By Patrick Schmadeke
How often do we connect the Incarnation of Christ to everyday life? Daily moments of our own lives give us a glimpse, a window, a hint into the mystery of the Incarnation. How can childbirth in particular deepen this understanding?
As a father of now two children (as of late June), I can think of very little which compares to the particular physicality of childbirth. Childbirth is one exquisite and privileged experience of a glimpse into the Incarnation. We experience countless other such glimpses throughout life. My insight into childbirth is laughably incompetent. The sheer intensity and uniqueness of this experience for mothers is inappreciable for fathers, no matter how perceptive and empathetic they might be.
So, not wanting to speak out of turn, my wife Rachel has the first words: “childbirth and stepping into mommyhood … it’s like being handed something that you absolutely have to do in that moment. It’s bigger than starting a new story. It’s a new era. Or a new play where you get pulled out onto center stage and you learn to dance and sing a new part that you don’t yet know how to perform, but somehow kind of already do.” In its own way, her experience strikes me as a participation in the Incarnation.
Immediately following the birth of our new daughter, Catherine was given to Rachel to hold. This is far from the experience of our son being born and rushed to the NICU. Just minutes after her birth, Catherine was nursing, receiving, partaking in the sustenance for life. A natural though not easy routine that has taken time to work out, this, in its own way, strikes me as a participation in the Incarnation.
The arrival of our second child was a topic of daily conversation with our 3-year-old son Matthew, so when it came time for the baby to arrive he was elated. He waved us off as we left for the hospital. When we brought Catherine home, he bounded out of the house onto the front porch to greet his new baby sister. A hush fell upon us all. She, asleep in her car seat, and he, kneeling down before her to get a closer look, were entering further into the beginning of an indelible bond. He spontaneously took up the task of helping to carry the car seat into the house. In its own way, this strikes me as a participation in the Incarnation.
Over the coming weeks, our new family arrangement progressively settled in — but honestly, we still have a long way to go! Every part of our day is touched by the presence of a newborn. She has us returning to the basics of living intentionally as a family. Her presence has produced many a spontaneous moment. Just earlier today, as Matthew held Catherine under our close supervision on the couch he leaned in and whispered slowly as if only she could hear him: “I love you very much.” In its own way, this strikes me as a participation in the Incarnation.
How are we to understand the Incarnation of Christ, if not experientially? We don’t “get it” if it remains merely in the realm of ideas to which one assents intellectually. We only “get it” if we open our hearts to participating in it. The Incarnation comes to us daily, as Christ remains with us always, until the end of the age (Matt 28:20). If Christ can be a tiny eucharistic wafer, if Christ can be a sip of eucharistic wine, if Christ can be the caring presence of a nurse and the nurturing voice of a teacher, if Christ can be in the eyes of our baby girl, then Christ is everywhere.
(Patrick Schmadeke is a graduate of St. Ambrose University (‘13) and of the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame.)