On Friday, July 1, my bride gave birth to our fifth child and fourth son. We named him Michael Seraphim: Michael after the Archangel and after my brother, and Seraphim after St. Seraphim of Sarov, a favorite saint who lived and prayed deep in the spruce forests of 19th century Russia.
He weighed 8 pounds and 7 ounces, which is large for my wife, Michelle, who is slender and fine-boned. Hers is a delicate beauty, though it is a delicacy that hides great strength.
Labor was arduous, and I looked on, like most expectant fathers, with a mixture of haplessness and helplessness, desperately wanting to participate and at the same time not wanting to get in the way.
We are such outsiders, we men, entering only briefly to plant a seed, then watching from afar as the mysteries unfold deep inside the woman, and again from afar as they break forth into the world in violence and pain.
Watching my wife struggling in life-bearing agony, I prayed and tried to keep fear at bay. And I thought of Christ, laboring on the cross in life-bearing agony, giving birth to the Church. Through the ages mystics from Anselm to Bernard to Julian have called him "Christ the Mother" and have seen the cross in terms of birth pains, the water and the blood pouring from Our Lord’s side as the water and blood of birth. The image had occured to me in previous labors, but for some reason it was particularily vivid during Michael Seraphim’s birth. I felt like a witness to the same sort of heroic struggle as Christ’s, the same
sort of life-and-death battle.
It seemed it would never end; Michelle had emptied herself, was utterly spent, and still the baby had not come, when suddenly everything happened at once and there before us was this new and fresh life, looking like he had been rudely awakened from a dream state, or had been transported from another world. I wondered if we look like that to the angels when we die and enter the celestial world, all strange and wondering.
Michelle, who had looked so haggard and near death during labor, looked all at once fresh, radiant. The baby gazed long and searchingly into her eyes- the image Von Balthasar used to describe contemplation.
And it was only later that I realized that the hard part of her labor, the agonizing part, was almost exactly three hours, the same time span as Christ’s Passion on the Cross…