The Saints and the Cross Episode 2: St. Therese of Lisieux

Today I cover two aspects of St. Therese of Lisieux’s teaching: Doing small things with great love and persevering in trial and testing knowing it is a sign of God’s love for us.

Today is my 39th birthday. I’m requesting that anyone who views this video or stops by the blog to offer a prayer for our priests, bishops, and Holy Father. In your kindness, after you pray for your own parish priests, please remember mine: Fr. Kevin and Fr. Christian. I pray that Our Lord may unleash tremendous graces on our priests through the Immaculate Heart of His Mother.

Here’s a beautiful prayer you can offer written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who is a fellow April birthday.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Prayer for Priests

LORD JESUS CHRIST,
eternal High Priest, you offered yourself to the
Father on the altar of the Cross and through the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit gave your priestly
people a share in your redeeming sacrifice.
Hear our prayer for the sanctification of our priests.
Grant that all who are ordained to the ministerial
priesthood may be ever more conformed to you,
the divine Master. May they preach the
Gospel with pure heart and clear conscience.
Let them be shepherds according to your own Heart,
single- minded in service to you and to the Church
and shining examples of a holy,simple and joyful life.
Through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
your Mother and ours,draw all priests and the flocks
entrusted to their care to the fullness of eternal life where
you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen

Love is the Cross: The Agony of 9/11

Suffering agony in this life isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter if that agony is our own or our neighbor’s. All of the calls to radical individualism and self-reliance are lies in the face of the ontological reality that we are all bound to one another. God has created us for union with Him and communion with one another.

This truth has unfolded in my life in a variety of ways, but one of the earliest and most visceral was through my experience as a 9/11 relief worker. I didn’t dig in the rubble. Instead– without fully understanding the long term impacts–I walked into the depths of human suffering as a relief worker to the bereaved. At 20-years-old, I felt rather helpless, but I knew that I wanted to do something, so I went

There is nothing that could fully prepare me for that level of suffering in others. I was a nominal Catholic at the time, so I didn’t understand our call to endure the agony of the Cross alongside Our Lady and St. John as much as I do now, but I lived it and embraced it even in my ignorance. The weight of it all nearly broke me because I didn’t yet understand that I could not carry such things without a total reliance on Christ, and it was Our Lady, Our Sorrowful Mother standing at the foot of the Cross who stood by me throughout it all, since like most 9/11 relief workers, the horrors stayed with me–and still do to this day–for years afterwards.

The strongest memory I have of the deep suffering of those grieving the loss of their loved ones through an act of cowardly violence, was during my first visit to the crash site with 400 family members. My friend and I were tasked with setting up a memorial table where the loved ones could place pictures and items in remembrance of their loved ones. We were still in rescue mode at the time, but one look at the crash site and we all knew everyone was dead.

As I stood beside this table in my dress whites, each person would come up to the table to set their item down. Many were sobbing uncontrollably. A woman, probably only 3-4 years older than myself, collapsed on the ground in front of me in agony. Her fiancé had been on flight 77. There was nothing I could do to distance myself from her agony. I was plunged into it with her and began to cry all while trying to be a strong military woman…whatever that even means in these circumstances.

As I stood there trying to keep it together with tears streaming down my face with each new family member’s suffering, the three star general I was directly working for, walked up to me and said: “Are you alright, Sailor?” I told him yes. I’d never seen so many stars on a shoulder, so I was trying to keep my military bearing while also grieving alongside the families. He himself had lost his best friend, had smoke inhalation from trying to save others, and was now tasked with the awesome responsibility of helping all of the grieving families.

The Cross does something to us. It’s supposed to. It cuts us deep. It opens up depths within our souls we didn’t know were there until moments of agony occur. It is through this deep penetration of suffering that we are opened to love. If we avoid it, then we cannot love as we are supposed to. We cannot love expansively. We become closed in, or caved in on ourselves, when we avoid our own suffering or the suffering of others. 

The Apostles, save St. John, fled the Cross. They ran from the agony, but St. John was opened up to the mystical depths of union with God precisely because he stays with Our Lady and the other women at the foot of the Cross. He suffered in love. I didn’t know what I was doing in my desire to run to the foot of the Cross on 9/11, but it forever changed me. It opened me up to the willingness to suffer in love for others and to use my own suffering for the good of others. It paved the way for the path I’m on now.

Love requires fortitude. True love is not easy. It is agonizing at times, but it is what we were made for. The happiness we seek is intermingled with joy and sorrow in this life. We are a selfish lot. Suffering is the single greatest tool that God uses to teach us how to love as we ought to. If we want to see as Christ sees, to love as Christ loves, and to forgive as Christ forgives then we must be willing to embrace the Cross in all of its horror, awe, and joy.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is this coming Saturday. Through this feast, we lift high the Cross as the answer to all that ails this Fallen world. It is not a sentimental action, far from it. It is a call to love through the sorrow, sin, and suffering of this life, because it is through the Cross that we are transformed. The happiness we seek is found in an ancient instrument of torture, where the Son of God conquered sin and death. It is in self-emptying love that we become who we were created to be. Christ calls us to follow Him to Calvary and to endure its agony, so that we can become radiant in love. This is the very meaning of our lives.

