It is good to exist.
Thomas Aquinas

It is noteworthy that the birth of a child is pretty much always a painful experience—especially for the mother. Surely it is a trying experience for the child too.

Yet when things go well a child comes forth into the world. Scripture speaks of how the difficulty is forgotten in view of the joy. And what a joy it is. It is interesting that at first the joy belongs especially to the parents—and other family and friends. The gift of the existence of this person is right now rather lost on the baby itself.

Over time, we hope, the child comes more and more to experience the astounding gift of his existence: a gift that has been given to him, and a gift that has been given to those around him and to the whole world.

There is much that goes into discovering just what a gift is our existence. Again, it is striking that parents are the first to perceive the gift that is their child. It is fitting that they first perceive it, since it is they that are specially called to convey that knowledge, that wonderful insight to the child. Perhaps the most precious image I have is that of my wife smiling into the face of our newborn children.

In my own life, my joy—along with my wife’s—in the birth of our children helps me to grasp all the better what a joy was my birth for my parents.

But what if a child’s birth is not the joy that it could and should be for his parents? Surely this child will face a special challenge in coming to discover the joy of his own birth and existence. But that his existence is worthy of the greatest rejoicing is as true as ever. It is heart-wrenching that parents can fail to see, and to rejoice. Yet have we not all failed to some extent in this?

Birthdays are always an opportunity to look again and rejoice again. To stop, even if but briefly, and to honor the gift and the astounding goodness of our existence and that of others. Perhaps in wishing a ‘happy birthday’ we can wish that person to see again, and in some new and deeper way, the gift of his own existence. That would make for a happy birthday indeed. And birthdays are always, truly, a happy day.

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