Catholics, never wanting to seem narrow, have tended to shy away from pro-life arguments that are specifically Catholic, even when speaking to each other. They prefer to mount their opposition to abortion on humanitarian grounds. It is ironic, then, that people continue to label Catholic opposition to abortion as religious, sectarian, outdated, lacking in compassion, anti-choice and so on. Abortion is wrong, Catholics contend, because it is something that human beings should not do to other human beings.
Nonetheless, specifically Catholic arguments against abortion should be of interest and importance to all Catholics. Yet, I hasten to add, the specifically Catholic argument I am about to unfold is much more than an “argument” against abortion. It also contains a rich and life-affirming dimension that extends far beyond mere opposition to abortion. In fact, it outlines a path to a most productive life. Let us consider, then, the pro-life implications inherent in the first three Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
The Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity are moments when Mary illustrates her threefold acceptance of life. She conceives life freely through her fiat; she rejoices in the developing child in her womb when she visits her cousin Elizabeth; and she exults in the birth of her child on Christmas. It should be morally significant to Catholics that the Nativity (Dec. 25) is exactly nine months — the typical duration of a pregnancy — after the feast of the Annunciation (March 25).
The Visitation, which the Nativity and Annunciation enfold, allows the promise of the Annunciation to be realized in the birth of Christ. Life is a continuum. So, too, should our own lives that are so often disordered.
When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary God’s proposal that she conceive Christ, she responded by saying, “Let it be done unto me according to thy word.” Her “Thy will be done” is the human fiat that complements the fiat of creation (“Let there be light”). Her response must also be viewed as a prototype for the personal response that is truly Catholic.
Mary’s fiat, or “be it done unto me,” is the welcoming and acceptance of life. In this regard it is clearly opposed to contraception. We express our gratitude to Mary for freely permitting our Savior to come into the world when we recite our own “Thy will be dones” as contained in the Lord’s Prayer. These modest fiats lead to their own little incarnations.
Nourishing the Word
The Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity represent, respectively, the antithesis of contraception, abortion and what is now termed “wrongful birth.” At the time when Christ was born, we recall, Herod ordered the slaughter of the Innocents. In Herod’s mind, Christ was a “wrongful birth.”
These three Mysteries welcome the Word, nourish it and deliver it into the world. Therefore, Mary invites us to hear, cultivate and express the Word, thereby urging all of us to be mothers of the Word. In this way, we can re-enact these Mysteries on a daily basis. Prayer, meditation and good works parallel the Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity. Through prayer we are disposed to hear the Word of God; through meditation we clarify what it means for us; through good works we put it into practice.
Message of continuity
The Catholic response to abortion, then, is not simply a negative one. It is most affirmative in strengthening our resolve to minister to women who have lost sight of the fact that they can have a fruitful relationship with God by listening to him, cultivating trust in him and bringing into the world an expression of his love.
Therefore, the Catholic response to abortion goes far beyond the abortion issue itself. It is to bring a message of hope and continuity to a fragmented world. It is to help people acquire some measure of order in their lives. The well-known phrase “ideas have consequences” is precautionary. People often forget that the genesis of an unhappy consequence is a bad idea. On the positive side, we need to nourish good ideas that will give birth to good actions.
The first three Joyful Mysteries are obviously opposed to contraception, abortion and infanticide. But their positive implications are far-ranging. They remind us to listen to the Word of God as he speaks to our hearts, to meditate on it so that we come to understand more clearly what he expects us to do, and, finally, to incarnate it in the world so that others will be its beneficiaries.
Donald DeMarco writes from Connecticut.