Charity and Communion: Enduring Versus Trying to Fix Suffering

The nature of suffering and its connection to growing in the virtue of charity is something that I spend a lot of time pondering. This connection has become even more prevalent in my spiritual life in relation to the Cross for a variety of reasons. We have a tendency when we are faced with suffering–especially someone else’s suffering–to try to fix it, offer theological maxims, or practical advice. We do anything we can to keep ourselves at a distance from the suffering person. 

Another’s suffering makes us uncomfortable. It awakens fear within us and powerlessness. It destroys the illusion that we have any power or control. Suffering leaves us completely vulnerable. We don’t think this is the issue at the time when we confront someone who is suffering. We think that we are simply being helpful, but I truly believe that how we respond to suffering has a lot to do with our own lack of self-awareness about our motives and responses, as well as how we view and embrace/avoid suffering. Have we truly embraced the Cross in our lives including the crosses others?

Two figures who have loomed large for me in the last year are Our Heavenly Mother and St. John; both of whom stood at the foot of the Cross while Our Lord endured His Passion and death. The first reason for their influence in my spiritual life is because of my secondary vocation as a spiritual mother to priests. Our Lady’s example is the prime example of spiritual motherhood of any kind, but especially to the priesthood. My Marian consecration opened up the path to this vocation.

St. John is the priest who endured the Passion when no others would. He is an essential figure and intercessor for priests today in the midst of so much scandal. He is the father of mysticism and one word summarizes all of his writings in Sacred Scripture: agape (divine love). He knew the requirements of charity at a deep level and He embraced those demands alongside Our Heavenly Mother.

Our Lady and St. John’s example at the foot of the Cross is an essential lesson for all of us in learning how to endure and embrace suffering. We have a tendency to try to fix suffering or offer theological or practical advice to the suffering. There are times for this, but by-in-large, when the suffering is greatest, we are called to simply endure the suffering alongside of them. This is the real call of charity in suffering in communion. We can’t fix or take away someone’s suffering. We are called to love them and walk with them. That’s it.

The suffering Christian typically knows–at least at a basic intellectual level–the reasons for suffering or the fact that it is a by-product of the Fall. Part of what makes suffering greater is the knowledge that this is not how it is supposed to be. We are made for communion with God and that was ruptured with the Fall which ushered in sin and death. We know Christ has redeemed us, but that we must also endure our own Passion and death in this life in order to be with Him forever in the next.

There is a point, however, when suffering becomes so heavy and great that the use of reason becomes impossible. This is the moment when theological explanations or “practical” advice are utterly useless. The person who is suffering must simply endure and embrace the intensity of the agony until that moment of agony passes. It will pass and the use of reason will return for a time. 

There are no words of explanation, theological platitudes, or practical advice that are of any use in these moments because the person has hit the point of unbridled pain and agony. They know these answers already, but the pain is so great that all they can do at the time is hurt. Instead, the person looking from the outside uses these explanations as a way of establishing distance and to comfort their own fear rather than enter into the suffering of the other person.

We must all learn how to embrace suffering together. Our Lady and St. John endured the Cross with Our Lord and entered into the mystery of suffering, the place where silence is the only response. I think we all must learn to be comfortable with that place. The only way to overcome this fear within us is through agape. 

St. John’s writings are essential in responding to suffering in love. We have to reach the point when all we can do is look at the suffering person and tell them: “I’m sorry you are hurting so much. I know its heavy.” And then fall silent alongside of them and endure the moment of agony together. This is to love as Christ loves.

I know for myself, with the suffering God asks me to endure, that I reach moments when theological explanations actually frustrate me more, and I’m a theologian. There comes a time when I need someone to simply look at me as I am, to see me in my suffering and find the courage to look me in the eyes and say: “I’m sorry. I know it hurts.” It is an acknowledgment of the pain and to see me as I am rather than as someone to push back because of fear or discomfort. To do this for someone is to look directly at the Cross in all of its horror and glory and to choose to endure it with them in the communion we are called to as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

All of us do this to one another at times: spouses, family, friends, priests, etc. If we allow the divine life to fill us up and embrace our call to love as Christ loves, then He will give us the courage to enter into one another’s suffering with all of its powerlessness and vulnerability. It is there where we will begin to learn the true depths of charity and communion. 

Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John, ora pro nobis.

When God Tests Us to Prepare Us for a Mission

How does God prepare us for the mission He has in mind for us? One of the ways He does this is by testing us. God allows certain things to happen in our lives to see if we will be faithful and endure what He is asking of us. He uses suffering, temptations, weaknesses, failures, and battles in order to strengthen us and to show us the path He is calling us to walk. The last year of my life has been one of those tests.

