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How Molecular Biology Sheds Light on The Catholic Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Mothers Grieving After Abortion

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May is the month we honor our mothers. This provides a great opportunity to look at how recent scientific discoveries can help us better understand Catholic teaching about the Mother of Jesus, and also shed some light on mothers who have lost children to abortion. 

Photo credit: Jonathan Dick, OSFS

Photo credit: Jonathan Dick, OSFS

In 1854, Pope Pius IX solemnly declared the longstanding belief of the Church that Mary was conceived free from original sin. Some Catholics, and other Christians, struggle to understand and accept this dogmatic teaching.  Molecular biology can help shed some light on this mystery. 

Physician Timothy Millea shares that in the first few weeks after conception, cells from both mother and baby pass back and forth across the placenta. 

"During pregnancy, up to 10 percent of the DNA in the mother's bloodstream comes from her baby. After the baby is born, the percentage of the baby's DNA in the mother drops, but some cells remain functional for the rest of the mother's life."

Cells of the child have been found in a mother's blood and all major organs, including the heart. After birth, a child will have cells from its mother living within his/her body. 

Consider the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the Incarnation of Jesus, in the context of what science is revealing about the intimate cellular relationship between mother and child. Doesn't it make sense that Mary would be prepared and blessed in a special way by God for this unique vocation to share her body, blood and womb with the Word made flesh, Jesus?

In anticipation of her Son's work of salvation, and the liberation of the human family from the slavery of sin, she was preserved by God from the stain of original sin. In her Immaculate Conception, and later in the Annunciation when she was "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus, Mary was made an acceptable tabernacle to enter into this most intimate relationship with her Divine Son. 

Mary's beautiful and unique cellular relationship with Jesus anticipates the words and actions the priest prays at the offertory of every Catholic Mass; Through the mingling of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Mary was the first of the human family to "share in the divinity of Christ" in the most intimate biological and spiritual relationship. 

Abortion and Maternal Loss

The intimate cellular relationship of mother and child, can also help us understand the spiritual and emotional pain of women who have lost a child to abortion.  

Susan shares, "After my abortion, I felt like I lost part of myself, something in me died that day when I went in for the procedure. I got on with my life, but I was haunted at times by that decision, by the child I rejected."  

Abortion proponents like to frame the abortion issue as one of reproductive rights, a woman's private healthcare decision, or just another hot-button issue in the culture wars. 

But science reveals that abortion severs an intimate relationship of a mother with her developing child. Even after the child's life is ended in the abortion procedure, the baby's cells live on in the mother.   Susan's lamentation speaks to this reality; "I felt like I lost part of myself...I was haunted by the decision."   

Abortion is a deeply wounding physical, emotional and spiritual loss for a pregnant mother, and for fathers as well.  We often hear participants on our Rachel's Vineyard retreats tell how they felt so alone after their abortion.    Rachel shared, "I didn't think anyone else felt like this...Sometimes I wondered if I was going crazy." 

Abortion healing programs help create a safe space to end this isolation, and safely open the wounded heart to the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord. Participants discover a new reality; not all is lost, your son or daughter is now living in the Lord, and God willing, you will have the sure hope of a joyful reunion one day in the life to come.   

Praying that all mothers are blessed with the peace and joy of Christ this Mother's Day.  May the souls of our beloved deceased moms, through the mercy of God rest in peace. 

Theresa Burke, Ph.D., and Kevin Burke, MSS, are pastoral associates of Priests for Life and co-founders of Rachel's Vineyard. They are co-authors of Rivers of Blood/Oceans of Mercy.

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