I was invited recently to give a talk on “The Catholic Response to Abortion”. I was pleased to accept this kind invitation, but found it most unusual, and for two reasons. I have often been asked, over the course of many years, to make presentations and write articles on the abortion topic. But this marks the first time anyone has asked me to speak on the “Catholic response”. Secondly, opposition to abortion is not peculiarly Catholic. In fact, it is not even religious. Abortion is a broad issue that affects the whole of society. Non-Catholics, as a rule, are not particularly interested in what the Church has to say on this contentious issue.
Nonetheless, I heartily welcome the opportunity to respond to this topic. Catholics have been so preoccupied with explaining that the basic opposition to abortion is humanitarian (and therefore neither religious, sectarian, out-dated, uncompassionate, anti-choice, and so forth) that they have neglected the more specific objections that Catholics should have against abortion that are specifically Catholic. Yet, these specifically Catholic objections should be of great interest and importance to all Catholics who take their faith seriously.
I would like, therefore, to offer what I believe is a most powerful as well as profound argument against abortion, one that can be found in the Rosary. Yet, I hasten to add, this argument is much more than an argument against abortion. It has a positive dimension that extends far beyond the abortion issue itself. Let us consider, then, the pro-life implications inherent in the first three Joyful Mysteries.
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 (December 25) is exactly 9 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.
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.
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. Such is the fine work that is currently being undertaken by Sisters of Life, a religious order founded by John Cardinal O’Connor.
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 to acquire some measure of order in their lives. The well-know 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.