I heard the story of my birth every August 12th for 34 years. (My mother passed away a month before I turned 35.) From the moment I woke up on the morning of my birthday she would ask me if I knew what she was doing however many number of years ago and then proceed to recount the event in minute detail as though neither one of us was present for it.
Over the years I heard all about how I was born two weeks after my due date, causing her to wonder if I would ever show up; how I had a bowel movement on myself on my way out of the birth canal, prompting the nurses to think her colon exploded; how she thought one of my arms was longer than the other only to learn that the sleeve of my hospital gown was tucked inside itself; how I summarily rejected her breast milk, was slightly underweight and downright cranky. (Seriously, look at my baby picture…I was NOT happy to be here.) To hear her tell it, I was some kind of strange alien baby sent to test her abilities as a parent or I was possessed. She wasn’t sure which. Nice options there, Mom.
My favorite story occurred about a week or so after my arrival when, during a routine diaper change, I flung my legs up over my head creating such a panic that she immediately bundled me up and drove me to the doctor’s office. I guess the nurses didn’t quite know what to make of the maneuver, but our physician was a good old-fashioned GP who didn’t get rattled by the weird and unusual. He eschewed many of the new-fangled theories on infant care and pediatrics that were just coming to light and he diagnosed problems with equal parts medical expertise and common sense. When I performed my little party trick for him, he was unimpressed. He told my mother to get me dressed and take me home.
“There’s nothing wrong with her,” he assured her. “She’s double-jointed that’s all.”
I’m telling you, NOTHING could faze this man. My mother hauled me out to him for every little sniffle, cough and strange bodily function my system could come up with and no matter what the diagnosis, he acted like it was no big deal. He didn’t consult recent studies. He typically recommended home remedies and he rarely reached for a prescription pad or a referral sheet. (He was a big fan of shots however and that is where my rear end and his medical acumen typically parted company.)
Whenever I hear the story of the man with the possessed son, I can’t help thinking of my mother and all of the trials she endured with the birth of her first child. While I am not here to discount demonic possession or Christ’s ability to exorcise such critters from the kid, there is a part of me that wonders if this was the father’s first experience with the “Terrible Twos” or teenaged angst and mistook it for something more sinister. You can’t blame him. While I have never personally witnessed a possession, I have seen a toddler obtain the strength of 10 grown men when they do not want to go to bed and I have observed teens having a mental breakdown over a bad hair day so…I assume it all looks similar. Nonetheless, I love how the apostles, who are all knew to their vocations, seem baffled by the kid’s behavior while Jesus takes it all in stride like he’s seen it all before.
I like the image of Jesus as the patient pediatrician who attends to all of our growing pains with understanding and assures our parents that He’s got their back. As the physician who understands infant, child and adolescent care better than Dr. Benjamin Spock, he assures our parents that they have nothing to fear, even when our behavior may seem strange and scary. Jesus is the ultimate healer who can chase the demons away and fix whatever is wrong inside. We are lucky to have Him for a doctor…I hear He hasn’t lost a patient yet!
Today’s readings for Mass: DT 6: 4-13; PS 18: 2-3A, 3BC-4, 47 and 51; MT 17:14-20