God Became Man, and Wore Diapers

Diapers show us just how real the Incarnation is

James Tissot (1836-1902), “The Adoration of the Magi”
James Tissot (1836-1902), “The Adoration of the Magi” (photo: Public Domain)

My favorite meditation for Christmas comes from the Venerable Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland (1948-81) who kept Catholicism and the Church alive in that country despite communist repression. John Paul II would not have been who he was without Wyszyński’s mentorship, a truth attested by the new Pope’s embrace of the septuagenarian during the homagium at the Pope’s installation. 

Wyszyński’s meditation is part of a larger work, “Above Everything, Love” (Miłość ponad wszystko).  The meditation is entitled “God in Diapers” (“Bóg w pieluszkach”).

Luke (2:12) reminds us that Mary gave birth and wrapped the newborn baby in “swaddling clothes,” i.e., diapers.

Wyszyński observes that “meditating on God dressed in diapers is an extraordinarily healthy experience for man” and gives us four reasons why.

First, diapers show us just how real the Incarnation is. “God in diapers—incarnating Himself in humanity’s everyday reality and complete entry into being born human—a total recognition of humanity and everything connected with it. God shares a common fate on earth with man, in even the smallest aspects of his life. …. The True Mediator between the Father and his children appears dressed in diapers.”

Second, diapers remind us where we came from. God enters human life as does everyman. Regardless of where he may go, everyman comes into the world needing diapers and will leave it needing probably little more. “The career of everyman begins on earth in diapers, even if today he’s dressed in the clothes of an ambassador or the uniform of a general.” Clothes may make the man, but everyman begins with the same basic set.

Wyszyński wrote that “diapers are rejected with contempt by man.” When he penned that about half a century ago, he perhaps has in mind social status and advance: every Communist dignitary had chests full of medals. But Wyszyński’s observation is both timeless and very timely: there is perhaps nothing that so terrifies moderns than diapers and their wearers. Our flight from the child—our readiness to do everything, moral and immoral, to evade the child; the “sounds of silence” in neighborhoods and “communities” bereft of children; the collective suicide of countries demographically dying amidst material prosperity—all attest to the terror and contempt diapers elicit in some people. Wyszyński puts things in perspective: “A child is the future. Not those two degree-holding, competent parents, but that tiny little human being, who does not yet know anything, who is dependent on his mother’s breast, his father’s hands, and the good will of his parents. That is not infantilism; it’s wisdom.”

Third, diapers tell us of the dignity of a mother’s work. For women wondering about the sense of the quotidian, about the task of changing diapers and cleaning up their contents, Wyszyński reminds us: the Mother of God was precisely that because she was the mother of a man who wore diapers. “Two mothers—the Mother of God and the mother of man—greet each other in a labor well-known to each.” A labor of love, but still also a dirty job. But God is met in the everyday, which is where holiness is achieved: Mothers and fathers “came out of [diapers] themselves and in this way today serve God, society, and their fellow man best.”

Four, diapers are the foundation of democracy. In Wyszyński’s communist Poland, everything was politics and politics was everything (a perspective not alien to our own day or country). Wyszyński blows it all away bluntly: “Amidst today’s social equality one must remember that it began not with a “Social Contract” nor a “Manifesto” but in diapers.” And the head of humanity is one also clad in diapers.

There’s no shortage of speakers who have been advised to overcome their stage fright by imagining their listeners in their underwear. There’s be far fewer social problems if we could regularly see our fellow man helplessly clad in diapers.