Pregnancy is prickly: a homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent 2022
Readings from A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year A, Advent III: Ruth 4:11–17, Gal 4:1–7, Matt 1:1–16 alternative from “A Genealogy of Jesus Christ” compiled by Ann Patrick Ware.
Reflection at the beginning of Mass: Our readings today speak to us of Jesus’ lineage — the generations of women whose lives and choices led to the birth of the one we know as the Christ child. Ruth is the protagonist in her own story; she seeks healing from her place of hardship, and more than birthing a child, she births a new community for herself and Naomi. Furthermore, her boldness births the future of the Israelites, as she becomes the great-grandmother of King David. Her determination and way-making leads us all the way to Jesus. Thanks to the genealogical scholarship of Ann Patrick Ware, we hear that clearly today. The power of speaking women’s names! In the third week of advent, let us honor them as we reflect on what we are bringing to birth as individuals and as an inclusive catholic community (and how).
Homily: Pregnancy is prickly. We often romanticize it. Pregnant bellies put smiles on faces — the idea of a new infant coming into the world. The coos, the cuddles, the joy of all the new-babe firsts.
As a mom and as someone who has chosen by profession to work as an advocate for women experiencing high-risk pregnancy and parenting in NICU (newborn intensive care), I live immersed in the joys and also the difficulties of birth and nurturing new life.
Gestating requires labor and rest. A friend of mine is in her first trimester, and she’s moving through a phase of complete exhaustion. As a nurse, she has to be on her feet for 12 hour shifts, and her body just wants her to sleep. I remember that experience all too well. When I was pregnant with Jackson, I would get home from work and collapse. I could hardly keep my eyes open to make it to the couch. It was a sleep unlike any other I have experienced — deep and demanding.
It’s the same with birthing newness in our lives and communities. When we are processing ideas that call us to evolve, to grow in a new way — it can feel like too much sometimes. Our dominant culture is not one that slows down for the advents of our lives — whether they be physical, emotional, social, or all -encompassing. But healthy gestation demands it. It hurts us when we cannot rest.
Recently, a pregnant woman noticed her vision change, but she didn’t tell her doctor. To keep her job, her rent paid, her family stable, she kept working, doing what she had to do. Attend to vision changes, or keep on pushing through? For a lot of people I work with, early hospitalization or disability due to pregnancy causes them to lose their jobs. It pushes them to the edge of overwhelm. They lack support systems, and the people they depend upon most are also in varying states of instability. So, they walk to the edge of dangerous conditions like preeclampsia, which can be fatal for the mom and baby. It’s a frequent cause of premature birth. With dangerously high blood pressure levels, this mama could have had a stroke.
No matter our life stage, we experience gestational exhaustion in times of transition. We notice that something is wrong, that we may need to attend to our health, our relationships, or physical environment — but we meet resistance through the pace of our lives, the pressures we feel, the lack of support we experience, our social conditioning, and/or our own desire to protect “what is” because exploring “what could be” feels threatening to our way of being and belonging in the world. It can lead us to make dangerous decisions for ourselves, and for others.
The possibility of death accompanies every pregnancy, every birth. Culturally we shy away from the gravity of that truth. We need joy, so we focus on what feels good. The baby! But this cultural need often alienates people who are in the guts and grief of disability, differences, and death. It’s important to develop a collective ability to acknowledge grief and joy with balanced attention so that we can have healthier outcomes for all.
Pregnancy is prickly.
As a community, I think we are in a new gestating season. We may have experienced a season of prematurity — having birthed something precious amongst ourselves before it was fully able to sustain life without intensive care. Like the mightiest of preemies, our community persists — tended with labor and love.
Today, God is again asking us, like God asked Mary:
Will you share your body and being with me and bring Christ newly to birth in an inclusive church? It will be dangerous. It will challenge and change you. But I will be with you.
I think we need to embark on a prickly pregnancy to greater inclusion.
What do you think?
Questions for reflection:
In what ways do you/we need to “slow down” for the advents of our lives and our community?
What are we saying “yes” and “no” to right now that will shape the future we are birthing for ourselves and others?
How are we called to birth “inclusion” as an inclusive catholic community?
If we take seriously the belief that God created all of humanity in God’s own image, how are we called to witness, appreciate, and love the multitudinous expressions of God, each uniquely and wonderfully made?
How might attending deeply to that reality challenge and change us?