Today is the feast of the Annunciation, the day on which we remember Mary’s blessed fiat, her yes, her surrender to God’s will for her life.
Exactly nine months from Christmas Day we ponder what a momentous event in Mary’s life this must have been. Each year on this solemnity I find myself wondering about how Mary would have felt, knowing that she had the child Jesus growing inside of her womb. I wonder if she felt worthy, scared, or ordinary. Like the classic Christmas song, I wonder in prayer “Mary did you know? Did you know that your ‘yes’ paved the way for the salvation of the world?”
Motherhood has been on my mind recently, as I’m taking a class right now on the philosophy of human sexuality, taught by renowned philosopher and theologian Dr. Peter Kreeft. The topic of last week’s class was abortion, and Dr. Kreeft masterfully led the class through several arguments -- some religious, some logical, some philosophical -- about why abortion is the “most critical moral issue of our time.”
At one point in the class, one young woman earnestly raised her hand and, in defense of abortion, explained that a woman should have the right to abort her child because the child was just a “part of her body.” Her argument, like that of so many pro-choice advocates, is that no one should tell a woman what to do with her body.
But at what point does a woman’s body cease to be her body alone? Pregnancy seems to demand sacrifice, and that the woman surrender her body to her developing child. From the moment of conception, a woman’s body takes on -- quite literally -- a life of its own and its priority is to sustain the new life within. Women’s bodies are biologically programmed to put the developing child’s needs before the mother’s -- they are designed to be subjugated to something far beyond themselves. Pregnant women, for example, are at an increased risk for osteoporosis because if the woman doesn’t get enough calcium from her diet for her developing child, the developing child takes calcium from her bones! If that is not a surrender of the body, I don’t know what is.
Juli Loesch Wiley, in an article called “Mothering and Justice,” expounds upon some magnificent facts of gestational development and infancy -- that, at four and a half months, a developing baby can sense her mother’s hand resting on her abdomen and can curl up next to it inside the womb to feel a reassuring touch. Or, that an infant’s vision instinctively focuses only 18 inches away -- which happens to be the exact distance between the baby’s eyes and the mother’s face when the child is nursing.
I wonder at these things, and I think, this developing child is not just a part of a woman’s body. This is the handiwork of God, the mystery, the science, all at work to create this very new little life. Women’s bodies tell the story that sacrifice is needed to bring forth new life into the world.
Such notions of surrender and sacrifice and lack of control are wildly unpopular in a society that glorifies the self. But motherhood, by its very nature, demands such surrender. Motherhood is agape love, the sacrificial kind of love that seeks the good of the beloved over all else. We need to cultivate an appreciation for motherhood and for the sacred process of pregnancy. We need to educate each other about the wonders that our bodies are designed to work. All mothers -- especially mothers in crisis pregnancies -- should be reminded that they can look to Mary, Mother of Christ, for guidance and for grace in the midst of seemingly insurmountable circumstances. As today’s Gospel reminds us, “for nothing is impossible for God.” A culture of death believes that the self is more important than the other -- even when the “other” is a defenseless human being in its mother’s womb. But we know better.
Mary’s “yes,” like the “yes” of a pregnant woman, reminds us that sacrifice is required before new life can be brought forth. Christ’s suffering, death, and Resurrection -- the Paschal mystery itself -- tells this same story of sacrificial love. Mary’s yes, Mary’s fiat, brought forth Christ in a physical way. Today we celebrate and we remember that we, too, are called to say “yes” to God’s will for our lives -- to surrender it all -- and to bring Christ into our lives and into the world.