Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mary had a choice

St. Mary's Catholic Church, 36th and Q Sts., Omaha, NE.
(Photo credit: Susan Austin.)
The photo at left was taken by a pro-choice friend of mine. It's one of those friendships where you're glad there's plenty of respect and charity between the two of you, because your views of life are largely incompatible. (But then again, as Chesterton once observed, "Men and women, as such, are incompatible.")

I hate church marquees that try to rack up points on the culture-war scoreboard. I honestly think that, if Jack Dorsey et al. had really looked at such signs and thought about it, they would have strangled Twitter in the cradle, because activist church marquees are way too much like analog tweets: too many people trying to reduce complex issues into Parthian shots of less than 140 characters.

Let's skip over the anachronism of a first-century Jewish girl being "pro-choice", and cut right to the theological chase: The Blessed Virgin Mother did have a choice ... she could have said "No" to St. Gabriel. Of course, in her case, saying "No" would have obviated any need for abortifacients, as God would not have coerced her into the Incarnation against her will.

Now, it's not likely that God would have chosen Mary had she the temperament to refuse. (Which is why I find Margaret Smith's declaration that she would have said "No" somewhat less than profound; without unnecessarily vilipending her character, that statement alone leads me to believe Smith likely wasn't even on the short list of candidates.) On the other hand, if Mary was at all intelligent or insightful, the angel's appearance and revelation must have caused her some trepidation.

We really don't know how much Mary knew or intuited in those awful moments before her "fiat". However, the knowledge that she was to bear and give birth to the Son of God couldn't have been easy to accept. We know, for instance, that her pregnancy left her in a socially awkward, even precarious, position; had St. Joseph not stepped up (and could she have known that he too would be visited by a heavenly messenger?), Mary would have been vulnerable to ostracism and attack. Later, she could sing a song of triumph to her cousin St. Anne; at that moment, though, it must have been much for a girl barely in her teens to contemplate.

It's not hard to believe, then, that the Blessed Mother's "fiat" was an act of both faith and courage. She didn't say "Yes" because she thought the time was right for her, or because she felt a baby suited her; her "Yes" was no great political act made in defiance of social pressure to abort. She said "Yes" because she considered herself a servant of God, a "handmaid of the Lord"; it was a gesture not of self-assertion but of self-gift.

Today, many women show such courage by their "Yes" to life, and for that I applaud them most heartily. We tend to forget, in the battle over labels, that the real question in the abortion debate isn't whether women should have a right to choose but rather what choice they should make. Against Mary's quiet, selfless "fiat", the pro-choice argument is too often a loud, self-centered "Non serviam".

Now, if Mary had said "No", it doesn't follow that we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas. God would have found a willing Mother for His Son somewhere at some time. Christmas might have some other name, and might have been celebrated at some other time of the year. We celebrate Christmas, not because Mary wasn't pro-choice, but because she had a choice, and chose to be the Theotokos.

And all nations shall call her blessed.