A mother’s various attempts in the course of the days routine to appreciate by observation, reason and faith the wonders of God’s making and remaking of one small Christian–these attempts set forth in the hope of working with God’s help towards a less harassed, more intelligent and loving service of Christ in these his least brethren our fascinating and exasperating children


Painting by Mabel Rollins Harris


“Where did you come from?”

THERE he sits in his play-pen, Thomas Edmund Ryan, age a year and a half. His hair shines in the afternoon sunlight; his cheeks are bright red from his morning on the porch; his dark eyes look merrily round at the world and finds it good.

He is clutching his after-lunch cookies, one in each hand, taking bites from each alternately; and he pauses now and then to smile a wide and crumby smile, or to utter a loud cry of dismay when a piece of cookie falls before it reaches his mouth and a satisfied chuckle of discovery when he finds it safe on his lap.

This is supposed to be the quiet time of day–and, for once, it is.

Four-year-old Jonjo is asleep upstairs, a rare and happy event. Thomas here should be well provided against the hour’s confinement with his cookies to eat and a newspaper to tear up, two trucks with wheels that go round, an empty pill bottle with its top, a big ball and an enormous wooden spoon. I can lie down on the couch for a few minutes and relax.

This might be the moment for that fifteen-minute meditation which spiritual writers say everybody can find time for…But Thomas is so distracting with his exclamations and bumps and rustlings and bangings.

As his father remarked one Sunday when he was in charge of Thomas and the telephone and the door-bell: “It’s like trying to think in a boiler factory!”

But since I have to be with Thomas so much of every day, I ought to be able to think in his presence. Perhaps “minding the baby” ought to mean keeping your mind on him, not trying to get it off. What does Thomas remind me of?

“Where did you come from, baby dear?” Well, certainly not out of the everywhere. Everywhere could never produce anything so definite and particular and personal as Thomas.

Where did he come from? From nothing? But nothing couldn’t have produced him, any more than everywhere; he is too clearly something and somebody.

Nothingness could never have been the cause of this so very actual and active little boy here in his playpen, eating a cookie, kicking his feet and uttering loud comments on life as he sees it.

Yet he must have come from nothing, for only two years ago I was wondering whether he would be a he or a she, and only three years ago he didn’t exist. There wasn’t any Thomas at all. From nothingness to existence, from nothingness to this very special existence–all in less than three years!

But where did the idea of Thomas come from? It could not have come from us, his parents, for we did not even know about him until he had already started to be. And anyway, how could we have had as pleasing and startling an idea as Thomas?

Sometimes when you make a cake or write a book it turns out better than you expected. But nothing that you make is ever such a vast and continual surprise as your own child, from the first moment you see him.

(And when, by God’s grace, you finally meet him in heaven and for the first time really see his very self all filled with the life and happiness of God in its own special way–that must be the most wonderful surprise of all.)

But if Thomas is not our idea, whose is he? Of course, he must be God’s. Thomas did not exist until a short time ago: but the idea, the plan, the blue-print of him has been in the mind of God from all eternity.

That funny round yellow head, that serious look with which he is surveying the vanishing cookie, those short hard little legs–were planned by God and foreseen by Him from forever!

Thinking about Thomas as one of God’s ideas certainly gives you rather a different notion of His mind from that which you can get merely by thinking of Him as planning everything-in-general. When God looked at Himself, Infinite Reality, with a view to creation (to put it in very human language), He saw all the possible ways in which He could express Himself through created things, all the ways in which His infinite perfections could be expressed and reflected by things outside Himself, from the angel to the amoeba, from the star to the star-fish.

And, therefore, babyhood in general and our Thomas in particular must reflect some of God’s Perfections. Could one deduce from looking at Thomas that among these perfections must be infinite Humor?

But God not only knew about our Thomas; He loved him from all eternity too. Otherwise he would be just a possibility, not the very actual and active fact that he is. We could not love him until he was here to be loved. But God’s creative love brought him into existence in order to share His Goodness with him.

And how much God must love this funny little boy now sprawled all over his big red ball, laughing as it rolls him over on his back, sitting up like a Jack-in-the-box to hug it to his chest and start his game all over again.

For God not only planned him and chose him to share in His perfections as far as a human baby can do so. He “chose him out in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be a saint, to be blameless in His sight for love of Him, marking him out beforehand (so His Will decreed) to be His adopted child through Jesus Christ.”

God the Father looked at His Word, His Son, and saw in Him the idea of our little son. God the Father ordained the Incarnation of His Son, and in that very decree He chose our son to share in His Own Son’s Sonship.

