Called from the Womb
Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Pay attention, you people from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.

These are great readings, especially this first reading from Isaiah. Recently I heard a prayer that was said in public, and there was line in the prayer that said something to the effect of “Lord, help me to fulfill all my dreams…” I asked my young students to think about the prayer and consider whether or not something in it was amiss. They didn’t figure it out, probably because that’s their prayer, namely, that the Lord would help them fulfill all their dreams. I remember well my teenage years; I was full of dreams. They made my young life exciting and exhilarating; and I resented it when some adult would try to snap me out of my semi-delusional existence and into reality.

But the fact of the matter is that God does not help us to fulfill our dreams. Far from it. Rather, He calls us to help Him fulfill His providential plan. A very important stage in personality development, in fact, is the stage called “the end of the dream”. Dreams are exciting, and they an essential part of being young, but the Lord has a vocation for us. He called us before we were born, and while we were in our mother’s womb He named us. For the Jews, to be named is to be given one’s identity, one’s specific purpose in life. We should never pray that the Lord help us fulfill our dreams, but rather, that we come to know what His will is for us, what that unique vocation is. The Lord has given each one of us gifts, both natural and supernatural, and He has given us special charisms through baptism and confirmation. He gave us these gifts for a reason, and it was not so that we could fulfill our dreams. Those gifts were given us in view of our own unique vocation, our own unique place that God has for us in this world. He wants to place us, and if I cooperate and allow Him to place me, if I pray and pray and stay close to God in order to eventually hear that call and discern where it is He wills to place me so that I may serve His will, if I discover that, I will have found my greatest happiness. Our greatest happiness is found in taking our limited place assigned by God and serving Him with all our mind, our heart, and strength.

There is so much unhappiness in this world, so much discontent, because so many people have missed their vocation, and they missed it because they thought their lives were about fulfilling their dreams, and many of these people have fulfilled their dreams, but they have discovered that they are no happier than when they started out. They never bothered to pray and ask God to show them the way. Instead, they expected that God would be their servant.

But, as Isaiah says in this first reading: “And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength.”

We are His servants, and it is an honour to be, it is our greatest honour. This world is His, not ours, and our life is His, not ours. But many people will try to usurp what belongs to God. These people claim this world as their own, and they believe their lives are their own, to do with as they wish, even destroy it.

We’ve witnessed tremendous crimes against human life in the 20th century, and we’ve seen a steady devaluation of human life since World War II. Truman attempted to justify his decision to drop the a-bomb on Hiroshima through a utilitarian reasoning. In his letters, he explicitly refers to this act as murderous, but he justifies it on the basis of the principle that it is permissible to do evil to achieve good, a principle that was explicitly repudiated by St. Paul. Many scholars argue that this murderous act of intentionally destroying innocent non-combatants, carried out to demoralize the Japanese army, was just the beginning, that this opened the door to the eventual rationalization of other anti-life choices, most notably the deliberate destruction of developing human life in the womb. But the responsorial psalm today was:

I praise you, for I am wonderfully made; for it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb….My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth…

In that light, it is very clear that abortion is not simply the destruction of a developing human life, it is the destruction of a vocation, a unique and unrepeatable call; it is the willful opposition to a divine summons addressed to the unborn child.

When I say this, we must keep in mind that it is not for us to judge the heart of any individual human being. I know all sorts of women who have had an abortion that they regret, and a number of these women are some of the most powerful witnesses to the culture of life today. We need to keep in mind that we don’t live in a culture of life anymore and that people have been kept in the dark about the nature of human life in the womb. That is why the unborn child is not the only victim, women themselves are victims. We have not been told the truth of what takes place in the womb during such a procedure. So it is important to keep our eyes on the issue and renounce all inclination to judge another human being. There’s so much we just don’t know when it comes to individual persons, so we best leave that to God.

But there is no doubt that we simply cannot imagine how different this world would be right now had we chosen, as a country, as a culture, to revere human life, especially at its most helpless and vulnerable stage of development. And now, as so many predicted, this anti-life mentality that refuses to recognize that God is the Lord of life, not us, now this mentality has finally opened the door in Canada to active euthanasia, or what others like to refer to as doctor assisted suicide.

And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him,

Part of our vocation is to witness to the sanctity of human life, to bring people back to Him, that this country might be gathered to Him. I’m happy to say that the ones leading the way back to the culture of life are the young people. Every year the annual March for Life in Ottawa gets bigger and bigger. I was there when it was 5000, and I thought that was a lot. The following year it was 8000, then 10,000, then 15,000, last year we had close to 20,000, and this year it was over 20,000. And the vast majority of these people are young teenagers. Clearly, the Catholic schools in Ontario are doing something right.

We’re going to win this battle for the culture of life only if we respond with great charity and a willingness to witness visibly, all the while refusing to make judgments on the guilt of others—as I said, some of the most influential witnesses in favor of life are women who have had abortions, not to mention former abortionists. If we open up channels of communication and dialogue in a spirit of that reveres and respects those who oppose us, we’ll move forward towards that culture of life that Pope John Paul II prayed so much for. And the way towards this is not to point fingers, but to continue to call attention to the baby in the womb, who has a beating heart, a brain, hands and feet, fingers and toes, and an instinct to fight for its life. John the Baptist leapt for joy in the womb of his mother when he heard Mary greeting her at the Visitation. Let us pray to St. John the Baptist to intercede for us and for our leaders that we might re-establish a culture of life.