Catholic Fine Art
Jesus in the womb
The Person of Jesus Unites Himself with the Unborn
JANUARY 18, 2014 BY ROBERT J. BOACKLE, PHD
I began to meditate on the awesome truth that Almighty God, became fully human, feeding on nutrients and oxygen within the blood of his Blessed Mother, as is every human fetus fed by his or her natural mother. …Jesus teaches, by his entire life, beginning as a fetus, that Almighty God redeems every part of our human lives.
The Incarnation: Jesus Confirms the Dignity of Human Fetal Life by Becoming a Fetus
I watched a young, pregnant mother as she was crossing the street. She was carefully carrying one small boy in her left arm, while this boy was holding onto her neck for protection. With her other arm, she was guardedly pushing her baby in a stroller. All the while, the child within her womb was receiving life-giving nutrients and oxygen from her blood by way of the placenta. I began to reflect, that just as her children are so precious to her—receiving tender intimate care, their faces looking much like her face—so, too, are we God’s precious little children, made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). We are being carefully and tenderly held in existence in his “arms” of everlasting love (Isaiah 40:11).
I began to meditate on the awesome truth that Almighty God, became fully human, feeding on nutrients and oxygen within the blood of his Blessed Mother, as is every human fetus fed by his or her natural mother. Jesus was totally dependent on his mother’s human body, and her tender care. God was humbling himself through Jesus, and was revealed as a totally helpless human fetus. After his birth, he depended on nurturing from his mother Mary, and for loving protection and consolation within her arms.
Jesus teaches, by his entire life, beginning as a fetus, that Almighty God redeems every part of our human lives. Like his mother—and similar to the woman that I saw crossing the street—Jesus Christ loves each of us, his little children, with an unfathomable, intimate, familial love—a love so deep, and so divinely pure, that it is beyond adequate description in human words.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).
Jesus, the Lord, always and continually unites himself with all humanity at all stages of life, i.e., with every human being.1 This is not because of any of our human deeds, merits, belief systems or age requirements, but because of his everlasting, perfect, unconditional love. His Incarnation confirms, and definitively reveals, his absolutely perfect compassion, and totally complete unity, with every human being, from their conception unto eternal life. 2 Archbishop Joseph Raya, in his book, entitled The Face of God, describes the effects of the Incarnation using the present tense: “God is uniting to himself—deifying and redeeming—the whole world, all of humanity, all the people of the earth, their cultures, their achievements, their creations of beauty.” 3 Jesus is so compassionately-united to every human, that whatever act or action that anyone imparts onto any human, that act is done to Jesus (Matthew 25:40).
Parents can begin to relate to this degree of compassionate love as reflected in their love for each of their children. For example, whenever my special-needs son John is sick or injured, it affects me deeply. Indeed, my son appreciates the depth of my love for him; and when he accidentally injures himself, he spontaneously apologizes to me because he knows that I am truly suffering with him. I share his pain. Likewise, I share his joys. I explain to John that Jesus loves him infinitely more than I love him, and that my love for him has its source in Jesus’ love. When John walks up to me with any problem or questions, I am observing the compassionate presence of our Lord Jesus before me, a gift from God that needs my focused attention, and my time to carefully and lovingly listen. In this manner, John and I are both blessed; John is learning to freely share his concerns with me as his earthly father. My hope is that my example of listening will serve him well in his spiritual development by providing him with a firm basis for an unhindered loving interaction with his Heavenly Father who is always listening with loving attention to him, and to all people.
Pope John Paul II begins his encyclical on the “Value and Inviolability of Human Life” by stressing that “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message.” 4 A fundamental Christian tenet is the fact that there is a loving union of God, through Jesus Christ, with every human being. Indeed, the truth concerns the perfect “vulnerability of love” in God’s continual self-giving through Jesus to each human being. 5 This unification of Jesus with humanity—the hypostatic union 6 of “Son of God” and “Son of man”—verifies and solidifies an awe-inspiring sanctity, a genuine holiness, of all human life from the moment of conception.
Jesus also calls mankind together as a community. In that sense, the unborn are being actively called into a “future” wherein they will be born, and join their families, as part of Jesus’ loving community on earth.
