[This is a re-post of something I wrote two years ago that I felt was worth unearthing. We'll see!]
For all the immense good the ever-expanding Theology of the Body (TOB) movement has achieved, there’s still lots more to be done. Recently, I was able to re-think a bit more about what that might mean.
A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist and a woman of faith was sharing with me some of her research on the relationship between mental health and the body; or more specifically, between biochemistry, neurology and emotional health. She shared that she has long hated the term ‘mental illness’ because what is ‘mental’ in the human mind is actually a profoundly embodied, bio-chemical phenomenon centered in the complex and fragile wonder of the human brain. She also shared with me her hope for a more robust integration of these marvelous discoveries of science with spirituality and the Church’s proclamation of virtue (especially chastity).
From our exchange (and her lectures) I also gained amazing new insights into the biochemical/physiological ground of human emotion, and the various modes of treatment that can be used to help heal and/or work with the strengths and limits of our embodied minds.
So what of theology?
Well, in addition to sparking a lively meditation on the Catholic vision of the body-soul relationship, her data-flush made me reflect more deeply on the fact that there can be no Christian spirituality or ethics that is not wholly conscious of and engaged with our embodied nature. I also re-realized how any ‘theology of the body’ that deals with, for example, sexual ethics must be able to go-bio and go-micro and see in our sexualized bodies not just as fraught with abstract symbolic nuptial language, but an organic mash of God-fashioned fleshy-sinewy-hormonal complexity. To see a thought of the divine present in the messy, oozing and tumultuous biochemistry of sexuality is to see creation aright. Conversations about moral integration and chastity must, therefore, be as keenly attentive to the unseen world of neuro-psychology as to the mysteries revealed in Genesis’ grand theological narrative of the muddy creation of Man-Woman; though, of course, divine Revelation is always the final arbiter of the truth of the human person made in the divine image.
What evocative and engaging topics would arise — the hypothalamus and chaste living; the medulla oblongata and the virtue of temperance; the frontal lobe in service to a redeemed eros; clinical depression and Christian joy; marital fidelity and the hormonal dimensions of concupiscence. Let’s talk about bio-virtue, and allow science, philosophy and theology to convincingly demonstrate the unity of truth. From this vantage, one would be empowered to link all of that complex medical diagnostic jargon a doctor throws at you in her office with your own unique vocation to offer your flesh-and-blood body as a living sacrifice.
Theology of the Flesh
Maybe we could capture this more ‘messy-soupy’ approach to the Theology of the Body movement via the more graphic-concrete Hebrew-Greek biblical word, flesh (basar-sarx), that seems to me to more vividly evince human fragility. We could then call our embodied theology a Theology of the Flesh. This would render more gritty and dirty — though not overrun — the more abstract tendencies of the present state of the Theology of the Body, enriching its prescriptions for pursuing a chaste sexuality (all embodied virtue) that’s grounded in the whole truth of the human person. In particular, it would help to tether down some of TOB’s more lofty idealism and offer specific practical aids to those whose weak flesh could really benefit from a more generous dose of the light of reason.
Jesus said to his sleepy disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, when his own flesh underwent immense duress, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:31). If the flesh is weak in doing the right and avoiding evil, the spirit would benefit greatly not only from more prayer, but from more empirical information as to why that might be so.
This complexification of the body would also invest the faith-science dialogue with a new energy, and it would permit a new space for science to offer theology’s heavenly wisdom an empirical handmaid that would greatly enrich our pursuit of holiness-in-the-flesh. You might also say that such an enriching conversation would permit us to more clearly peer into the wondrous nano-intentions of God.
During the season of Easter we celebrate the truth that human flesh is forever glorified in the heart of the Trinity, as God himself has forever made his own blood and nerves and bone marrow and hemoglobin. We liturgically marvel over the Risen Christ who still eats fish, and who bids us to eat and drink of his deified Flesh and Blood in the Holy Sacrament.
Let us rejoice in the fragile, complex and wonderful gift of our messy, fleshy souls that are made in the image of our fleshy God, Jesus Christ.