He wanted our baby not only to be His creature, but to become His Own child in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be co-heir with Christ of His eternal happiness. The mysterious Will of God from all eternity chose this little boy to “manifest the splendor of that grace by which He has taken us into favor in the person of His beloved Son.”

And this must mean that the human mind of Christ also knew all about Thomas Edmund long before we did. For from the first moment of His Incarnation, His human mind knew about all the souls He had come to save, and His human Will loved them all.

On the Cross, He “loved him and delivered Himself for him.” When He rose on Easter morning, He foresaw his Baptism, when He would destroy our small Thomas’ death by His dying, and restore his life as a child of God by His rising.

And now in heaven He looks at our Thomas with His human eyes, and loves our Thomas with His human as well as His Divine love. He is continually giving His life of sanctifying grace to this little boy, through His Holy Spirit, in the mysterious vital current which flows through the branches of the Vine, through all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Our Lord has ready for Thomas all the graces he will need all his life long to grow up in all things in Christ, to take his special and unique place in the work of the Mystical Body, the Church on earth, to achieve his own place in heaven for all eternity.

To think that Thomas Edmund here in his playpen has such an integral part in God’s plans for all mankind!–that he is planned to be, called to be God’s assistant, Christ’s cooperator in the work of redemption, instrument of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of other people…

Look at him now. The cookies have long since vanished, but their memory lingers in crumbs all over his face, his hands, and his nice blue suit that Granny brought him only yesterday. Every yellow hair is standing on end at a different angle from his wrestling with the ball, and he has taken both shoes and one sock off and thrust them out of his pen onto the floor.

Now he is working on the pill-bottle. He has got the top off and is trying earnestly to screw it back on. Ah!, he says loudly as at last it fits, and he bangs the bottle on the floor of the pen. How wonderful to know that somebody in our house is receiving all that God’s love wants to give him, is giving all the glory to God he possibly can, simply by existing and wriggling and banging a bottle!

But we, Thomas’ parents, are also responsible for all the glory our son is giving God now and will ever give Him. For God allowed us to help Him,–or, rather, He made us able to help Him to bring Thomas into existence.

God so recently created his soul from nothing; but, if one may say so, He made his body out of nothing very indirectly–and with our help. All the actual material of his bones and blood and solid flesh was made back at the beginning of things, when “God created heaven and earth.”

And the form, the pattern of Thomas’ body was created when God first made man to His image and likeness. St. Paul says that we were all “in Adam”; so Thomas must have been in Adam too.

He must have been “in” the father of the human race when he first looked around at the garden of Paradise, when he and Eve were blessed by God and told to increase and multiply and fill the earth and rule over it.

He certainly was “in” Adam in this mysterious solidarity of the human race with its first head, when Adam fell and lost the life of grace for himself, and for his children and for us and our children–for otherwise Tom wouldn’t have needed to be baptized.

And he must have been “in” Adam when God promised a Redeemer, a new Head of the human race, in Whom human nature would once again and more gloriously be united to God.

God must have been preparing for our little son’s existence through all the uncountable generations of men from Adam to John and me. He must have been watching over all the combinations and permutations of genes and chromosomes (or whatever scientists now call them), through all those centuries of prehistory and history, so that when our Tom finally came to exist, his body would have just the special characteristics and capabilities that God wanted it to have, so that it would fit the special soul He was going to create to in-form it and to make it into this special human person, Thomas Edmund Ryan.

And then, after all these centuries of preparation, God used us, John and me, and all the chances and changes of our lives and our free wills, to produce little Thomas for His love.

That we should have met each other at all–born thousands of miles and fourteen years apart–seems like accident. That we should have loved and married each other rather than anyone else seems to be the chance result of innumerable events and circumstances and choices.

But here is this little boy, and his older brother upstairs, and their sister in heaven, to prove it not really chance, but Providence, to show that God was forming us all along in order to marry us in Christ and to produce, through us, these children, who are at once the gift of God’s love to us and the gift of our love to God.

For it was the action of our love which gave God His opportunity to create each of these three new human creatures. Without our cooperation, God would not have brought these three beings into everlasting existence, these three special persons, each unique and individual, each having a special part in God’s plans for the whole human race.

How God honors us, even in the natural order of things, to make His actions so dependent on ours!

But if He would not produce these special babies without us, we certainly could not have produced them without Him. One can plan not to have a baby; but nobody can plan to have a baby and be sure that it will happen.

At some moment, some instant of whose coming or passing I was entirely unaware, God’s creative power came to meet our action, and infused a new and unique soul into the first beginnings of a human body.

Up to that time, my body had been placidly attending to its own needs; all my organs and glands had merely been going about their usual business of keeping me alive and active. But, all of a sudden, there was a new life for them to attend to.