Just as God did not create people to live as individuals but to come together in the formation of social unity, so he willed to make women and men holy and to save them, not as individuals without any bond between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.…This communitarian character is perfected and fulfilled in the work of Jesus Christ, for the Word made flesh willed to take his place in human society. … He sanctified those human ties, above all family ties, which are the basis of social structures. 7
We should provide good, loving examples that are followed by our words, encouraging men to go into ministry and, therein, will be the most effective way in which to proclaim the message of the sanctity of all human life. But even with good example, certain people are pre-programmed by modern society to resist the truth. Indeed, inanity in today’s culture is expressed in the recent health-care mandates and laws that indicate the government’s growing political and philosophical opposition to the right-to-life of the unborn. Jesus is taking this issue of abortion-on-demand head-on. An example is his servant, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in the talk she gave at the Citadel football stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 21, 1982. She boldly stated that “abortion makes this (the United States) the poorest of nations.” I remember hearing her proclaim with a sincere heart: “Give your unwanted babies to me.” One of my female graduate students went to hear Mother Teresa that day and told me that she was interested in most of what Mother Teresa had to say, but did not agree that abortion was wrong. She said Mother Teresa was wrong! Here was an example of how the ideology of “the woman’s right to choose an abortion” is blinding so many young people to the truth, even when the truth is proclaimed by a person everyone considered a living saint! These false notions in modern society, as detailed in Evangelium Vitae §20, are actually subtle attacks on the significance of Jesus’ Incarnation. Jesus, in a mysterious way, sanctified all humanity, at all stages of life, and for all time. Consider the amazing truth that Jesus became a human fetus and, as such, he made fetal life holy.
Through the teachings of the Catholic Church, Jesus makes it known that his love for mankind dignifies and makes holy all human life—including the lives of the preborn in their mothers’ wombs—and, therefore, no one may take the life of a human fetus. 8
In Evangelium Vitae §57, we are instructed that, “The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil, and can never be licit, either as an end in itself, or as a means to a good end.” Some of the “least” and most helpless humans are those in the womb of their mothers. “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).
The modern world’s perversions concerning a woman’s decision for an abortion is contrived to sound very reasonable and, thus, easy to accept. Unfortunately, these spurious justifications for abortions are gaining acceptance, strength, and momentum. Modern women and men are being deceived into believing that by eliminating the “burden” (the unborn baby), they will receive ultimate peace of mind, true happiness, and freedom! In regard to receiving “true” freedom and happiness, Pope John Paul II, during World Youth Day 2000, addressed the following message to the young people of the world:
It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. 9
It is apparent that several skewed notions and false perceptions are actively distorting and restricting mankind’s progression into the truth, and thus causing many people to drift off of the “narrow path” (Matthew 7:13-14), which is fully revealed in the loving, saving person of Jesus. Subtle and erroneous ideas are hindering modern societies from realizing the importance, dignity, and sanctity of every human life (including their own lives) and, in particular, from recognizing the abhorrent and inherent iniquity of “abortion-on-demand.” In Evangelium Vitae-§4, Pope John Paul II confirms that perverted views—such as a women’s right and freedom to have an abortion— are creeping into our society to justify taking the life of the most helpless and innocent souls. Our society, thereby, is robbing these human beings of the experience of giving and sharing their joys, dreams, and gifts with the world. Their life is terminated, so they are not being permitted to grow and develop into the richness of their full humanity, which occurs on the path of truth and peace revealed (and freely given) by Jesus, who is true God and true man.