As I was preparing the reading list in July for a class I was to teach at the seminary, Spirituality of the Laity for the Parish Priest, what became even more clear to me was this well-known truth: at the core of the lay vocation is the call to translate the vision of this world found in Catholic Social Teaching into the exigencies of life in every nation. This revivified insight made me wildly aware that these future priests, and the laity they will be called to love, must be deeply formed in this teaching.
It is at the heart of Vatican II’s teaching on the laity that the essence of the lay vocation/mission is to govern the ‘temporal order’ according to the will of God, which means that the core-path to holiness for the laity is to be wholly engaged in the ‘temporal duties’ secular world. Hence, the Council could even make so bold as to say that “the Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation” (GS 43).
Lay saints rejoice in the endless variety of mundane activities that characterize life “in the world,” and see in their faithful execution a “liturgy of life” by which all things around them can become a living sacrifice to God. The drudgery of work, the struggles of being an active part of a an increasingly non-Christian culture, the daily challenges of marriage and family life, the burdens of economic hardship, as well as the innumerable joys of sharing in the celebration and creation of the good things in one’s social/cultural world all constitute, for the lay Christian, the substance and summit of sanctity. The combined forces of heavenly faith and earthly labor together serve to crush both wheat and grape, preparing this world as gift to be taken up into God’s transforming Fire.
This means that if my participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy at my parish on Sunday does not lead me to discover in my weekday cubicle at work, or my kitchen at home, a glorious Cathedral, then I have failed to “discern the Body of Christ” in its fullness.
The laity’s spiritual keynote is found in the last phrase of the Mass of the Roman Rite, Ite, Missa est, ‘Go! Be sent.’
Or we might translate that Latin more accurately as Jersey friend of mine used to say it to me, ‘now git outta here and do’s somthin’ ’bout it!’
Solar Plexus Punch
As I was reading the endless articles and books written on Catholic social teaching and the lay vocation, I happened on an especially striking quote by Fr Robert Barron which I will share here to end my musings with a punch that knocked the wind out of me. And it fits perfectly with today’s Gospel:
Thomas Aquinas teaches that ownership of private property is to be allowed but that the usus (the use) of that privately held wealth must be directed toward the common good. This is because all of the earth and its goods belong, finally, to God and must therefore be used according to God’s purpose. Pope Leo XIII made this principle uncomfortably concrete when he specified, in regard to wealth, that once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest of what one owns belongs to the poor. And in saying that, he was echoing an observation of John Chrysostom: ” If you have two shirts in your closet, one belongs to you; the other belongs to the man who has no shirt.
On this supremely joyful feast of resurrection and new life, our Summer Easter, the Assumption of the All-Pure Mother of God body and soul into the glory of her risen Son, we rejoice with superabundant joy over this woman whom William Wordsworth famously called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” The liturgy of the day exults in God’s design to preserve her immaculate body from corruption “since from her own body she marvelously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.”
What a festival of life this is! A Holy Day of Obligation whose obligation is commanded as one is “commanded” each moment to yet again breathe, for if you wish to live even now in the joy of her risen life, celebrate now this life with her!
Taste and See
Many years ago, circa 1988, I was struggling with “getting” why Mary mattered to me in my new-found life of faith in Christ. It all seemed to distant and irrelevant. I brought this struggle to a retreat at a Trappist monastery. The retreat Master, Fr. Basil Pennington, offered an evening reflection on Mary the first night of the retreat, and I recall so clearly his words:
Mary was given the singular privileges of being conceived without sin, conceiving and bearing the Incarnate God, and being assumed bodily into heaven. We know that in God’s wise plan, every great gift He gives always comes with a great responsibility, and Mary was no exception. Being chosen, for a Jew, meant being weighted with the burdens of others to help bear them up with love to God. Mary is full of grace, but full for you and for me; she is a vessel of God’s overflowing and particular love for all mankind, and for each man and woman. God gave her each of these particular graces so that she could become a universal Mother to all those who are joined to her Son. So tonight, I want you to ask her, in your time of Vigil prayer, to receive you as a son or as a daughter, and to reveal to you personally her love for you.
