Blessed Are the Barren
WHO'S AFRAID OF FERTILITY?
As Jesus struggled up the hill to Calvary and met the women of Jerusalem, He made this startling statement: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne and the breasts that have not given suck” (Lk. 23:28-29). Might our Lord’s prophecy have something to say to our world today?
Every Sunday at Mass I eventually have to carry my baby to the back of the church to nurse her lest her soft complaints become yowls of frustration. She is my eighth child, so I have made many trips to the back of many churches. But recently I noticed — and not for the first time — that I happen to stand right under the statue of Jesus meeting the weeping women of Jerusalem, the eighth station of the cross. This particular display shows Jesus with one arm holding the cross and the other arm reaching out in a beckoning gesture toward the women. I have become almost haunted by this vision: His eyes seem to be looking directly at me.
As a mother of eight, wherever I go I am asked a lot of questions and frequently receive the same comments. The one that comes up most frequently is, “Are you done yet?” My answer is always some variant of, “It is in God’s hands.” I usually sense some level of discomfort with that response. Over and over I have been forced to understand that no “normal” woman would want so many children. We seem to be a nation that does in fact bless barrenness. Yet we are a prosperous people. We are the richest generation with the greatest technological, medical, and physical assistance in everyday living that could have been imagined by anyone in all of human history. What exactly are we so afraid of?
As I look at that holy arm reaching out to me, I ponder over and over what has happened in our nation and our world. We are prosperous yet we insist on being barren. Why? What is at the root of it all? Surely sex is no less wonderful for being fruitful. Could it be reproductive freedom? Freedom from what? Not from responsibility and work. Every woman I know works hard, very hard. Maybe harder than anyone has ever worked. Most women even work hard at having fun. The women I know who have small families or no children seem the most harried of all. I am constantly being told, “You must have your hands full.” Sure, I have my arms full too. And I am frequently laughing and smiling at what I have in my arms. But the childless women I know aren’t exactly relaxing. I don’t know many people who are as content and as at peace with what they are carrying as I am.
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