Pope John Paul II addressed the bishops of California. He summarized in practical terms the Church’s position on the beauty and holiness of all human life, versus the erroneous and destructive culture of death. He said:
Despite the generous efforts of so many, however, the idea that elective abortion is a “right” continues to be asserted. … A society with a diminished sense of the value of human life at its earliest stages has already opened the door to a culture of death… American Catholics should be, more than ever, willing to open their hearts and their homes to “unwanted” and abandoned children, to young people in difficulty, to the handicapped and those who have no one to care for them. 10
In 1979, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Mother Teresa. The following quote is taken from her acceptance speech:
I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is “abortion,” because it is a war against the child … A direct killing of the innocent child, “murder” by the mother herself … And, if we can accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love … And, we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts… 11
Pope Benedict XVI clarified that every person is God’s property in his Address to Members of Italy’s Pro-Life Movement. He stated:
God alone is the Lord of life. Every person is known and loved, wanted and guided by him. Here alone lies the deepest and greatest unity of humanity: in the fact that every human being puts into practice God’s one plan, originates in God’s same creative idea. One thus understands why the Bible says: whoever profanes man, profanes the property of God (cf. Gn 9: 5). 12
Our families’ lives and example should follow the narrow way to the dignity of human life
In humbly receiving the Holy Eucharist, Jesus’ living body, we find the “source and summit of the Christian life,” our guidance, joy, and ministry. 13 Without Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Strengthened by this holy food, a practical plan to defeat the culture of death is to honor and proclaim the culture of life by our loving, self-giving deeds, i.e., by our selfless example of listening, by living in holiness as a family, and through our outreach ministries to the poor and helpless. As people observe our good Christian example, we gain their respect; then, we are enabled to express words to call our brothers and sisters to follow us into a loving ministry to others. 14 In that way, they will learn by experience the richness of the love of Jesus for all his brothers and sisters, including those that are unborn.
People that we contact each day should be treated with the respect that they deserve, and treated as our brothers and sisters in Christ’s love. This respect is not due to them for anything that they have said or done. Rather, they are owed this respect because of allowing Jesus’ love for them to flow freely through us to them. I am learning that if I wish for people to see Christ in me, then I should first pray to find, see, and love the Christ in them. I pray that God’s love will pour out through me. I realize that I need to continually beg God for his love, inspiration, and wisdom if I am to make a difference, in concert with the efforts of his holy Catholic Church, in the fight against the culture of death. I need his grace and inspiration to proclaim the holiness of the unborn, and to help people better realize Jesus’ call for a fully blessed lifetime for the unborn within the loving embrace of their families, and within Christ’s living Body on earth, his holy Church. In Evangelium Vitae-§5 we learn:
Today, there exists a great multitude of weak and defenseless human beings—unborn children, in particular—whose fundamental right to life is being trampled upon. If at the end of the last century, the Church could not be silent about the injustices of those times, still less can she be silent today, when the social injustices of the past—unfortunately not yet overcome—are being compounded in many regions of the world by still more grievous forms of injustice and oppression, even if these are being presented as elements of progress in view of a new world order.
All people are created to be a functional part of the loving, living Body of Christ on earth by accepting the grace of God Our Father which was won for us through the crucifixion and death of Christ. To reiterate the words of John Paul II, we must be willing to reach-out “to ‘unwanted’ and abandoned children, to young people in difficulty, to the handicapped, and those who have no one to care for them” (John Paul II’s Ad Limina Address on Culture of Death—October 2, 1998). Our Church provides her gifts of the holy sacraments, traditions, and teachings in order to help us, and all people, continually accept the grace of God, thereby “entering by the narrow gate,” remaining in the protective, loving arms of his truth, love, and peace as we reach out to those in need through Jesus.
I can testify that when our family—my wife Martha, our two young children, Kathy and Melody, and myself—made the decision to adopt an unwanted, abandoned “special-needs” baby, John, a new and tremendous movement into Christ ensued. In a beautiful and mysterious way, this gift of baby John to us was prompted by the Blessed Mother. Just as little children are naturally trustful, our family stepped out in faith, believing that God would take care of our situation in caring for John. This little child carried a heavy burden of fetal-alcohol syndrome, mixed cerebral palsy, three different eye problems, damaged lungs, and high blood pressure! He suffered from a “failure to thrive”—he would not take a bottle. My wife brought John “back to life” by continually slipping an eye dropper full of special formula into the corner of his mouth.
But in stepping out in faith, our family discovered a beautiful way to enter the “narrow gate” and stay on the “rough road” (Matthew 7:13-14). John had been born three months premature, weighing only two pounds. There is no question that John was infinitely loved by God, even in the womb of his biological, alcoholic mother who eventually abandoned her baby son in the hospital. Jesus is continually teaching our family about himself through our adopted son, John. We are learning about Jesus’ divine patience, mediated by his infinite love, and the power and beauty of Jesus loving, heartfelt, prayerful presence within us in caring for John. We are learning to “see” through the loving, forgiving, and compassionate eyes of Jesus Christ. This is a remarkable experiential way to learn about who Jesus is for the world, for each family, and for his Holy Church.
