Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

07. A Child Is Born

by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty

Descriptive Title

A Child Is Born


Chapter Seven of Cardinal Mindszenty's book, The Mother.

Larger Work

The Mother



Publisher & Date

Radio Replies Press, 1949

When the tiny human bud reaches maturity, the Lord of life has ordained that it leave its place beneath the mother's heart, and go out into the world. As Sacred Scripture puts it, speaking of Our Lady on the first Christmas night, "the time for her delivery had come." Doctors tell us, that the womb opens and by continuous contraction and relaxation of the muscles the small infant is gradually forced from the womb and is born. To the accompaniment of the labor pains, and with the assistance of a doctor or midwife, the fruit of the womb comes forth.

The Dark Hour

The wife of Phinees was suddenly taken with labor pains. Many women imagine that the labor pains have overtaken them before their time. A professor once treating the princess apparent to the throne of Holland was deceived in her case. There are women even today, who like the woman of Zala-Erdod mentioned above, give birth without any pains. Ordinarily, however, the infant is born in pain. God calls this the "sorrowful hour" of woman. "A woman, when she is in labor, hath sorrow, because her hour is come." She is taken with cramps which surge over her one after the other. Then a certain inner pain seizes her, increasing from moment to moment, as when a small body is separated from a large one. The mother feels weak, sore, and miserable. Perspiration pours from her forehead and down her face. Within, she feels like one open wound.

In the state of original innocence such pains would not have accompanied a birth. But since the fall of man, birth is accomplished in tears, blood, and suffering. Every new-born child can be called "Ben-oni," that is, "son of pain." Rachel gave her son Benjamin this name, and she died in giving him birth. Birth bears the mark of original sin; "in pain shalt thou bring forth children." The immature and irreverent have only filthy names to express this painful event. The mother loses about one and one-third liters of blood in giving birth, and since she has also given the infant its blood, the mother loses about five liters in all.

In that moment, when this gift from heaven arrives, she bears witness to the reality of original sin in the pain she endures, for this earth is a vale of tears. This is the first song which every human being gives voice to, at its first arrival in this world. The suffering of the mother and the crying of the infant both fit in with the plan of the Almighty. Yet one brave woman said during her labor: "The little one cries, why should the mother also weep? I will greet my child with joy. Love should be happy and smile."

Before speaking of puerperal fever, I wish to present motherhood with a wreath of reverence. The Italians have a proverb: "Madre vuol dire martire," that is, "to be a mother means to be a martyr." Before medicine had made its recent great forward strides, and Semmelweisz, the greatest Hungarian doctor (1818-1865), had successfully combated puerperal fever, life and death met too frequently at the time of birth. The infant lived, but the mother was taken to the cemetery. The great Hungarian philosopher Deak was born under these circumstances. He was raised under the cold and stern discipline of his father. Often this unfortunate child vainly sought the security of a mother's arms.

Nowadays most women go to a hospital when they feel their time approaching. There they receive every possible human help and protection against sickness; but on the other hand, being delivered in a hospital deprives them of the experience of having the child at home. Though they may give birth in pains and tears, though the mark of original sin be there in their sufferings, though their body feel like an open wound, still when the necessary precautions are taken, this is not a sickness, but a natural and not a dangerous experience.

With God's Help

The pangs of the mother and the tears of the child will shortly turn to joy. A midwife once remarked: "Nothing is forgotten so easily as these pains." This is also arranged by God, namely that the suffering of the mother be changed into happiness at the sight of her child. She may be tired and weak but there is a wonderful sense of ease and relief. Even during delivery, the mother is not without comfort, if she has faith in God. On one occasion a woman in labor gave expression to a most beautiful and touching prayer. She was in great pain, but her faith was strong and she was ready for every sacrifice. Eve who had squandered so much, had lost paradise, was cursed and driven out, even she cried out at the birth of her first child: "I have gotten a man through God." Tears of joy and sorrow are never so close together and still they seem to be worlds apart. Now the sacred circle is established, the father, mother, and child-the family.

