The Word Engaged

Midwives of God

“Strong, loving and wise.”

Why is there disorder everywhere? The meanness of discourse. The destruction of life. The sly celebration of evil. The collapse of mercy. The breaking of promises. The pathologies of culture.

With Habakkuk we plead for help, but God seems not to listen. “I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene.” There is ruin in our cities, misery for the voiceless old, and skepticism for the hungry young.

Wounds abound: Alzheimer’s and liver disease, congenital handicaps and ancient vengeances. Even the earth groans with ominous quakes and atmospheric disturbance. Hurricanes follow drought.

What is more, we witness within ourselves awesome malevolence. Wars are waged; women are degraded; children are disposed of. We destroy the earth and its species. We uproot and wipe away its peoples. “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and discord.”

Sometimes it is too much to bear. The scale of the inequity crushes us. The scope of the iniquity, even in one’s heart, dwarfs virtue. The good die young. Deceivers prevail.

Streets of Manhattan, Hanoi, Johannesburg, and London are lined with empty stares. Automatons move dexterously. There is no eye contact. Politics is posture. The media medicate us. Where is hope?

What reasons can be offered to loving spouses that they should bring children into this world? Increase my faith, I say. Give me some reason to believe. Show a sign. Make a promise.

  “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore, ‘Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Faith. Hope. Love. I have often asked what these paltry human acts might mean to the sweep of history, to the portentous powers of culture, to the lost. How can they give birth to goodness in a world that so often seems to gestate death?

A story I cling to—now recalled from so long ago that I have to ask myself whether memory is true—returns.

There was a religious sister who was a midwife. She taught in a university and she practiced her profession in a city hospital. Into the hospital walked a lost, young teenager, many months pregnant, not even aware of the fact, but sick.

“I’ve got news for you,” the midwife said. “You’re pregnant.” There was no boy or man who might claim the name of father, no family, no support group, no promise. As I recall, the young girl did not even know how or when she became pregnant, so meager was her knowledge of “reproductive rights.”
The good is like a frail fire. It expends itself once it is lit.The sister-servant promised the young mother-to-be that she would be there for her. Each week a visit could be made and lessons taught: how to eat properly and take care of a pregnant body, how to prepare for delivery, how to live. And each week, visits were made. After the novena of months passed, birth came. One new mother’s child, with the midwife’s guidance, was fed rightly, nursed and cleaned, cared and worked for.
Then the young mother disappeared. She was gobbled up by this heartless world, lost in the maelstrom of this culture, the American dream, which for her and her child was a nightmare. She went defenseless before the pimps of pleasure and power. She vanished into the dangerous night.

She was not heard from again until, I think, six years later, when in her early twenties she wrote a note to her midwife-mother. It was an invitation, the message now blurred in my mind. “I am sorry I waited so long to thank you, but I wanted to surprise you. I wanted to be like you, since you were someone so good and loving.”

The invitation was to a graduation for Licensed Practical Nurses. Somehow, stronger than all the threat of violence and abuse, more appealing than any seduction of the moment, was the gift and promise of a person’s witness.

The good is like a frail fire. It expends itself once it is lit, bringing light to those around. Even though slight, it can illuminate a big dark room, helping you make it to the other side. Like love and wisdom, it lives in being communicated, being given.

My midwife-sister-friend did that for a young girl. She did that for me. You just do not know how faith bears fruit. You just do not know how love lives anew.

I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you. The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise. Therefore, never be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord … but with the strength that comes from God, bear your share of hardship which the Gospel entails. (Second Reading)


John Kavanaugh, SJ

Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. His untimely death is a grief for the many people he reached during his lifetime.

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson