Last November, we took Roo to church for the first time — a Saturday vigil Mass almost exactly one week after she’d been born. I was worn out from her baptism that morning and, you know, having a week-old smallish newborn, but somehow I received the grace to actually pay attention to the homily — not always a given at this season of life!
Our new priest, who served in the Coast Guard, centered his homily around the Coast Guard’s motto — Semper Paratus — “always prepared” and spoke about readiness for death. November in the Catholic Church is the Month of the Holy Souls, but the homily was wide ranging in its allusions, drawing on Tim McGraw, Lord of the Rings, St. Paul and the parable of the virgins and the lamps. He spoke of the good death and about being prepared, about the Church’s teachings on cremation.
But standing there (ok, mostly sitting) I remembered with such clarity the previous week: my big belly that couldn’t fit another kid on my lap, my aching back, my impatience to meet my baby girl.
I had been delivered in every sense of the word with the birth of my baby, but first I had waited in preparation.
Packed my bag, made childcare plans, tried to keep the house at a low ebb of chaos, tried to get sleep in preparation for the day of reckoning.
Kept preparing as my hope waxed and waned: when the midwife told me any day now, through the frustration of a bout of prodromal labor, through the conviction I’d never go into labor on my own.
And that readiness was everything. In labor, unlike almost anything else in modern life, you don’t know the hour. And when my hour came, it really was an hour: a fast and all-consuming hour of very hard work, with no time for procrastinated preparations, just action.
Death, I guess, is like that, too, though I haven’t given it much thought. Might we prepare for it the way I did for this labor? Trying to keep up confession and Mass, trying to savor each moment with the kids as the last before a major change, trying to keep up the right attitude.
It’s easy to slump back into laxity after labor has passed, once the baby is here with us. The house by necessity falls back into squalor; new resolutions lose their newness and I slip back into the same old sins. But it’s a thought worth keeping in mind, as Father Miguel reminded me.