This newly born human being, this living soul, which but so recently entered the body of the mother must now be prepared to live a life of suffering similar to all human creatures. This is a wonderful and a painful event! But Holy Scripture tells us to rejoice at the birth of a child. It is a custom among uncivilized peoples to bring gifts to the mother, and amongst the cultured, good wishes and flowers are presented. The height of human joy, however, is the moment when the mother sees her newly born child for the first time. Koelcsey remarks: "Who has not been witness to the celestial happiness that floods a mother when she presses her first born to her bosom. She takes it up, kisses it and showers it with tears of joy. Joy similar to the heavenly Easter joy shines through her tears. The sculptor, painter, musician and discoverer take pleasure in their work. Theirs is a conqueror's joy in the word 'Eureka,' I have found it,' but immeasurably greater is the joy of the mother over her newborn babe, which is truly blood of her blood, bone of her bone, and as Toldi says, soul of her soul. This infant belongs to her more than anything else in the wide world. It has made its first move into the world, but in her arms, followed by her eyes, her anxious breath upon it. The loveliness so often dreamed about and sighed for, now lies before her eyes. 'Deep rest and humble silent joy fill my soul. All my life I have sighed for this moment, and now this great unutterable happiness is mine. My life, my dreams, my fears have been embodied in this small fragile human being.' "

What was coursing blood and feverish night
Today awakens into sacred joy.
She cradles a child at her mother breast
A newly, freshly opened bud.
Heaven and earth here are one
Care and worry may slumber now.
She cradles a child at her mother breast
A newly, freshly opened bud.

(Sanjo Sandor)

Mother Mary

It is related that a woman from Gocsej gave utterance to this prayer after her delivery: "I render thanks to thee, holy Virgin, Mother Mary, because thou hast granted life to this child, and preserved mine." What deep devotion, what inexpressible gratitude must have filled the soul of this mother before God, from Whom all happiness flows and Who is life itself! What the renowned Gauss wrote in 1803 at the birth of his tiny son, Bolyaj, may be the thought of every mother: "The first threads of a life are now placed in your hands, which shall endure throughout eternity. A heavy and serious, yet withal, a glorious vocation."

Birth is accompanied by much pain, but is rewarded with great happiness. "A woman, when she is in labor, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she has brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish." She makes the first sign of the cross on the little forehead. This is the first motherly blessing, and many more are to follow. But always watch the beginnings. The pain is gone, a new life has begun, and love has been victorious.

Great the joy and great the pain
In which her babe was born;
And now she finds her heaven
Within its puny form!

(Frederick Hebbel)

The Tiny Miracle

It is remarkable how the newborn infant gains in strength. This small being of 51 to 59 cm. will develop into a full grown man, who will walk the earth with proudly raised head. The thought of his newborn child tamed even the savage heart of Emil Saguly, when he was confined behind prison bars. He cried out: "I will confess all, I will admit all if only you will permit me to behold my child for a moment." Detectives, police, judges could not accomplish so much as this tiny infant.

Awaited with anxiety, born in pain, promising trouble and care, this smiling miracle also gives great happiness to the father. Perhaps the only real happiness on earth is "to feel that this flesh is yours, shaped in the flesh of your mate, nourished with milk of her breasts; to watch the birth and slow flowering of the soul in this flesh, to be the sole father of this unique creature, of this flower opening in the light of the world; to recognize your own features in its childish eyes, to hear your own voice through its fresh lips; to grow young again through this child in order to be worthy of it; to be nearer to it; to make yourself younger, better, purer; to forget all the years which bring us silently nearer to death, to forget the pride of manhood, the vanity of wisdom, the first wrinkles on the face, the expiations, the ignominies of life, and to become a virgin again at the side of the Virgin Mother, calm beside this calmness, good with a goodness never known before. This is certainly the highest human pleasure given to a man who has a soul within this clay." (Papini, The Life of Christ.)