The “narrow gate,” described in St. Matthew’s Gospel, is not simply a set of rules, commandments, regulations, or road signs. This gate, or way, is the radical following of the living person of Jesus, the Son of God, and the Word-Made-Flesh. In his encyclical letter, Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II affirms that “radically” following the person of Jesus is:
…not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment. More radically, it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father. 15
Many times when there appears to be no solution to a problem that I am having, I find myself candidly and humbly giving my problems to Christ, saying: “Jesus, you have to help me; I have no hope but in you.” This traveling with, through, and in Jesus, the “Gate” (John 10:7-9) is a moment-by-moment, ineffably freeing experience, allowing oneself to be continually embraced, protected, and guided by Jesus, through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Is it possible to always live in grace and keep one’s heart in the loving embrace of Jesus? Consider that this goal of entering the gate and staying on the path is an ever-constant submission to a Divine Person having inexpressible, infinite love for every person, including those within the womb of a mother (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:16). In the Gospel, it is proclaimed that John the Baptist, as a baby within Elizabeth’s womb, “leapt for joy” upon the visit of the Blessed Mother, who herself was carrying the unborn Jesus within her womb (Luke 1:39-44). Traveling on this loving road or way provides a mysterious joy and peace as a person experiences a growing intimacy, increasing trust, love, and confidence with, and within, Jesus, the Son of God, our friend and brother. This growing relationship—an indelible marriage covenant, the New Covenant—is freely and repeatedly given by Jesus to each individual. It is better realized by a person as he or she grows in a more intimate relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. It should be emphasized that it is God’s design that every person should travel through life, along with his brothers and sisters, within the loving person of Jesus, and with love for Jesus, who is the “narrow way.” In his treatise, The Journey of the Mind into God, St. Bonaventure informs us:
The way is, however, naught but through the most ardent love (amorem) of the Crucified, who to this extent (adeo) transformed Paul, rapt to the third heaven, into Christ, that he said: to Christ I have been crucified, now, not I, but Christ lives in me; who also, to this extent, absorbed the mind of Francis, since the mind lay in the flesh, while he bore about the most sacred stigmata of the Passion in his own flesh for two years before his death. 16
Each day, whenever I find myself anxious and overly-concerned about the things of the world, I am learning that I must quickly refocus on the realization that I am missing blessings and true peace by not resting in the loving embrace of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who in love gives me (and everyone) everything of himself that he has to give. “The reality of God is love.” 17 Indeed, we should be learning to better accept and grow in his loving embrace, and allowing that love to flow through us to others.
Perhaps, many of those obstacles and roadblocks to receiving his grace and his peace can be reduced to a functional result of the tendency towards sinful pride, which is overly stimulated by negative influences, such as exaggerated fears and skewed misleading beliefs which challenge faith in God’s power and providence, and in his compassionate protecting nature. For example, at times, the culture of death feeds upon a susceptibility to fear in having a baby that one cannot afford, or that may be malformed. Also, the culture of death generates its own “belief system” by using perverted, catchy phrases such as “the freewill decision for an abortion rests with the mother, her doctor and her God.” Of course, we have the beautiful gift of free will; however we must listen to the words of John Paul II in Redemptor Hominis-§21 concerning the proper way to use free will for true good. He writes:
Nowadays, it is sometimes held, though wrongly, that freedom is an end in itself, that each human being is free when he makes use of freedom as he wishes, and that this must be our aim in the lives of individuals and societies. In reality, freedom is a great gift only when we know how to use it consciously for everything that is our true good. Christ teaches us that the best use of freedom is charity, which takes concrete form in self-giving and in service.
In accepting baby John into our family, we had to trust God, as his little children, to take care of the situation. We were told by certain friends, and even distant family members, that we were “crazy,” that baby John could turn out to be a wild person that could “hurt” our family. But John has been one of our greatest blessings. And no person could love us more than John. Pope Benedict XVI in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, 18 infers that the “narrow way” is having a child-like trust and humility before God in order to be optimally open to receive intimate knowledge about the person of Jesus, and his salvation, as he quotes the following scripture passage:
I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the child-like. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him (Matthew 11:25-27).