I went back to my room a bit unnerved by this request, but took up his challenge and began to pray with a book on Mary I’d never heard of before, by Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, and I happened upon this stunning passage:
She is an echo of God, speaking and repeating only God. If you say ‘Mary’ she says ‘God.’
For whatever reason, this passage opened in me, around 2:00 a.m., an overwhelmingly intense and very personal awareness that she was present, looking at me with tenderness and raining down torrential grace (that was the image I had). It lasted the rest of the night, and by morning I was absolutely convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was, in God’s exquisite plan, my Mother, the summation and overflow of all that is best in redeemed human nature, and that being near her in prayer only left you better, nearer to her eternal Son who made our humanity His own in her heart and her womb.
All this seems to beg for a more fitting conclusion of praise and thanks to God for such a gift, the gift of a Mother whose love is utterly flawless and transparent to God’s own tender and maternal love (Is. 66:13) that humanity seeks out in the love of every human mother. So I will allow an excerpt from the brilliant homily of St. Gregory Palamas on this feast fill this need:
Hence, as it was through the Theotokos alone that the Lord came to us, appeared upon earth and lived among men, being invisible to all before this time, so likewise in the endless age to come, without her mediation, every emanation of illuminating divine light, every revelation of the mysteries of the Godhead, every form of spiritual gift, will exceed the capacity of every created being. She alone has received the all-pervading fullness of Him that filleth all things, and through her all may now contain it, for she dispenses it according to the power of each, in proportion and to the degree of the purity of each. Hence she is the treasury and overseer of the riches of the Godhead. For it is an everlasting ordinance in the heavens that the inferior partake of what lies beyond being, by the mediation of the superior, and the Virgin Mother is incomparably superior to all. It is through her that as many as partake of God do partake, and as many as know God understand her to be the enclosure of the Uncontainable One, and as many as hymn God praise her together with Him. She is the cause of what came before her, the champion of what came after her and the agent of things eternal. She is the substance of the prophets, the principle of the apostles, the firm foundation of the martyrs and the premise of the teachers of the Church . She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy of celestial beings, the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and root of unutterable good things; she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.
As I was asked to give some reflections recently on a “spirituality of work,” I thought I would share just one insight that I gained from my research into the Catholic tradition that is so clearly articulated in Bl. John Paul II’s encyclical on work, Laborem Exercens: Excellence in one’s work is the foundation of effective evangelization.
The Gospel of Working Love
The Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran has a great way of articulating this point: “Work is love made visible.” Christian evangelization always, in the first and last instance, makes love — divine and human — the core animating principle of all activity (cf. 1 Cor. 13). In fact, Vatican II defines holiness as the perfection of loving. Love, which for a Christian can be defined as freely willing another’s good after the manner of Christ crucified, transforms all work into an opportunity to grow in perfection by glorifying God and serving one’s neighbor. For a person of faith, all work, regardless of how arduous, menial, tedious or toilsome, when it is suffused by love-from-the-cross, overflows with meaning and purpose.
Pursuing excellence in one’s work — e.g. integrity, honesty, attention to detail, diligence, giving one’s best — gives evidence to others of the “hope that lies within” and makes more credible the faith we claim to represent and profess. Excellence, which Aristotle linked closely with the work of virtue, reveals love as refracted through all the virtues required by our work. More, the pursuit of excellence in our specific “field of action” deepens our covenant union with the laboring God who has clearly revealed Himself in Scripture as a master craftsman driven by love to work ceaselessly for our salvation. Indeed, our trusting faith in His goodness rests on the extreme, mind-blowing quality of love that marks His every work on our behalf in creation and redemption.
Does this not make you want to pursue excellence in your work and, as St. Paul says, “…do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31)?
Let me end here with two juicy quotes that emphasize my point:
If a man is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say ‘here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.’ — Martin Luther King, Jr.
