Today we again welcome a guest post by Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk. In this article Fr. Jeffrey reflects on the unity of our faith with the science and reality of human development in the womb.

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Dear Faithful,

The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is based on three pillars:

  1. what we believe, which itself has the two aspects of faith and reason;
  2. how we pray what we believe; and
  3. how we live what we believe and pray.

I want to share a few references from the Sunday Matins to show the consistency and integrity of these three pillars.

The text I have is the work of Fr. Peter Galadza.[1]

The Sunday Matins is the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection, with associated themes of the Blessed Trinity and the Light, (Jesus), the one who shows us the Light (God, the Father), and the

Mother of the Light (Mary). The text Fr. Peter edited includes two translations that have been in use for some time, one under the patronage of Patriarch Joseph Slipyi, and the second by the Basilian Fathers. The book I have is from 2012, published by both the Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Institute (Canada) and the Ukrainian Catholic University (Ukraine).

With the two texts side by side, it’s not long before the nuances of the word choice can be noticed. In general, there is a loyalty to the theological capacity for words in Church Slavonic, and an accuracy within modern Ukrainian, but also the bigger issue of having as a source for the psalms the Hebrew text or the earlier Greek. For example, there is the description of God being united, and God being one; another is that of beseeching God to listen to my prayer compared with asking God to hear my prayer.

There is one parallel text in particular that has become an encouragement in my pro-life work, the defence of human beings in the pre-born time of their development. It is not surprising that such intellectual, spiritual, and practical help is found in prayer, based on the principle that what we believe, how we pray what we believe, and how we ought to live what we believe and pray are interrelated.

The phrase is found on a few occasions in the matins and is from Psalm 150: Всяке дихання нехай хвалить Господа / Усе що живе, нехай хвалить Господа. May everything that breathes praise the Lord / All that lives, may they praise the Lord. Initially, I sided with the second choice, since the pre-born are definitely alive, even if they do not use their lungs to breathe. I didn’t understand the wisdom of the “all that breathes” phrase, thinking that the pre-born do not breathe. However, they already possess human lungs! They are fully in possession of these organs. I remember the sight at the birth of one of our daughters, how the emerging child, crowning and then delivered, looked a glorious and royal purple fitting one who had just “crowned.” That was followed by a change in skin colour to a vibrant and robust red as she began to breathe with her lungs. The lungs had already fully formed, and they were ready to work and serve their function within the entirety and integrity of her body.

That’s the point, in defence of the pre-born. They do not have gills while in the womb, like a hybrid creature. They are human in every way. There is a principle in pre-natal development that what is needed first is developed first. The sucking reflex is one of the most endearing, seeing as we sometimes do in videos of a child sucking in the womb.

24 weeks fetal model

24 week fetal model

That is part of the brain development for self-preservation, needed immediately upon birth. Continence is not needed in the womb or initially, and hence potty training comes much later. The lungs, like the sucking reflex in order to eat and be nourished, live, and thrive, must be ready to work from the moment of birth.

The unintended danger of developing an incredibly precise and articulate tracking of pre-natal development is that it could be misunderstood and used with ill will and bad intentions. We take for granted that pregnancy develops through three trimesters, but the concepts are meant to assist doctors understand and possibly help the baby, or babies, and mother. The words first trimester, second, third, do not themselves effect change in them, and neither does fetus mean pre-human.

The concept has been highjacked legally by the Supreme Court in Morgentaler 1988, in which the Chief Justice thought she was being consummately Canadian by seeking a balance of rights, calling on parliament to offer legal protection for the pre-born “somewhere in the second trimester.” Except, of course, a child is just as human biologically before the middle of the second trimester as it is following that point in time. The logic, legal and philosophical, of Chief Justice Wilson made less sense than trying to argue a balanced approach by saying for an abortion they’d let you live, but exact an eye, a foot, and an arm.

The manipulation of the trimester tool intended for the precision of tracking pre-natal development gets worse with this assumption that pre-natally we begin as non-humans and develop into our humanity in a Charles Darwin type of evolution. Already in 1905, Fr. Teodosii Lezhohubskyi, a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Lviv, was debunking the Darwinists, evolutionists, and materialists, all those who today de-humanize the pre-born. They would have us believe, as with evolution in general, as Fr. Lezhohubskyi writes about the theory of early life moving onto land from the sea, that when “it lived in the water, it breathed with gills, but having emerged onto land, it stopped breathing with them and developed lungs instead.”

Fr. Teodosii continues by writing the following: “Materialism has proven attractive to those who aren’t serious about science, but instead find it convenient for various other reasons, especially to deny any difference between animals and human beings.” By extension only if one is serious about science are you obedient to what science teaches about human development. As G.K. Chesterton has written, “…science is only splendid when it is science. When science becomes religion it becomes superstition.”

Jacques Maritain, a political philosopher, and author of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has written something about governance that I’ve realized applies as well to the pre-born. Self government in a completely secular democracy, as opposed to a dictatorship, is based on the vote, he writes in Man and the State. The concept of voting is itself based on reason, free will, and a definition of human nature that includes a “spiritual soul and supratemporal destiny.” After people vote, he explains, they do not lose the right to vote; in between elections we still have the right to vote, even though we are not now exercising that right. Having voted “restricts… its further exercise, but does not make the possession of this right itself cease or lessen in any way.”

I can use this phrase, I remember thinking the first time I read it. Children in their mother’s womb are not exercising certain rights, or even faculties, but that “does not make the possession of those rights cease or lessen in any way.” They possess those rights by virtue of their humanity. They are not using their lungs just yet, but they have already developed very human lungs. They are not exhibiting certain hallmarks of autonomy and personhood, although they are already very much in charge of their own development following the ignition of that fire of conception, as Dr. Jerome Lejeune was known to describe pre-natal growth.

Dear Faithful, continue to be faithful in the encouragement that what the Church teaches, prays, and lives as a unity in truth and Truth. We combine faith and reason to develop principles for a life worthy of human dignity, in opposition to the magical world on which the evocation of the word “wanted” is premised. Even the Supreme Court in 1988 argued that if there is a religious defence of human life there should be an atheistic permission for abortion. All such a statement accomplished was to pit the reason of faith against the irrationality of individuals on the court. As Jacques Maritain explains, once we make “the passage from the magical state to the rational state,” there’s no going back unless we constantly deceive ourselves.

To paraphrase Psalm 150, May everything and everyone that lives and breathes praise the Lord, the one God, united in the Blessed Trinity, who always hears and listens to our prayers, to those who exercise their rights, and to those who are most definitely in possession of those rights by virtue of their presence in the physical world, including a pre-natal presence, as full human beings.

And from Psalm 132, thinking about Fr. Peter as teacher and priest, and the consequences for all the faithful of being a good priest: “Your priests shall clothe themselves with justice and Your venerable ones shall rejoice with joy…”

[1] Fr. Galadza retired just recently in 2020. He was the Kule Family Professor of Liturgy at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. For several years before that, decades in fact, the Institute had been at St. Paul University in Ottawa. In one aspect, this article is written in his honour and of his academic career to date. There are several prayers from the Divine Liturgy that embody an affectionate sentiment of one priest to another, includes the following: “Remember, O loving Master… all our brothers, whom You, all-gracious Master, have called in Your mercy to fellowship with You.”


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