O Lord, Thou has made for Thyself a worthy dwelling-place in the Virgin Mary.”
From the Feast of the Expectation of the Virgin Mary, December 18
Editor’s Note: Liturgically we are still in the Christmas season, and although Our Lady has given birth to the Divine Child, these thoughtful reflections of Chris Bryan can help make our own “expectation” of the Babe of Bethlehem more fruitful with every holy sacrifice of the Mass that we attend, while we prayerfully await His coming to us in Holy Communion. Too, joyful expectation is something every mother shares in, especially Catholic mothers, who not only await their own little bundle of joy, but the child of God whom they are going to give back to Him, reborn in grace, at the baby’s baptism.
The feast of Our Lady’s Expectation is upon us. This is the occasion for reflecting on her generous service to God, and on her humility and joy. Our own preparation for Christmas will be purified and enhanced as we unite ourselves with her time of waiting, with her intense longing for the redeemer of mankind.
Each mother offers an echo of this in her own time of expectancy. As the body of her baby develops over the months of waiting, so does her longing develop, her eagerness to meet this gift of a child, uniquely intended for her particular family.
Like every emotion, expectation can be ordered or disordered. We all experience hoping, waiting, anticipating on both supernatural and natural levels. At every Mass, we can be fully confident that certain expectations will be completely met. Through the sacrifice of the Mass, we have available the most powerful means to adore God on a level we cannot possibly do on our own. We can know the wrath of God will be appeased, and that amends are made for our offenses. We will be able to express fully our gratitude through the One who knows better than we the graces and blessings we have received. And, at communion, we can be immersed in the ocean of love itself: the most peaceful place for our desires to surface. These are the ends for which the Mass was instituted and we can have every rightful expectation of them being realized. And if our life is thus focused, on the eternal things first, our daily lives, and our desires, will be much better ordered.
On the natural plane, children and their expectations are forefront at this time of year. If their personal desires to receive can be balanced with their natural generosity, they can have a delicious time of anticipation during Advent and full hearts when they celebrate the Holy Birth.
It seems fitting, in this season, to review a book that was written for the welfare of mother and child. Lisbeth Burger was a midwife in Catholic Germany. She wrote about her years of service to families, and this has been published as forty-four short stories of her first-hand experiences with courtship, marriage, and raising children. While some are sweet and amusing, Miss Burger herself considered the accounting to be “bitterly serious,” because, living, as she did, during the destruction of Catholic Europe, she had intimate insight into the “forces which are at work in human life.”
In 1887, she was selected by her pastor to become the new midwife for her large village. To help overcome her doubts and fears, he told her, “The midwife always holds two human lives in her hand: the mother’s and the child’s. I could hardly wish for myself any more beautiful profession. To share in God’s works is a great honor.”
At the time of the writing of this book, All for the Love of Mothers, she had been a midwife for forty years and had delivered 2,283 children, “no two exactly alike.” Over those years, Miss Burger became increasingly aware that parents needed to take greater responsibility in preparing their children for the lessons of life. In the preface, Father Chad Kinney wrote, “Mankind can and will only be happy on this earth as long as he faithfully respects the order established by the Creator and His most precious natural gift, human life.”
Some of the story titles are listed here to lure the reader into purchasing this valuable book: “The Spoilt Child,” “Too Late,” “Another One Already!,” “What’s a Wife for?,” “Infanticide,” “Heroic Mothers,” “True Love.”
There are few things more beautiful on earth than the arrival of a baby. As we anticipate the birth of our Savior, the loveliest Christmas gift of all, may you find the fulfillment of your own holy expectations.
Drop down dew from above, ye heavens, and let the clouds rain the Just One! Let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior! (Introit, Fourth Sunday of Advent)
Note: The fascinating book, All for the Love of Mothers, is available at the catholicism.org bookstore.