Monday, 4 April 2016

Adoring Jesus the embryo

Giotto, Lower Church Assisi, The Visitation 01

When the Magi found the child Jesus, we are told by St Matthew that "falling down, they adored him", thus offering the worship of latria to a new born infant. Rightly so, because in the divine and human natures of Christ are united in one divine person. This is true from the very beginning of his human life and therefore it is fitting for the worship of latria or adoration strictly reserved for God, to be given to Our Lord even as an embryo.

Today's celebration of the Annunciation reminded me of this important truth. After the text read at today's Mass, the gospel continues: "And Mary rising up in those days (ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις - in diebus illis), went into the hill country with haste (μετὰ σπουδῆς - cum festinatione) into a city of Juda." (Lk 1.39) The narrative of the Visitation follows.

We may assume that the child Jesus was conceived in the womb of Our Lady at the moment she gave her consent with the words "Be it done to me according to thy word" in verse 38. In a different context, "in those days" could mean generally within a space of time, perhaps a few weeks or months, but the addition of the qualifying "with haste" indicates that the journey was undertaken immediately. Ein Karem, the probable site of the Visitation, is about 95 miles from Nazareth, making for a journey of five or six days if undertaken in haste by someone who was fit and used to walking.

So Saint Elizabeth's greeting "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? " (Lk 1.42-43) was made in the presence of the 5-6 day embryo (or blastocyst) who was Lord. And Saint John the Baptist leapt in the womb in recognition of the divine embryo.

In the time of Our Lady and Saint Elizabeth, nobody knew about embryos: the development of life in the womb was not well understood. Now that we do know, it seems to me particularly important to recognise the divine person of Christ from the first moment of His conception. In the UK, it is legal to experiment on embryos up to 14 days old. After that, the experimental subjects have to be destroyed since they are deemed to be "of no moral value".
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