Matthew Sewell is the author of the popular “Popes in a Year” daily email series, and hosts The Popecast, a podcast about papal history. Matthew writes about intriguing stories from Church history, the messiness of the Christian life, and (occasionally) insights into Catholicism through Denver Broncos football. By day, he works at Flocknote to help parishes and dioceses build a more connected Church. Matthew, his wife, and their unborn child make their home in Spokane, Washington.
Babies are great, aren’t they? There’s just so much to marvel at. The sparkle in their eyes, their easy laughter, their odd noises. That tiny human really has it made — people jump at the very sound of them to feed, clothe, or change diapers. None of life’s problems affect them, and they effortlessly melt the heart of even the most hardened of people.
Some of these thoughts struck me the other night, when joining some friends and their five children for dinner. I was excited to get to hold little John Paul (who fell asleep in my arms, thank you very much), and it was hard not to think, “Man, what a little miracle.”
And yet, such a sentiment has become rare in our culture today. It’s no longer taken for granted that the unborn get a chance at such a life. What was once universally cause for rejoicing is now seen more and more as a burden. Even if we don’t see it that way, our media insists on presenting children to us like that. What could otherwise be a great gift, even if an unexpected one, we instead often consider merely a drain on resources and potential.
It’s like we’re playing a zero-sum game with a baby. Which is just weird.
St. Augustine’s phrase incurvatus in se — being turned in on oneself — comes to mind, describing a human heart which only seeks to find joy or beauty from within itself. This inherently selfish posture is something we all struggle with to differing degrees, and our most crucial error is believing the corresponding lie that we can ourselves define what is true, good, and beautiful.
How shallow a view of the world! And, frankly, how boring.
It’s a sad life indeed that seeks to control every turn, because an adventure truly is “an inconvenience rightly considered,” as G.K. Chesterton once wrote. Don’t believe me? Just ask any of the parents who tweeted with the hashtag #MyUnexpectedJoy this week.
It was Chesterton who also said, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
Isn’t that the truth? If we’re willing to humbly open ourselves and look outward, to acknowledge that we aren’t the most important thing in the universe, our capacity for awe will grow exponentially. We don’t even have to look far. Looking intently into the face of a child can be all the wonder one needs.
Speaking to a room of over 12,000 college students at the recent SEEK conference, Sr. Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life rightly noted, “All of creation is oozing beauty, creativity, sound, texture, smell. All of it. It’s incredible to think that with all of this intricate creativity, this God made you, and with more care and more purpose.”
What makes creation beautiful is that it’s always being made new. Fall turns to winter, which leads to spring and the full flourishing of summer. The sun rises daily in the east.
Part of that beauty, at least for the areas of creation that involve us as participants, is the role we must play in new life’s flourishing — namely, our obligation to “cultivate it and care for it.” (Gen 2:15). More to it, there’s such joy to be gleaned out of the very process of cultivation itself.
This is the crucial point where our wonder is either constrained or let loose. We can consider the spectacular reality of that unique, one-celled organism having the potential to not only grow into a child, but blossom into a woman or a man who might just change the world. Or we can think of them as little more than a burden to our own ambitions, and maybe even kill it as a result.
Especially for those who believe in a loving God, it is of the utmost importance that we be willing to humble ourselves enough to be patient, even if through suffering, to see “what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9).
Fittingly, the Book of Wisdom speaks truth to the marvelous nature of life:
God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being,
and the creatures of the world are wholesome. (1:13-14)
Let that be our prayer this week, and every week — that the Lord can more fully show us the true wonder of His creation, and that we might be better stewards of it.