December 19, 2008

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

The birth of a child is at the heart of our faith

Sean GallagherIn October of 2006, my wife, Cindy, and I were pilgrims in Rome for the canonization of Mother Theodore Guérin. (I was also reporting on it for The Criterion.)

The day before the canonization, we visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the largest churches in the city.

We knelt and prayed before the relics of the manger in which the Christ Child was laid that sits in the heart of that church.

It was a special moment for us because, at the time, a baby was growing in Cindy’s womb. Our third son, Victor, would be born the following April.

Now, two years later as Christmas is just days away, my thoughts return to the veneration shown those relics by Cindy and I and other pilgrims over the centuries.

The relics of Christ’s manger are in my thoughts, in part, because my wife and I are now awaiting the birth of our fourth child, which we expect to happen near our wedding anniversary next June.

As I reflect on those relics, it reminds me of some very basic truths of our faith.

At the heart of Christianity is the birth of a child. We describe it in theological terms like the Incarnation or Nativity. But when you strip everything down, the great edifice of our faith would collapse without the revelation of the Son of God in human flesh in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

This great event is enshrined beautifully in the relics of the manger at St. Mary Major in Rome.

But, in a way, it re-echoes with even greater splendor every time a baby is born into our world.

Ours is a faith that greatly values life. We proclaim a Gospel of Life. And the fact that the birth of a baby is at the heart of our faith takes on greater and greater relevance as a culture of death continues to grow all around us.

Now in praising the birth of the Christ child and, indeed, of all babies, we Catholics are not oblivious to the great challenges that sometimes come with the arrival of new life.

Indeed, Christ’s own birth shows that to us quite clearly. He was born in a stable far away from home in extreme poverty. Soon afterward, his parents had to whisk him away to Egypt to save his life from a tyrant king.

The troubles the Christ child experienced so soon after his birth, in a sense, anticipated his ultimate passion and death, that other event that, along with Christ’s birth, also stands at the heart of our faith.

Today, despite the advances of modern medicine, heartbroken parents carry great crosses of children who are miscarried, stillborn or die shortly after birth. Others spend weeks keeping vigil beside their newborns as they struggle to live.

And, of course, as children continue to grow, struggles of many kinds are always right around the corner.

Yet we are called to receive the gift of life with joy even when we know that crosses will come with it. Many parents who have accepted this gift over the years have greatly inspired me. They didn’t do a cost-benefit analysis before saying yes to God.

Yes, they prayed if God was indeed asking them to be open to another baby, but, in the end, they wanted to do God’s will. They wanted to echo Mary’s “fiat,” the “Let it be” that she said to the angel long ago in Nazareth.

Let this Christmas, then, be a powerful reminder to us that in the birth of our own children, we are drawn into the very heart of our faith. †

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