by Kate Conroy
As far as unplanned pregnancies go, the Virgin Mary holds the trump card of surprise pregnancy stories. I’d like to hear one that could beat hers- she was a virgin, so it almost broke up her engagement and completely destroyed her reputation. And this is all during a time when women pregnant out of wedlock were stoned to death for adultery.
We can’t say that this was completely without agreement of her part; let’s be honest, she did have a say in the matter, her Fiat: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). But still, an Angel coming to her and telling her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35), explaining that she will be pregnant, without any action on her part, must have been rather shocking. Also she didn’t immediately believe it. She questioned the angel, saying, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). Despite this, she agrees and takes on faith of what has been told to her.
Pro-life values are essential to our rich understanding of the Incarnation. This stuck me when I was browsing Facebook and saw this meme posted by Catholic Memes: “Pro-choice Christians: The Word became a blob of tissue and oppressed Mary.”
This meme, probably offensive to many, made me think more deeply about the meaning of John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” At first glance it may not seem that these words hold any profound pro-life significance. After all, isn’t it the pro-choice way to argue that the unborn are just a bunch of cells? The word “flesh” implies something beyond “tissue”; there is a distinct humanness to flesh. Our flesh is what makes us weak, but also the manner in which we live. To become human the Word became flesh, not tissue. Becoming fully human, the Word became flesh.
Yet this still leaves open the pro-choice argument that the unborn are human, yet do not merit personhood because they lack awareness. To address this debate, I suggest that we examine the Visitation. Mary, early in her pregnancy and still not showing, goes to visit her cousin Elisabeth, the same cousin that Mary was told during the Annunciation was pregnant in her old age. As soon as Elisabeth hears Mary’s greeting she know that Mary is pregnant, “For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44). Elisabeth’s baby, John the Baptist, is very much aware of what is going on. Not only does he manage to communicate to Elisabeth that Mary is pregnant, but also the importance of the child that she is carrying. Elisabeth says “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43). John the Baptist as an unborn child, a miracle baby himself, already is very much filled with the Spirit, so it is not surprising that he would be able to sense the presence of Christ.
Perhaps you don’t buy into these Gospel stories as Gospel truth. However, if you do, there is no denying that without assigning humanity, dignity and personhood to the unborn, these events are stripped of their value. Without these attributes the moment of the Incarnation becomes murky and we risk falling into serious heresies regarding the Christ’s natures.