It’s a Baby

Parish Diary

June 24, 2007

Fr. Peter Daly


            It was a beastly hot day. We clustered under the shade of a tree in our parish cemetery. We were there for the burial of a baby.

            It was a very young baby, stillborn at only three months gestation. So small, it was hardly the length of an index finger. At that tender age it was hard to tell if the baby was male or female. The parents named the child Jose-Maria (Joseph Mary) since they weren’t sure of the gender.

            The parents are good people. They are hardworking immigrants from central Mexico. They support a lot of family back home. The father works landscaping. The mother works in a restaurant. 

            A little group from our local Latino community was there with them. The parents sat on folding chairs set up by the Catholic Cemeteries office near the grave. They held hands.  

            The week before the burial I had asked the mother if she had a box to bury little Jose-Maria. She told me yes, a “caja de plastica” (a plastic box). They carried the box to the grave in a fancy paper gift bag with colored tissue paper sticking out. I had not seen it before.

            I lifted the box out of the bag to place it a table near the grave. I saw that it was a plastic “Huggies” diaper box.

            Tears came down my face. My throat closed up. I was overcome by the sadness of it all.

            These were poor people. This was the best they could do. I thought of Mary and Joseph, like them poor people. How Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple for his presentation with the offering of the poor, two pigeons. I thought of how Mary had to depend on the kindness of a stranger to bury her son Jesus in a donated tomb.

            What a lesson this simple couple was teaching our community. Neither parent had gone beyond the sixth grade back in Mexico, yet they knew better than our “sophisticated” culture the true meaning of this moment and of this young life.  

            They knew that Jose-Maria was a baby. It was their baby.

            They did not care that scientists might call this baby by another name: blastocyst, embryo, or fetus. They knew that it was a baby.

            When she had miscarried at the hospital, the hospital staff told her that they would dispose of the “tissue” if she wanted them to. She said, “No, give it to me.” She took him home in a baggie packed in ice. Our culture might have thrown this tiny child away, like just so much trash.

            So there we were on a hot summer day, commending this tiny body to the earth and this young soul to God.

            I stumbled through the prayers in my bad Spanish. They were understanding of my errors. We are old friends. Friends make allowances.  

            A few cars passed. I thought to myself, “This is an important lesson” especially for the children in our group.

            This burial reminded us that every life matters. Every life, no matter how short, how poor, or how powerless, matters to God. Every person can be a prophet of the Most High.   

            Somebody will be saved by the short life of young Jose-Maria. I am sure of it. In God’s eyes that life, no matter how short will have been a huge success.

            Jose-Maria may have been laid in the earth in a plastic diaper box, but he went to God on the wings of angels. He was assisted by the prayers of his parents and the Church. His life mattered.