It is important to keep in mind that mere human words of any language will always fall short of fully describing the awesome, self-giving, all-powerful mystery of the Triune God, revealed by the gift of the mystery of faith. But at our death, or at the second coming of Christ, no questions will be asked as we become completely united with him for eternity. “But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day, you will not question me about anything” (John 16:23).
Certain members of the Catholic Church are outraged that the United States government appears bent on forcing indirect monetary support for abortions. Even more frustrating is the apparent fact that Catholics holding high office are not standing-up for the unborn, but have caved-in to political peer pressure, and are strongly supporting a women’s right to choose abortion on-demand, even though they themselves believe this is morally wrong. In his book, entitled Jesus and Politics, Sean Kealy turns the tables, so to speak, and points out that the Eucharist and the Church may be the biggest obstacles to godless socialism and to domineering governments. 19 Indeed, many in government are coming to realize that the Holy Catholic Church, and her beliefs in the person of Jesus, and the sanctity of fetal life, are the principal enemy to their aspirations for the autonomy of governmental support for abortions!
In this short essay, I have provided my personal, experiential approach to begin to solve these issues. However, each Catholic must find his or her own role, given by Christ, in uprooting the horrors of abortion. Jesus, Our Head, has all the answers and solutions! When people follow him and his Church, and do not fear the world, or its peer pressures, then loving answers and actions will appear, especially as people are affected by our love for them and for all. Violent, unforgiving anger at the government will only create more personal obstacles to grace. Jesus, the Innocent One, allowed himself to be unjustly crucified to capture the hearts of man. So, too, by loving actions and examples, Christians can have an effect on people who surround them in their everyday environments, and win souls for Christ and his way. As more souls follow the “narrow way,” the peer pressure brought about by certain modern media will be brought to light. As Christians look through the eyes of Christ, they will see a beautiful world with a God who loves every human being, and sees all fetuses as precious, certainly those with physical defects that the enemies of life would like to destroy in order to preserve the “purity” of society under the pretense of keeping families from undergoing undue stress! Christians should realize that these challenges and sufferings will bring about a growing compassion and wisdom through the increasing life of Jesus within, and will be used by God Our Father to bring all people closer to his Son. Our sufferings with our son, John, have brought much grace into our family. I could list story after story about how Almighty God answered our heartfelt prayers for John.
In his book, Who is Jesus?, Thomas Rausch, makes a profound point by suggesting that we should not miss “God’s self-revelation” in the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. 20 Jesus is always with us, in all that we do, in all sufferings, joys, hurts, laughter, and pains. Of course, he forgives sins, but at the same time, what can we do to teach mothers about the love of God for their unborn, the deformed, or the special-needs child? Are we ever released from sharing the gift of our knowledge about the all-powerful, all-knowing Redeemer of all mankind?
Our family opened our home to an unwed mother who wanted to keep her unborn baby. Our next door neighbors, a Catholic family, were deeply moved by our actions and said, “We do not know how you are able to make these sacrifices.” But to us, it was not a sacrifice but a joy. The African-American mother who lived with us during her pregnancy has since sent us pictures of her child, and expressed her deep, heartfelt gratitude. We are sure that our actions in Christ made a long-lasting influence on her relationship with God in Christ Jesus, and simultaneously deeply influenced spiritual growth for our own family.
In summary, knowingly or unknowingly, every person—including the unborn—has been, and is being, caressed and embraced by Jesus. Indeed, all humans are held in existence by God’s love. Because God loves and respects each man from the moment of conception, then so, too, should we realize, ever more deeply, the goal of loving and respecting each person from conception. Jesus subjected himself to fetal life and, thus, made all human life holy from conception until natural death.
The major points being stressed in this essay are that God’s love, as revealed in the person of Jesus, is freely given to all humans, and actively being poured-out on, and into, each individual soul, and to the entire human family. He gives himself to humans made in his image and likeness. God’s love “is.” Because of who God is, his infinitely generous, magnanimous, unconditional, compassionate love is being actively poured-out at all stages of human life—most certainly during fetal life, which is a time of complete helplessness, vulnerability, and dependence. His love is freely given, and is to be humbly received as a little child (e.g., most perfectly accepted by the helpless fetuses, infants and great saints). His out-pouring, self-giving, infinitely-sharing love is in fact his vulnerable self, Our Dear Lord Jesus Christ—the Word-Made-Flesh for the salvation of the world