to rejoice because birth and life are both good. The first Christian declaration from God, then, is decidedly a pro-life affirmation.
Christianity in the modern world is often so entangled with secularism that it has lost sight, to a certain extent, of its original and directing mandate. Today, even among self-identified Christians, conception and birth are no longer seen as occasions for rejoicing, but as equal opportunities for rejecting. Consequently, we are no longer convinced, as a society, that life is good.
As Albert Camus stated at the beginning of “The Myth of Sisyphus,” the fundamental question in philosophy is whether or not to commit suicide.
The angel’s first word was not “choose.” It was “rejoice.” Christianity is not ambiguous. It is decisive. Conception, birth, life and motherhood are all unequivocally good. There are plenty of opportunities for Christians to question and think about no end of things. But when it comes to life, they should rejoice without questioning. The alternative is to question without rejoicing.
When the umpire cries, “play ball,” no ballplayer questions whether he should play or not play. They may question balls and strikes, safe and out calls, but not whether they should play. Every sporting event begins with an agreed upon axiom or it does not begin at all.
So, too, Christians should not abandon their original mandate that urges them to rejoice in life. To agonize over one’s pregnancy and contemplate abortion contradicts the Christian message.
Blessed Pope John Paul II began his pontificate by announcing “Be not afraid.” He was responding to the very real perception that fear had displaced joy in the hearts of many Christians. “Be not afraid; be joyful,” competes the original Christian message. Joy is first and foremost. The more we rejoice, the less we will have to repent.
Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of HLI America and is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.