Although we know that Hannah will give birth, today’s first reading ends with Hannah being despondent and her husband attempting to comfort her.
“Hannah, why do you weep,
and why do you refuse to eat?
Why do you grieve?
Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
Nice try, one might imagine Hannah saying, although no response is recorded here.
Tragically, in that time and place, the bearing of children (especially sons) was seen as absolutely critical to a woman’s value in society. As this reading demonstrates, a barren woman was sometimes even a target of derision.
Today, even more tragically, society’s view is different. Indeed, in some circles, childbearing is actively discouraged.
The truth, of course, lies in the middle: the opportunities of childbearing and childrearing are wonderful gifts from God. They are not burdens to be shunned or minimized nor are they magic paths to self-esteem.
Indeed, although she was despondent, Hannah knew this, that children were a gift from God, and so she would go to the Lord for help, rather than the pagan fertility practices in the vicinity.
We can also learn a powerful lesson even in Hannah’s husband’s words of attempted comfort.
To many of us, the husband’s words seem rather egotistical: Am I not more to you than ten sons?
One guesses that this man really does think he’s God’s gift to women, and of course he certainly is not...
...but Jesus is.
The words of Hannah’s husband could be literally true (without any hyperbole) only when applied to God himself. Children are a gift from God, but only God could be a greater gift.
Thus, those who have not been blessed with children can find comfort in continuing fidelity to God’s will in their lives, both by avoiding the immoral paths hawked by some fertility practices today and also avoiding the selfishness that today’s society urges us to pursue (with or without children).
And, for those who are called, the words of Hannah’ husband (imperfect though they may have been at the time) may find perfect fulfillment by taking Christ as one’s bridegroom: in the promises and solemn vows of celibacy and chastity. This is an especially important point at the beginning of National Vocations Awareness Week: children are a wonderful gift from God, but for those to whom it is given, a celibate relationship with Christ is better than any gift.
No matter what the Lord has called us to or whatever gifts he has offered to us, may we be faithful to the Lord’s call and use well his gifts, for the good of others and the greater glory of God.