We all have the duty to do our work well. If we wish to realize ourselves properly, we may not avoid our duty or perform our work in a mediocre way, without interest, just to get it over with. — Bl. John Paul II
Fr. Tom Hopko, an Orthodox theologian that I often cite and thoroughly appreciate, was speaking in a lecture I listened to recently about the “divine darkness” that Mother Teresa lived in for the last 30 or so years of her life. He argued that her unflagging fidelity to the God she experienced as absent for so very long was what made her holiness to efficacious, so great. This faith was what “deified” her (deification refers to the Christian affirmation that Jesus offers us a participation in the very life of God). He said that inasmuch as she remained faithful to God and her mission, and even manifested joy throughout those decades of darkness, she demonstrated what deification is really all about:
When you can love while you have the sense that God is absent — this is deification. That’s what Jesus did on the cross. He loved even when he was abandoned in his humanity by the Father; abandoned because he “became sin” [cf. 2 Cor. 5:21] for us, which means essentially experiencing abandonment by God. On the cross Jesus loved us and his Father even when there seemed to be nothing ‘in it’ for him. And the myrrh-bearing women who came to embalm Jesus’ corpse did the same — they came to love the corpse of Jesus; a corpse that could give nothing back. For those saints called along this road, this is the baptism by fire — to give your life for the other’s good.
Descending into Hell
In other lectures, Fr Tom asserts that inasmuch as we live this fidelity to God’s will in a fallen, broken world rife with ambiguities and contradictions, sinful disorders and evil desires, with physical and mental suffering — a world filled with so many irresolvable tragedies — our love for God under the form of fidelity will plunge us into that same “divine darkness.” Those, for example, burdened with sexual addictions, alcohol addictions, drug addiction, same-sex attraction, or those born into circumstances of poverty, abuse and ignorance must all walk by means of this dark valley; which in Jesus is shown to be the haunt of God. And Christians themselves must be willing to join God in walking with others through their hells, to love their broken neighbors, to bear others’ burdens, to deal with the ambiguities of others’ tragic situations even as they seek to embrace in faithfulness what is true and good. Spending one’s energies on condemning evils and not on the active willingness to enter into others’ hells — one person at a time — is to evade the antidote and fail to imitate Jesus crucified. Who’s converted by the mere condemnation of another’s evils? Yes, evil must be named and exposed, but conversions come from co-suffering with Christ the sin of the world on behalf of all and for all. In the Apocalypse, dragons are conquered by slain lambs. That takes time, long-suffering patience, unrelenting commitment, and dark faith. Jesus on the cross plunged fully into the suffering and pain and darkness of all of the malefactors, entered their muck and filth in order to raise them up, to wash their wounds and pour out balm on them for healing, bringing into death, new life; into sin, mercy, into hatred, divine love, into slavery, salvation; into despair, hope and even a joy that comes only from knowledge of God’s infinite love that emptied itself out in Jesus crucified; a love that opened the Gates of Paradise by first walking through the blackness of death and hell with us. But if Christians don’t really believe in this God, the God of Jesus Christ who became a corpse for us before being raised up, then why would anyone bother resisting the temptations and suffer the hardships of fidelity in the midst of tragedy? Why would anyone bother facing all the ambiguities and messiness of walking with those who are in darkness? Why would they not instead just drink and snort and succumb to sexual perversions and do anything to eliminate the tragedies, to dull the pain, to forget the night by any means, when they have no sense that God has already opened for them a way of hope and joy and salvation in this life, and, most importantly, in the life hereafter where all irresolvable tragedy will pass into eternal resolve where all tears are wiped away, all sufferings are banished, all wounds are healed.
This ‘baptism by fire’ image also reminded me of a documentary on 9/11 I watched years ago that had this stirring comment in it:
These [firefighters] were men of character, who loved and believed in what they did. It’s what made them run up the stairs in the Towers even as everyone else ran down.
We who love and believe in the God of Jesus Christ are called, no matter what the circumstances, to run up.