The birth of a child is also a great decisive factor in the life of the wife. True, the mother gives birth to the child; but the mother herself is also really born again through the child.

All the World Rejoices

The arrival of the child spreads an aura of joy and happiness over all the family, both old and young. The child is a wonderful gift. There are gifts, not necessarily of gold and silver, but gifts far more valuable than all the jewels in the world. The child is a protecting angel, a band uniting father and mother. A fresh log is placed upon the hearth of conjugal love, and love flames up anew, as it did when first it came. The infant gives life a purpose in the eyes of its parents. Light-minded fathers suddenly turn serious, realizing that they have something to live for. The birth of a child is even a heart-warming event for the stranger far from home. It can heal his wounds and reconcile him to his lot. The tiny hands of the infant quietly restore peace between families. The very fact of its appearance makes it an angel of peace. Grandparents who have been irreconcilable have been changed by the smile of an infant. "The sinking sun smilingly lets his last rays linger once more."

The life of a nation can also be greatly influenced by the birth of a child. When on January 31, 1938, the princess apparent to the throne of Holland gave birth to her first child, the country and all its colonies rejoiced like one big family. Cannons roared, bells rang out, and fliers circled about in the air. Even the school children felt obliged to prepare and recite little speeches of joy and congratulation.

When far from home, it is a great favor to be informed about the birth of a child. In the year 1222, St. Elizabeth of Hungary gave birth to her first child at the family castle. At the time, the Margrave Louis, father of the child, was attending the sessions of the diet at Marburg, but a swift rider was sent to inform him of the child's birth. The messenger was richly rewarded, and Louis hastily set out for home. The road crossed the Werra river. When he had crossed the wooden bridge he ordered it torn down and replaced by a stone one, so that no one might be detained in going to visit his new born child. This bridge still exists today and next to it a chapel has been erected. When Duke Stephen was born in 1239, the occasion was celebrated at the court of his father King Bela IV. In the fulness of his joy he distributed presents and money among his people. On another occasion, when a girl, St. Elizabeth, was born to King Andrew III, he gave money to his subjects, the Church bells rang continuously and the fountain of the Castle Buda, ran wine instead of water for the people, all to show the happiness of the king. It is also recorded that King Matthias granted freedom from taxation and other privileges to the house of Klausenburg where he was born. At the birth of St. Francis de Sales, his parents prepared a splendid meal for all the poor. Emperor Napoleon III gave a million francs to charity at the birth of his first born. Even in our day there are parents who feel urged to be generous because of the gift they have received from heaven, and they show their generosity by donations to the church or the poor. Thus it happens that others also rejoice with them at the birth of their child; and even in the Holy Bible it was said of the birth of John the Baptist: "Many shall rejoice at his birth."

It is a custom in Holland to hang out a sign at the home of a newborn child. This keeps away all bill collectors and closes the door to all tiresome and inquisitive persons. The place of birth is sacred. Indeed, many rooms where Saints were born have been turned into chapels.

The Scriptures relate that Moses when born was a "goodly child." But what infant is not considered beautiful-at least in the eyes of its mother? Yet a certain darkness sometimes hovers over the beauty of the child, a certain sorrow which should not be present. A boy was expected, a girl arrived. The parents are somewhat disappointed. Still it is certain that the wishes of man have no influence upon this mysterious working of nature. All the efforts of statisticians, biologists and psychologists to regulate this matter have failed to produce any results. It will undoubtedly remain an unsolved mystery forever.

