During the Christmas season our minds necessarily are turned to the birth of a poor child in a manger. There is something so human so compelling about the Nativity scene. It is unique to our frail human condition and while at the same time so beyond imagination. God comes to us in a way which both beckons us to Him and makes us feel safe approaching the Creator of all things. This way is through a baby. Each time we see an infant we want to smile. We want to approach this human being which is so helpless and beautiful. But not all feel this way when they see a baby.
There are those women, increasing in number, who desperately want to have a child, but cannot because of infertility. Certainly this is not a new problem the Scriptures are filled with stories of women who were “barren”. Since for the ancients children were considered a blessing, they were seen as cursed by God. Left to feel as if they were less than a woman or a wife. However, for several of these women their “barrenness” was to be an opportunity for God’s powerful intervention in our world. What seemed to be a curse would become a great blessing! Take for example Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who was “childless because she was not able to conceive (Gen. 11:30)”. Yet, the Lord enabled her to bear a son at the age of 90 (Gen. 17:15-17). In the last week of Advent, we also remember the two other miraculous births. First, the birth of Samson to a woman who “was barren and had borne no children (Jg. 13:2).” Second is Zechariah and Elizabeth who “had no child, because Elizabeth was barren (Lk. 1:7).” To both of these couples God intervened through an angel to announce that they would give birth. Each one of these cases of miraculous births became for all times a prophecy or foreshadowing of the one event which took place in the Incarnation. The birth of Christ was the ultimate miraculous conception as God became man in the womb of a virgin.
However, all of this may be of no consolation to a woman who is childless. As one infertile woman explains, “Until very recently, I never noticed all the pregnant people constantly surrounding me. I noticed baby clothes, because they were cute, but not in the heart-wrenching, horrible way I notice them now. Everyone is pregnant, and there are babies everywhere, or so it seems to me.” Yes, for a woman, created to give life, it is a strange paradox to be childless. They and their husbands experience the loneliness of being unable to relate to so many friends who have children. These woman must live with stigma which goes with being childless. The questions about, “When are you going to have a child?” The assumptions about things they may or may not be doing or have done to prevent conception. But, possibly the worst is the recognition that having a child is a blessing from God one which they have not been given. They can’t help but see child baring as a “reward from God”.
The Christmas season may be especially painful for these woman. For they must attend parties and family gatherings answering the inevitable questions. Children running around the Christmas tree. Parents speaking about the enjoyable holiday traditions that they have with their families. Making cookies and wrapping gift, while noticing the immense joy in their child’s eye. Proudly exchanging professional pictures of their children in a Christmas scene. What a joyful season for those woman with a child, but what a painful experience for those who are unable to conceive.
Even the sight of the Christ Child in the manger can be a painful reminder. Yes, the Baby Jesus is an image of Hope for us all, but also a reminder of what may never be for those infertile. It may even make them avoid the Nativity scene or cringe at the sight.
However to remain focused only on the physical birth of a baby in Bethlehem is to miss the entire meaning of the Incarnation. Jesus says in Luke 4:18 that he was sent “proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” He is the Emmanuel or “God with us” and not just any normal child born in poverty. This is the source of hope that we must impress upon those women who are held captive to infertility. Jesus does care immensely for them and their painful situation. And, He did and still does perform miracles.
One of the ways Christ chooses to perform miracles is through His Saints. These are His intimate friends who are united with him in heaven. They intercede on our behalf all the time and have a special interest in those who invoke their assistance. There are many saints who are patrons of women who are unable to conceive, but one of the most powerful is St. Raymond Nonnatus. This Saint has perform numerous miracles on behalf of women seeking to conceive. St Raymond’s life story shows forth the immense power of God to work miracles. Raymond was born in the beginning of the 13th Century in Spain. He was given the surname of Nonnatus or not born because he came into the world through an inspired and urgent incision which his uncle made with a dagger in the abdomen of Raymond’s mother who had died. Raymond’s unusual birth would be a sign of the wonders God wished to do through his life. Raymond would grow up into a very pious man who gave his life to God as a priest in the Order of the BVM of Mercy.
Since St Raymond’s death in 1240, he has been invoked as the patron of expected mothers. For over 700 years women have turned to him for help in conceiving and childbirth. So many miracles have occurred that it would be difficult to count. Here in the United States, the friars of the Order of Mercy have promoted devotion to St Raymond since they came to the country in the 1920’s. Since the 1950’s the popularity of the St Raymond’s Guild has grown in America. The Order has shipped thousands of St Raymond kits throughout the United States. These kits are composed of the Magnificat book (prayer book for expectant mothers and Christian families), St Raymond holy card, blessed candle, and blessed St Raymond water. The blessed candle, water, and prayer book are to be used by those desiring to have a child and expectant mothers throughout their pregnancy.
For each one of us, the Advent season offers an opportunity to walk with Mary who is expecting the Messiah. What a beautiful spiritual analogy to lead us into prayer and works of charity in the days preceding Christmas. However, let us not forget that for infertile women, whose number has risen to 15%, this can be a painful image. Christ came to bring light to those in darkness. Women in need not remain in the darkness of the shame of infertility. God still performs miracles. He gave St. Raymond life through the intercession of his uncle. And for hundreds of years women have been given hope through St. Raymond’s powerful prayers.
Christmas is a time for miracles. The greatest of all miracles occurred when God became man in the womb of a humble virgin. Surely, the Christ Child knows the pain of those women who are childless. Jesus wishes them to come to Him believing that God still performs miracles! Through the intercession of St Raymond Nonnatus patron of childbirth and Christian families may the Lord continue to perform miracles this Christmas. May many women, who long to give life, continue to have their prayers answered in powerful ways!
For more information on the St Raymond Guild contact: (585) 768-7426