I am so excited about Pope Benedict-Francis’ new Encyclical on Faith that completes Benedict XVI’s faith-hope-charity trilogy. I gave it a quick read tonight and one quote especially captured my attention as a theologian, especially as I am heading to Omaha now to teach at the Institute for Priestly Formation where one of our core goals is to help foster in future priests a deepened awareness that studying theology is never “just” academic, but is in its “soul” a means of entering in a living way into the secret depths of the divine Mind. Theologians are called to acquire the “mind of Christ” in a real way, and not just become collectors of revealed data about God. Gasp: we are called to know God with God. To think His thoughts, or as my Ignatius retreat director said to me last day during my 8 day retreat: “When you pray as a theologian, Tom, let Jesus think his thoughts in you, let him inhabit your thinking with his own.”
But only a theologian who is in love with God can conceive thus of his or her theological labors.
In 1995, my grandfather (aka Pop) wrote a letter to me and my soon-to-be wife Patti of his love for my grandmother (aka Nana). I have shared from this letter before in NealObstat. Pop captured powerfully the intimate and inseparable relationship between loving and knowing, and the truth that knowing another in love leads to an ever-deepening union:
From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules; there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I”, “me”, “my”, “mine”. Only “us”, ”ours”. I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends. There is and always has been the union of all singular pronouns into a composite image of joy, happiness and fidelity which floods our togetherness … And for over 66 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity.
The reality my grandparents lived is an image, an icon of the divine-human interchange of minds and hearts that the gift of Faith opens up to us, as the new Encyclical so beautifully reminds us theologians:
It follows that theology is more than simply an effort of human reason to analyze and understand, along the lines of the experimental sciences. God cannot be reduced to an object. He is a subject who makes himself known and perceived in an interpersonal relationship. Right faith orients reason to open itself to the light which comes from God, so that reason, guided by love of the truth, can come to a deeper knowledge of God. The great medieval theologians and teachers rightly held that theology, as a science of faith, is a participation in God’s own knowledge of himself. It is not just our discourse about God, but first and foremost the acceptance and the pursuit of a deeper understanding of the word which God speaks to us, the word which God speaks about himself, for he is an eternal dialogue of communion, and he allows us to enter into this dialogue. #36
He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
– Martin Luther, 1518 Heidelberg Disputation
As the years go on, I see more and more clearly as a theologian the awful, terrible beauty of the “wondrous” Cross of Christ. In that beauty is the defining form of all of God’s Providence, and, most astoundingly, the deepest mystery of the inner nature of God’s Trinitarian life. All of Scripture, all of history, and every detail of each human life finds its resolve and meaning only in the Crucified God whose torn Flesh and out-poured Blood forever remain openly manifest in the glorious Body of the Risen Christ. Indeed, at each Eucharist we taste and see this overwhelming truth and, in holy fear, ingest this divine form of life as both pledge and power that it will be so in our human life.
…of the Cross
This realization has been deepened especially these days as I immerse myself yet again — thanks to the generous interest of some seminarians here in New Orleans — in the works of St. John of the Cross. St. John is so clear to his monastic audience in The Ascent of Mt. Carmel that the only gate of entry into the depths of this wondrous mystery of Christ, the only way we can dare drink of the sweet beauty of the mystical meanings hidden in the biblical Song of Songs, is for every sojourner up the slopes of Mt. Carmel to pass through the splintered thickets of Golgotha’s dense forest. As he says it,
Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.
So even as I am captivated by the beauty of God’s revelation as eternally self-wasting mercy on the Cross, I tremble knowing that theologians — I — may not remain mere distant spectators of the very Mystery they consent to explore and to teach.
But we know that in faith that it is precisely this Crucified Christ, the Captain and Author of our Faith, that is with us always as we follow Him along the way. We need only see His serene face to know that, as Thomas Merton worded it,
…you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
A number of years ago, I was visiting a Greek Orthodox Church where I was asked to share my thoughts on the beauty of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Twist my arm! It’s like forcing me to drink coffee at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans or coercing me to admire my wife’s smiling face. Beauty naturally births praise. And my point to them was precisely that: the Eastern Churches possess a holy knack for rendering God’s beauty accessible to the five senses in a way that, in my experience and personal judgment, surpasses that of the West. It’s why the legend of the conversion of Prince Vladimir of Kiev to the Byzantine version of Christianity contains this compelling description of the reaction of the pagan prince’s emissaries to what they saw at Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople:
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.
