SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The phrase “the hidden life of Jesus” often refers to his life at Mary and Joseph's house in Nazareth. But to Marta Catalano, of Queens, N.Y., it also means his even more hidden life: in Mary's womb.
She said the May 31 feast of the Visitation is an especially appropriate time to contemplate the unborn Jesus.
“Jesus went through all the stages of human development,” said Catalano. “From a fertilized egg, to a tiny bundle of cells, to an embryo weighing only a few ounces. His heart began to beat, his limbs budded. He performed his first miracle from the womb by making himself known to his cousin, John, who then leaped for joy in his mother's womb.”
Catalano's reflections grew into a litany to Jesus in the womb of Mary. “I wrote it on the subway on my way to work,” says Catalano. “It came out of nowhere, a couple lines at a time.”
Catalano gave the completed litany to Msgr. Philip Reilly, who included it in the prayer book for his “Helpers of God's Precious Infants” groups to use during their pro-life prayer vigils. The p r a y e r book also includes litanies to the Precious Blood and the Sacred Heart, both of which many prolifers find particularly moving. Helpers chapters are active across the United States.
In conjunction with their reflections on the prenatal life of Jesus, many Catholics use the feast days that focus on the unborn Jesus—the Annunciation and the Visitation—to pray the Spiritual Adoption Novena for the Unborn Child. The prayer for this nine-month long novena was written by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
Archbishop Sheen is quoted saying that those who invoke this prayer for the nine months of a baby's developing life will intercede and save the life of a child who is known to God alone. Participants become the spiritual guardians of preborn babies whose parents are considering an abortion.
Several years ago, pro-life activist Ginny Hitchcock began promoting the novena at Our Lady of Peace Church in Santa Clara, Calif. From March through January, monthly bulletin inserts encouraged parishioners to pray the novena, and also educated them about pre-natal development, current abortion law and statistics, and the teaching of the Church.
“What we intended was to make the unborn baby a reality,” said Hitchcock.
It worked. During the novena, couples who were expecting children of their own bought baby items not just for their own children, but also for the unborn baby they were praying for, and then dropped the items off at the parish's pro-life center. They weren't buying lesser items, either. “They were buying brand new, big ticket items—car seats, strollers, and cribs,” said Hitchcock. “Watching what the novena did for the people in the parish—the generosity it inspired—had a big impact on me. It convinced me that people are not bored with the pro-life message, or jaded in any way. Catholics want to hear the pro-life message.”
Parishes or individuals who wish to conduct the spiritual adoption program can find complete instructions and materials on the Knights of Columbus Web site.
Hitchcock is also convinced that pro-life parishes raise pro-life families, who in turn raise pro-life children. And these children grow up to save babies.
“The young people are the ones who save the most babies from abortion, because they're the ones whose peers are having abortions. They're in the trenches with young men and women their age facing this issue head-on,” added Hitchcock.
In March, at the time of the Feast of the Annunciation, three prominent pro-life organizations, Priests for Life, Human Life International, and Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, faced the issue of abortion head-on with a statement drawing special attention to t h e pro-life dimensions of the Feast of the Annunciation.
“As Catholic leaders at a time when our society is beset with the evil of abortion, and when the human embryo is treated as a mere object for scientific research, we believe that the celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation is more important than ever. By celebrating this feast with special solemnity, and by spending more time meditating on its doctrinal and spiritual lessons, the faithful can be even more solidly rooted in their pro-life convictions, and spurred on to effective action in defense of life.”
More than 50 national Catholic leaders endorsed the statement. The full text, with a complete list of signers, is archived on the pro-life channel CatholicExchange.com.
Most surgical abortions occur before the twelfth week of pregnancy. With the new availability of chemical abortions, such as RU-486 and so-called “emergency contraception” (also known as the “morning-after pill”) the unborn are in an even more uncertain situation. Those who practice the novena spend the time between the Annunciation and Christmas prayerfully meditating upon the mystery of the Incarnation, and by praying for unborn children who may be in danger at this moment.
“Praying for an individual child makes the abortion issue personal,” said Suzanne Spence, who lives in Mountain View, Calif., with her husband Steve and their eight children. “It's no longer an issue out there somewhere, vague and too l a r g e to grasp; it's little people—one lit-