Donald DeMarco, Commentary:
An Epiphany is a revelation or awakening that is a life-changing event. It is an illumination that allows a person to see something in a new light. The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revelation to the world of Christ, associated with the Magi. There has been a number of personal epiphanies that not only changed lives, but also the course of history: St. Paul, St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Then, there are the less dramatic, but no less imsponportant epiphanies experienced by many.
The words in the title of this essay belong to Dr. Richard Selzer, a prominent American surgeon. They express the epiphany he experienced when observing an abortion for the first time. In his book Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery he tells us that he saw something “utterly unexpected.” It was not a “clump of cells,” and it certainly was not a “choice.” Selzer, who is a gifted and accomplished writer, “saw something in that mass of cells understand that it must bob and butt.” It tries to free itself from the doctor’s needle, like a fish trying to escape the fisherman’s hook. “It is the fetus that worries thus.” The movement is not a mere reflex. Every ounce of energy in that tiny being is expressing the desire to go on living. But it was all in vain. “I felt,” Selzer goes on to say, “life prodded, life fending off. I saw life avulsed—swept by flood, blackened—then out.” The pro-abortion rhetoric crumbles like a house of cards, “for what can language do,” he concludes, “against the truth of what I saw?”
Abby Johnson records a similar experience in her book Unplanned. In witnessing an abortion for the first time, despite being an employee for eight years with Planned Parenthood, she saw something that hit her ‘like a lightning bolt.’ “What was in this woman’s womb just a moment ago,” she relates, “was alive. It wasn’t just tissue, just cells. That was a human baby—fighting for life! A battle that was lost in the blink of an eye.” Her experience left her with the conviction, “Never again! Never again!” She left Planned Parenthood, became a pro-life Catholic, and is now a leading spokesperson in the defense of the unborn child.
The experience of a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), which is the death of a child, no matter how young, can have an unexpectedly powerful effect on a woman, one that Planned Parenthood tries to deny. Dr. Leanna Wen, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, suffered the loss of her unborn child. In her memoir, Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health, she reveals that “My pregnancy loss was devastating in a way that I couldn’t have anticipated. I cried for many hours and could not be consoled.” She shared her story in the Washington Post (July 6, 2019). In reaction to her disclosure, she was particularly aggrieved to learn that she was accused of stigmatizing abortion by referring to her miscarriage. Her epiphany was experienced in pain, but it revealed to her in a most dramatic fashion that the loss of an unborn child is the loss of a human being that can cause deep mourning.
Whittaker Chambers was a high-ranking member of the Communist Party. It was deemed inappropriate for such members to be distracted from their more important work by bringing babies into the world. Chambers’ wife, however, pleaded with her husband to not do that terrible thing to their child. Chambers relented. While living in an apartment on St. Paul Street in Baltimore (an appropriate setting for an epiphany), Chambers was watching his daughter who was eating in her high chair. His eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear. At that point the thought crossed his mind, “No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been crated only by immense design.” Chamber understood only too well that design implied the existence of God. It was during that epiphany, watching his daughter — “the most miraculous thing that had ever happened in my life” — that “the finger of God was first laid upon my forehead”.
The unborn child, as witnessed by Selzer, Johnson, Wen, and Chambers, can be an essential component of an epiphany. In his memoir, Witness, Chambers speaks eloquently for his child (and for every child)—“the child we all yearn for, who even, before her birth, had begun, invisibly, to lead us out of that darkness, which we could not even realize, toward that light, which, we could not even see.”