It’s as loud as a fire alarm (except it goes off 20 times a day). It screeches like fingernails down a chalkboard. And rather than fleeing to escape it, we’re supposed to run right toward it.
A baby’s cry.
Our baby shrieks like any other newborn: when he is hungry, tired, wet, lonely or otherwise annoyed. But after many new babies in our home, I admit that my husband and I have slowed in our response time. We used to leap at the slightest sniffle from our first, but now we know that babies sometimes quiet themselves right back to sleep.
(Also, we’ve got four pots boiling on the stove for dinner and three kids asking questions that need to be answered right now, including two who are probably lunging at each other’s throats.)
But the baby’s brothers? They can’t let him cry. Not for one single second.
They look up in alarm as we’re sitting down to eat and wails erupt upstairs: “He’s crying! We have to go get him!” As soon as he squawks from his car seat, they lunge over their own seats to comfort him. “Poor buddy! It’s OK! We’ll help you!”
I smiled at this quietly for the first few weeks of his life, delighted that the siblings had accepted a new number into their ranks with such love and attentiveness.
But then I realized they were calling me out, too. Trying to wake me up, like biblical prophets from the back seat.
Because hearing the cries of the neediest is what I’m supposed to be doing all the time.
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” We sing the refrain to Psalm 34 at Mass. And we read this truth over and over again in Scripture: “This poor one cried out and the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him” (Ps 34:7). “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, take heart! For the Lord hears the poor” (Ps 69:33-34).
Our cooing, gurgling, squalling newborn is the “poorest” one in our family. The one who has the least and who needs the most. My mom always says that God made babies’ cries impossible to ignore for good reason: that we would always attend to them.
The three big brothers remind me what it means to act like the God I love. To respond without hesitation to cries of need. To drop everything else and rush to comfort. To live with ears inclined toward the poor.
God is known throughout Scripture by hearing and seeing. He hears Hannah’s lament at the temple over her infertility. He sees Hagar weeping when she and her son Ishmael are cast out into the wilderness.
We, too, see with God’s eyes when we behold our spouse, children, friends or family with eyes of love. We hear with God’s ears when we hear the needs of those in poverty and those on society’s margins.
The cry I can never ignore is a hungry baby howling to nurse, especially when I’m stuck somewhere (like rush-hour traffic) where I can’t reach out and pull him to me. In those anguished moments, I feel my pulse quicken in my ears, my blood pressure rising as every cell in my body longs to pick up my child and give him what he needs.
This whole-body response is what I imagine God might feel when we cry out in need. Every impulse of God’s being lunging toward us in love.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor — and the newborn. Do we?
Fanucci is a mother, writer and director of a project on vocations at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota.