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Visitation, Abortion and Incarnation

By Fr. Dr. Daniel Johnson

How many children do you have? My wife will say 5 and I would have said 4 (till maybe recently) Confused? I hope that I’ll be able to clear the confusion by the time you finish reading this.

I have long believed that the birth of a child is a miracle. From a single cell, to a fully formed ‘little human’, with trillions of cells in, in about 40 weeks – how else would you describe it? But I used to have a difficult time in imagining how an embryo (or foetus) could be understood as a ‘person’? Or like someone asked – when does a baby become a being?

Scientifically, once an egg is fertilized, it’s called a zygote. It then multiplies to become a ball of cells (the blastocyst); then an embryo and after after 11th/12th week of pregnancy, it’s called a fetus.

So, in this journey from a single fertilized cell, to fully formed baby, when did ‘it’ become a person, a human being?

A personal anecdote: If you take my wife’s obstetric history, she would be G5 P4 A1. That’s just a medical way to say that she had 5 pregnancies, 4 births and 1 (spontaneous) Abortion.

For my wife, she always believed that her child, whether born or unborn, were ‘babies’ or human beings. While for me, I had a difficult time in accepting that – ie until I read the account of the Visitation.

The Visitation – St Luke 1:26 to 56

This is the term used by the Orthodox to refer to the meeting of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Forerunner.

The Scripture says that when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, her child (St. John the Forerunner) leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit declared,

“Blessed are you among all women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is it granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Mary is called the ‘Mother of my Lord.’

This phrase (and others like ‘the Theotokos’) are meant to tell us beyond a shadow of a doubt that, the child she has conceived is Divine. But there is more to it.

The phrase ‘Mother of my Lord’ also points to the fact that – ‘that which had been conceived’ in Mary’s womb was recognized as ‘Lord’- fully and truly the Son of God incarnate – even though His physical body was not yet fully formed (from Orthodox Study Bible).

Look at it another way; by calling Mary as ‘Mother’, what is conceived in her womb is being recognized as a human being.

Sufficient to say – the Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are clear in their witness that from the moment He (Jesus) was conceived, He was the Son of God (whether we would choose to call it a foetus or embryo is immaterial)

In other words, once conceived, ‘it’ is in God’s sight, a person, a human being. Which in turn means that aborting a fetus (or an embryo – if one is struggling to be politically correct) is still the same – it’s aborting a human being. Maybe another person does not see it that way; but God does and for me, that is what matters.

Almost 5 years ago, my wife got pregnant for her 3rd time, but our ‘child’ didn’t survive long enough to be called a fetus. It was an early spontaneous abortion. But now with this newfound understanding, the baby we ‘lost’, was our 3rd baby – (unborn or born is immaterial); in God’s sight it was our child.

A couple of years later, when my wife became pregnant for the 5th time, she was categorised as ‘high-risk.’ She had 3 C- sections before, our youngest child was not yet one and half years old and my wife was in her late 30’s. Our doctor wanted us to do some tests which could potentially alert us to defects our unborn child could have; If the tests did turn out highly positive for some defect, then medically, we as parents had a choice to not go ahead with the pregnancy.

But both of us knew that even if the tests came back ‘highly positive’ for any anomalies (genetic or otherwise), as parents we would still choose to have our baby. In His mercy God chose to give us a healthy child and a safe delivery.

Now if you ask me how many children we have, I would say 5!

So, what do I learn from this?

Human life is precious – whether born or unborn. If God said to Jeremiah, ‘before you were formed in your mother’s womb I knew you’, then don’t you think God would have known him when he was formed and growing in his mother’s womb?! Of course, yes!

The Incarnation

The greatest miracle in the history of mankind was and still is, God incarnating in the womb of the Blessed Mother Mary. That is the mystery of all mysteries, the miracle of all miracles. It is unfathomable, unexplainable and beyond understanding. Our intellect can take us only thus far – what lies beyond is the realm of God.

As we contemplate on the Incarnation, let us ask ourselves – has He been born in us? If He has, has He grown in us? And, are we growing into His likeness? Amen.

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