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A child is born

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From the beginning men and women were put on earth to be fruitful and multiply. Our purpose in creation is to bring new life into the world.

Before Advent we hear of the Prince of Peace, the father of the future age. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son. But the news of the conception of a baby from a virgin was so counter-cultural that her betrothed husband was stunned by the revelation. He was even reluctant to believe it.

Then the smallest of souls is given to us in the humblest of places, a manger. The baby is delivered not even in the town where his parents were living, but a place where they had to travel for a government census.

A medical doctor, Luke, wrote his Gospel before the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 A.D. Here, the annunciation of the Savior is recorded: "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever."

We are told further that his reign would be over all the nations.

Today, many nations have lost their sense of the future and their place in it. The birth rates in many countries around the globe have dropped dramatically. In France, Italy, Spain, and Ireland, new births are at 1.3 per female, well below their replacement levels of 2.1 children per female. In some cases, these rates are propped up by immigrants from Middle Eastern and African counties whose birth rates are much higher than longer residents. The lack of new babies suggests the young in developed countries have lost a sense of the future and their role in it.

It wasn't so long ago that giving birth was a woman's crowning achievement. She could be a professor, doctor, lawyer, teacher, but her children were the jewels in her crown.

A husband also anticipated each new baby. He wanted children to continue his line. His land, his business, his trade were of special importance because of who would follow in his footsteps.

Every birth is miraculous. Research worldwide shows that is it the rare person who can pass a tiny baby without smiling. It is automatic. We just need to peer over the cradle to see this new life and we smile. Is it nature's -- and God's -- way of rejoicing at new life.

Even a child's outburst at Mass is a welcomed sign that there will be descendants. As the poet Carl Sandburg once said: "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." Let's hope so.

The birth of the baby Jesus is so stunning. The smallest of souls is given to the world in the humblest of surroundings. Yet every baby is a gift to the world, a sign the world should go on. Every mother naturally thinks her little miracle is beautiful. No matter how wrinkled and wailing, he is gorgeous to her. The long months of waiting, the changes in the mother's body all lead to a glorious new life. How utterly tragic it is that some people refuse to cherish new life. It is against the nature that God gave us.

Today, our culture is attacking nature. Using birth control methods to delay conception allow indecision. When is it a good time to have a baby? Waiting to be "able to afford" a baby is a prime subtext of our era. But when was a baby ever affordable. These are reasons of uncertainty. Still, if our parents and grandparents gave birth during depression and war, they had to overcome much greater uncertainty.

Social scientists report that today male adolescence is often prolonged into the thirties. They call this phenomenon "failure to launch." (Undoubtedly, being on your parents' health care until age 26 probably contributes to that state.) The failure to launch can be observed in young men's preoccupation with video games, fantasy football, and endlessly hanging over the TV in their parents' basements.

This lack of engagement is not just an American trend, but is even worse among Japanese young men. However, nothing launches a young man like being handed his babe wrapped in the hospital version of swaddling clothes. A new mother feels changes in her body, but a young father has his own profound change. He is now a father and this helpless child needs him.

Storytellers and poets have captured this transformation. Local writer, Louisa May Alcott once wrote that her father asked "What was God's noblest work? Anna said: 'Men,' but I said babies. Men are often bad, but babies never are.'" A poet wrote, "His little hands stole my heart... and his little feet ran away with it." Or another: "A baby is an angel whose wings decrease as his legs increase."

Were he alive today, doctor and novelist and Catholic convert Walker Percy who captured our human tendency of self-preoccupation with the phrase "the suck of self," would surely prescribe having a baby to get over this malady.

The modern poet whose work appeared on a bumper sticker said: "Choose life, your mother did."

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline.

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