It’s also no mistake that it was an Orthodox writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, that gave voice to this same aesthetic truth in his novel, The Idiot. The main character of the story, Prince Myshkin, responds to being presented with the portrait of a woman of ill repute, Nastassya Filippovna, by expressing his deep appreciation of her beauty. When asked to justify his troubling response to this “morally grotesque” woman, he says: ”In that face—there is much suffering…beauty like that is strength…such beauty will save the world.”
The main core of my lecture was this: it’s not the gloriously painted icons but the suffering and dying of Christ that is the unrivaled epicenter of all beauty in Christianity. And here I say the suffering and dying Christ, for even in the glorious splendor of the Resurrection it is Christ’s scar-marred Body that rises in immortal loveliness On the Cross of Jesus is the epitome of divine and human love bound in perfect synthesis, and it’s that love alone, lived out in a Church of sinners and saints, that makes or breaks the power of Christian witness. If we set aside the Slain Lamb that desires to bleed through the icons of flesh and blood – us! – and choose instead to transform the Church into self-congratulation society, or a museum of sacred artifacts that recall an age of beauty now lost and forgotten, the Church will grow old and weary and die a just death.
This beauty of God is a hard beauty, a burnished beauty, a sweat-drenched beauty, a fire-refined beauty that is no cheap trinket.
True Goodness is Beautiful
In particular, I said to these Orthodox, if we fail to endure as Christians the hardness of the commandments in an increasingly anarchic moral culture, or fail to suffer the costly demands of living and speaking the truth in our personal and public lives, or refuse to love unto excess after the pattern of the Cross, there will be no beauty to attract; no loveliness to reveal the Face of Christ. We will cease to be evangelizers and become mere chaplains of a quaint, if sometimes pretty, though largely irrelevant idea.
But we Christians, Oriental and Occidental, want people to fall in love with God’s love that has fallen down to us in Christ. That’s what counts, and that’s to be the white-hot core of all our skillful evangelizing strategies…
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
That is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
What you will do with your evenings,
How you spend your weekends,
What you read,
Who you know,
What breaks your heart,
And what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
― Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves “the creative action of God” and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being.
This exquisite line from Donum Vitae, the Vatican’s 1987 instruction on the ethical framework for beginning-of-life technologies, makes an exceptionally important theological and anthropological point that should condition the way all Catholics think about the abortion debate: human beings’ entire identity is irrevocably relational. In particular, from the first instant of conception we enter into a singularly unique relationship with God that will never cease to exist, even if we — God forbid — pass after death into hell’s eternal alienation from God. For even in hell our “eternal loss” is forever defined by our immortal rejection of that forever relationship God created us to embrace.
At the moment of conception, according to the Catholic theological tradition, God creates ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” an absolutely unique, new and unrepeatable soul that informs and “ensouls” the newly conceived body. What a marvelous statement of the eternal and majestic God’s minute attention to this microscopic moment of human genesis within a mother’s womb, and what a sense of awe it awakens as we realize that from that very instant of conception God brings to bear his “love from before all ages” on the fragile cathedral of this newly existing human person stamped with his divine image.
This makes both the mother, bearing this child beneath her heart, and the father, in his covenanted love for the mother-with-child, privileged stewards of God’s supreme gift and of creation’s final purpose: the coming-into-being of a new child of the Most High God who will never cease to exist for the ages upon ages.
It is also true that the relationship between child and mother-father in life’s earliest stages stands as a singular sign of our relationship to God as our Creator: one of absolute dependence that rests on both love and trust, i.e. love that desires and rejoices in our existence, and trust that the one we are utterly dependent upon desires only and always our true good.
This wonderful insight reminds me of a proverb my former spiritual director used to use to make his point: “Every person you encounter is being looked at ceaselessly with love by God. Remember that whenever you look at anyone and are tempted to think otherwise.”
Applied to 1/22: Every child cradled in the womb is being looked at ceaselessly with love by God. Remember that even when the other is unseen and you are tempted to think otherwise.