"Only a Girl"

On such occasions, nobody in the family seems to be satisfied. There are no congratulations, for, after all, it is only a girl. Among savage tribes this is indeed the ordinary attitude. Still, among the Bantu negroes, a girl is considered more valuable than a boy. In view of this uncertainty, it is not advisable to wish or hope for a boy, or perhaps a girl, because nature may disappoint you. Karoly Sandor, the leader of the Krutzians, gave thanks to God for the blessing of a girl, even though he had expected a son, in these words: "The Majesty of God has favored me with a girl, my little Clara. May His holy Name be praised forever." This little girl Clara, later on turned out to be a greater blessing for the father, the family, and the whole country than many boys. It so often happens that the very girl who has been received with grumbling and dissatisfaction, turns out to be the guardian angel of the family and the unfailing support of the parents' old age.

All generals, discoverers, and artists would be born and live in vain, and humanity itself would die out, if no future mothers were born. When a mother leans over the cradle of her slumbering baby girl, she should remember that this tiny girl and all girls are the prospective mothers of the future, the most precious treasures of a nation.

In some homes, after a number of boys have arrived, a girl is desired. In others, what is wanted is a boy. It is certainly unjust to reproach the mother for a thing like this when it depends entirely upon the Will of God. After having two girls, King Louis the Great and his wife were hoping for an heir who would be ruler of two kingdoms. On one occasion the queen was at Zara and she asked to have a Saint's relic touched to her breast. But the saint appeared to her and told her that she was to have another daughter. This infant was St. Hedwig, the beloved queen of the Poles. Almighty God evidently had His own plans, and as usual they turned out to be best.

A mother should not grieve and be brokenhearted if her child proves sickly and weak. Vaszary Kolosz (1832-1915) was a seven months child; yet in spite of this he became Cardinal Prince Primate of Hungary. Newton's life as a child was despaired of by his own parents, because of his poor health, yet he became the prince of naturalists. St. Francis de Sales was also a seven months child. St. Madeleine Sophie Barat was born prematurely; her mother was frightened by the breaking out of a fire, and had her baby before the time.

It is even possible that a woman forty years of age and older can conceive. This is no reason for shame. If before, the beginning of human life was a miracle of God, then more so now. As a sign of this the Holy Spirit has recorded for all generations and for all mothers the words of Sara in her old age: "Who would believe that Abraham should hear that Sara gave suck to a son, whom she bore to him in his old age?"

Divine Love

There are also occasions when children are born unexpectedly in such places as a street, or on a train, or in church. The poet D'Annunzio (1864-1919) was born on shipboard in the Adriatic. Children are being born continually and everywhere in our strange world. "We awaken, some of us in the springtime, when the flowers are turning to the sun, others come in the midst of a tempest or a snow storm in the depth of winter. A wise man may ponder in vain for a hundred years and more, why Divine Love continues to shower the earth with children." (Amon Agnes-Angels salutation.)

On its arrival, this new-born personage does not hesitate to make known its wants, even though it is poor and naked, a mere tiny thing.

Who is poorer than a baby?
Born at life's crossroads;
Blind today, dazed tomorrow
Reaching for a saving hand;
Who is poorer than a baby:

(Clemens Brentano)

Mother is everything to the infant. She well deserves the praise of the Holy Spirit. The warmest nest in the world is her home. She is the glorious revelation of God in all the realms of nature, as is evident from a letter written by a young father: "We have little news to write about. The latest news will arrive in three weeks. What wonderful possibilities my Evie has. Like every woman in her circumstances she has had a fairly hard time. It is remarkable what a woman will take upon herself, when she wants to become a mother. For my part I have been rather petty and disagreeable about the matter. What is happening here, is something extraordinarily great. I believe that nowhere in nature can you find such a glorious revelation as in the creation of life. As a human being and prospective father, I stand here absolutely helpless."

In his touching "Litany of mothers," Mecs has the choir of mothers speak:

In the blood red Pentecost of our desires,
We secretly planted the tree
Of our longing.
Bedewed with our own blood,
Bathed in our own tears
Covered with our own kisses.
This bud of life matured in the sun
And captivated our hearts.
Too well we know what is man.
Icy winter, cold, and frost, Do have pity, we pray,
Upon the fruit of our womb.

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