Without my knowing anything about it, or having any control over it, my physical forces went to work to form and nourish and increase little Thomas, in ways so complex and mysterious that no scientist has even begun to chart them thoroughly.

“Didst Thou not form me in my mother’s womb? I praise Thee for my wondrous fashioning, for all the wonders of my creation. Of my soul Thou hast full knowledge, and this mortal frame has no mysteries for Thee, Who didst contrive it in secret, devise its pattern, there in the dark recesses of the earth.”

And surely this is the special joy of those months of pregnancy, the joy that underlies all the discomfort and annoyance and weariness and nervous strain–to know that God is using you in such a special way, that you are as it were His loom on which He is weaving the substance of a human body; that it is His work which is going on in you; that He is watching over it to see that it comes out according to His Will.

When you are having a baby, you cannot help being God’s instrument. Your body is for those nine months what your whole self ought to be all the time–the instrument through which God is working to achieve His plans.

How beautifully the prayer of the Church for an expectant mother expresses the truth of a baby’s coming to be: “Accept the offering of a contrite heart and the fervent prayer of Thy handmaid, as she humbly pleads for the life of her child whom she has conceived by Thy Will.

Guard her child-birth, and defend her from all assaults and injury of the bitter enemy. By the obstetric hand of Thy mercy may her infant happily see the light of day, and, being re-born in holy Baptism, forever seek Thy ways and come to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ Thy Son.”

Here is the point and glory of the whole process of parenthood–that our children should be re-born in Baptism, should always seek God’s ways and should come to everlasting life through Christ Our Lord. For we do not get married merely to bring forth more human beings. We marry in Christ to bring forth new human creatures whom God will make His children by Baptism.

We do not get married merely to carry on the human race; we get married to build up the Mystical Body of Christ. We get married so that we ourselves and our children will do God’s Will as members of Christ’s Mystical Body on earth and together share in His everlasting happiness in heaven.

So now two streams of life meet in our Thomas’ life:–the stream of natural life coming from Adam and the stream of supernatural life coming from Our Lord on Calvary.

There were two births for this one little boy: his first from me in the hospital, his second from the baptismal font in the Cathedral, “the immaculate womb of our holy Mother, the Church.”

And the wonder of Christian parenthood is that he had to have the natural life we were made able to give him, before he could receive super-natural life, divine life from God and from the Church.

He could not have come to his second birth unless we had given him his first. To become God’s child, God first made him our child–and here he is, one Christian baby, flat on his stomach with his legs kicking, reaching out through the bars of his play-pen to make his truck roll back and forth on the floor outside.

How amazingly the marvels of our re-making reflect the wonderful process of our making (or, rather, the other way around. And why should one be amazed, since God made the natural order to reflect and so teach us about the supernatural?).

For God gave our Thomas his natural life both through our cooperation in forming his body and through His Own direct action in creating his soul. And similarly, He gave him supernatural life by water and His Holy Spirit, through the action of the Church and through the direct action of His sanctifying grace.

Just as God did not bring Thomas into natural existence without the cooperation of all his ancestors down from Adam to John and myself, so

He did not give him supernatural life without the cooperation of innumerable human minds and wills and deeds.

Our child’s “share in the divine nature” comes to him directly by the working of the Holy Spirit, but it comes to him from Christ Our Lord, God and man, through the power of His Passion and Death and Resurrection.

And it comes to him also through the Church, born from our Lord’s side on the Cross to be the new Eve, the mother of all who would live by Christ’s life.

How many generations of bishops have lived and worked and handed on the priestly power first received by the Apostles from Christ Our Lord in Palestine nineteen hundred years ago, so that there would be a blessed font in a Cathedral in Boston, Massachusetts in the year 1947, and a priest of the Church to act in Christ’s person and to give our child his second birth from that font, his birth to everlasting life, his birth into the family of God! How kind God is to his human creatures, to let us work with Him not only in His work of making, but also of redeeming and sanctifying…

A loud cry breaks in on my meditations. The little “terminus ad quem” (as we used to be taught to say in philosophy class) of all this divine and human action, has rolled his truck too far away from the pen and is desperately trying to reach it.

What is Mummy doing?

And from upstairs floats the pathetic repeated wail of our older child of God: “Mummy, is it time to get up yet?”

To work is to pray? Well, then, back to prayer!

“The love of parents is made manifest only through sacrifice, respect for the human nature of their children, companionship and a deep interest in the studies, the work, the play and the progress of their children. It does not injure the children by coddling them; it does not stunt them by unreasonable severity in its demands and punishments.” -Fr. Donald Miller, C.SS.R., 1950’s

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