Vigil: Jer 1:4-10 • 1 Pt 1:8-12 • Lk 1:5-17 / Day: Is 49:1-6 • Acts 13:22-26 • Lk 1:57-66,80
“I praise you for I am wonderfully made.” — Psalm Response (139:14)
The priest–principal was infuriated. In a high school admissions interview, a 14-year-old boy was hardly given a chance to speak by his parents. What his parents had to say humiliated the boy and embarrassed the principal. “Our son was an accident,” they said. “Our daughter got pregnant while in high school. We tried to get her to have an abortion, but she refused. Since she couldn’t raise the boy herself because she was so young, we adopted him. It’s been very trying to raise him because we don’t have much money and we are older. We wish our daughter had gone along with the abortion because, being Catholic, we feel obligated to put him in a Catholic school, which has really hurt our chance to retire.”
The principal was angry for the boy and excused the parents so he could speak to the boy alone. “Have they always said these things in front of you?” The boy’s eyes reddened, and he simply nodded his head “yes.”
The principal then said to the boy, “Here’s the deal. You’ve earned excellent grades, and your parents do qualify for financial assistance. I’m going to admit you to this school at no cost, but there is one thing I want you to hear, learn and believe about yourself while you are here: God is the one who creates life, so you are not an “accident.” You were born because, for some reason, God needed you to be born. I will never forget that — and don’t you!”
Today’s readings provide us a chance to remember the most important context for the Church’s stance on everything from sex to contraception to abortion: all human life is intended by God. Genesis teaches very clearly that God is the author of all life, and that in our humanity and in our bodies we cooperate with God’s desire to create human life. For the Church — and it believes that human sexuality has many purposes — in the end, human sexuality can never be separated from its divine purpose of creation. For the Church, human sexuality can never be merely for “recreation.”
The book of Isaiah contains four passages called the “Servant Songs.” Today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah is the second of these four Songs. In it the “Servant” says, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb, he gave me my name.” This is not the only time we hear this said. This is a Hebrew way of saying that each life is formed by God for a purpose and that every life has a mission. This is why offenses against human life and human dignity are so abhorrent. This is why the sexual-abuse crisis for the Church is so agonizing: it offends the Church’s deepest belief about the dignity of human life.
The other Servant Songs are about individuals, but today’s Song is different. It sees Israel itself as the servant. With this song, Israel acknowledges that it was long ago called by God, and in doing so, it accepts its responsibility to be God’s voice in the world. This voice is one that God uses to draw all people to himself. Israel begins to see itself as God’s herald in the world. This is the role of the Church: to be a herald for the gift of life.
In the Gospel, we are made mindful of two births: the birth of John and the birth of Jesus. Each birth was announced by the angel Gabriel. Zechariah doubted Gabriel, and thus he was struck dumb. Mary did not fully understand Gabriel’s message, but she did not doubt God’s power or that her pregnancy would serve God. Both the Presentation of John and the Presentation of Jesus point us to the God-given role each of them have been assigned. Even the name of John points to a purpose: God is Gracious.
The lessons of the Scriptures are undeniably clear. Each life is intended by God. Each life is called by God. God knows each person personally (“From my mother’s womb, he pronounced my name”). Each life has a purpose assigned by God. The birth of John serves to remind us that each birth is an occasion for God to speak to the world of His Divine Love. The moral stances of the Church are always based on God’s Word. While the moral issue of contraception taken alone is complicated, we must never forget the context that supports the Church’s teaching. TP