Friday, December 23, 2011

Contemplating Jesus in the Womb

Motherly Care, by Haynes King, 1834-1904

I have been reading an essay called Sedeo, Ergo Sum: Reflections on Certitude by a Catholic philosopher called Charles De Koninck. The article is very good, but I won't ask you to go and read it just two days before Christmas.  I will just tell you that it is about the power of our humbler senses, the sense of touch, especially, and also of taste.   Since the senses of sight and hearing are more directly intellectual and abtract, we sometimes forget how our more personal senses are indispensable. 

He writes, speaking of the story of Christ resurrected and how St Thomas the Apostle demanded to touch before believing that Jesus was truly resurrected:

The attitude of St. Thomas the Apostle is not an example to be imitated, yet in it we recognize a familiar experience: whenever we wish to be very certain about the reality of a thing, of the existence of a sen­sible object, we want to verify it by touch. And it is especially for this reason that touch is called the sense of certitude, while sight is the sense of distinction, of clarity, and of representation. Where the brute fact of physical existence is concerned, sight, notwithstanding its accuracy of discernment and its certitude of distinction, yields less assurance than touch. The words “phantom” or “ghost” usually stand for things visual yet unreal, intangible, and we compare them to the kind of repre­sentations we have in our dreams.

 Now why am I thinking of this, especially at this time of year?  It is because I am thinking of pregnancy and waiting for a Baby to be born.

I found this meditation called "Praying with Jesus in the Womb" and reading it along with the De Koninck article made me think of how a baby, pre-birth, is radically immersed in touch.   If his eyes see at all, they see only the small universe of his mother's womb.  But most of his information comes from his sense of touch, of surrounding.   And to his mother, though she may see the swelling of her body, the primary sensory evidence of his existence comes from feeling, from touch.

Even after the baby is born and can see and hear and smell, his primary sense is initially of touch and taste.   His mother relates to him by touch.   She wraps him in blankets, or swaddling clothes, and holds him in her arms, surrounding him with touch.    In the story of the Nativity, Our Mother places the Infant in a manger, which has seemed odd to me as a mother because cribs are not necessary for newborns.

But there are other reasons -- the Manger has been thought of in Eucharistic terms, and certainly Mary didn't put Him there so she could go tidy up or go back to her job, but because He belonged in the center of the world, and she belonged in the circle around Him.   She wasn't relegating Him to the perimeter of her circle, but putting herself in a subsidiary place around His circle, even if as a Mother she was in a very particular way the primary element in His circle. 

The meditation goes on: 

As we conclude this contemplation of Jesus in the womb, we pause for a moment to reflect upon his heart, which developed, just like our hearts did, but which became not only the organ which pumped blood to invigorate the rest of his body, but which became the very image of his self-sacrificing love. In the West, we speak of the heart as the center of our emotions and feelings and the source of our loving. This little heart became a heart big enough to love sinners, the sick, the marginal. This heart was “on fire” with compassion and mercy. The heart of Jesus, which began beating in the womb of Mary, was eventually the sacred heart which was pierced with a lance on the cross and which, in the eyes of faith of John the Apostle and Evangelist, poured out the blood and water of the sacramental life of the Church which sustains us now. Into that wound in his side, the Risen Lord invited Thomas to put his hand and to believe. He told us that we are blessed who have not seen with our eyes, yet believe.
De Koninck, in his article, makes the point that art and science and politics and many other things go wrong when sight becomes the key or only element, and touch is ignored.    Many of the great heresies also came from minimizing touch and the real, physical nature of the Incarnation.    As Our Lady prepared to give birth to her Infant, she was surely aware of the physical reality of her infant, "knitted in the womb" like all of us, even though as yet unseen.     As mothers we can participate in that understanding in a very deep way; and as Catholics, we can "taste and see the goodness of the Lord" as we receive Him in the Holy Eucharist on Christmas.  We are so blessed to "not have seen with our eyes, yet believe."


  1. Your post reminded me of a little girl in my atrium years ago - the first thing she did every single time she came to the atrium was to set up the nativity and place baby Jesus in His mother's arms. If she observed another child doing the work with baby Jesus in the manger, she would very quietly wait until she could do the work and place Jesus with Mary :-) Have a blessed Christmas!!!

  2. That is such a sweet visual, Beate! Thanks for sharing!

    A blessed new year to you and yours!!!


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