While I was in the midst of this period of testing, I didn’t understand what was going on. I experienced the most beautiful consolations coupled with intense spiritual warfare off-and-on for months. The worst of it hit when the scandals began to break last summer. There were times I thought I was going crazy or had somehow found myself in very serious spiritual danger. I had periods of immense fear, but I learned that it was by confronting this fear head on and taking a firm stand that peace and strength would flood into my soul. The more fortitude God gave to me the greater my capacity for charity towards others grew. It was during this testing that I learned tangibly “perfect love casts out all fear.”

I had experiences in Confession that were nothing short of surreal. I could hear God clearly pushing me forward time-and-time-again in Confession. No period of my life has been anything like this past year. Thankfully, God provided me with a much needed spiritual director–one of my parish priests–to help me navigate these very rough and confusing seas.

Even as I struggled to understand what was happening to me, God continued to tell me to endure and persevere. All I could hear very clearly in my prayer was that God was calling me “to love as He loves.” So I pushed on, despite periods of spiritual warfare that brought me to my knees. I focused on learning to love as He loves even though I did not know where He was leading me.

About a month ago, God clearly broke in at a Mass being celebrated in honor of Epiphany at our local Madonna House. I could see Christ very clearly in the priest celebrating the Mass. This has been a common theme of what has been going on with me spiritually, but it has been rather intense at certain times and I’ve not been able to understand what is going on. I’m not very good at pondering–a Marian trait that she is teaching me that I must learn–because I analyze everything. I’m systematic in the way I think and that is useless when faced with God breaking into my life in such profound ways.

Later in the afternoon on the same day, I was cleaning out our family van to prepare it to sell when I picked up a Rosary for Priests that had been tucked away in a pocket on the passenger’s side. I immediately saw the connection between what had happened at Mass and why this pamphlet was now in my hands. I didn’t fully understand, but God was showing me the way and I had finally opened myself up enough to Him for Him to show me what He is asking of me.

That day I began praying the Rosary for priests every single day and some days all 20 mysteries of the Rosary. A couple of weeks later I was talking to my husband about all of my friends having sons and how much I always wanted a son to give to the priesthood, but I now understand that God is not going to answer that prayer. My husband looked at me and said: “I think you are supposed to be a spiritual mother to priests. It seems like what you’ve been going through is because of that. You see priests in a completely different way than most people.” I laughed. In my own ridiculous pride I responded with: “Our priest is 11 years older than I am. How am I supposed to do that? Sisterhood is much easier for me to understand especially since I was in the military.” He shook his head in the way he does when he knows I’m being stubborn and blind.

The next day I happened to be scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when an article caught my attention written by one of my fellow Catholic Exchange contributors, Kathleen Beckman: “Spiritual Battles Beg For Spiritual Responses.” I read it and immediately understood what God is asking of me. I told my husband what I had read and he told me to I order her book right away.

Since I’m a little slow and stubborn, God made sure that I got the message loud and clear when the following day I went to Confession with my regular Confessor. During that Confession he told me that it seems as though I’ve found my secondary vocation to pray and fight for the priesthood. He even referenced St. Therese who he knows I have a devotion to. I had to laugh, as did my husband, since it took me no less than three signs in the same week to finally get what God was trying to tell me.

Why did God finally reveal this secondary vocation to me after everything I’ve been through? It’s because I was finally ready and because I battled through every single test that presented itself. Before I could be ready, I had to make it through the most difficult, especially in times like these, which is the temptation to division. God needed me to understand that I must be willing to engage in this fight for His priests no matter what happens. No matter what I must endure. No matter how much I get hurt. No matter if I get rejected, betrayed, cast off, ridiculed, gossiped about, or endure periods of intense spiritual warfare. This battle is not about me. It’s about His priests and His will.

I needed to learn that in a time when the priesthood is under immense demonic attack and when the lures of the world are a great temptation for them as much as for us, when horrors are coming out about the evils committed by some priests and bishops, when the weaknesses, apathy, and corruption of some are creating deep wounds within the Mystical Body and within the priesthood itself, God needed me to clearly understand what I was undertaking. He needed me to be willing to say: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” For me to be willing to do whatever He asks of me and to endure and persevere regardless of what gets thrown my way and regardless of what the Enemy tries to do to me.

The fight for the priesthood is a spiritual one and it is the front lines of the spiritual war today. I’ve been in the abortion fight for years and the spiritual warfare I experienced in that battle is nothing compared to what I endure fighting for priests in prayer, sacrifice, and in supporting them. The Enemy will use any and all means to prevent this mission because he hates the priesthood.

When God calls us to a mission, He tests our mettle to make sure we can handle what is asked of us. More than anything, it is a test to show us that we must rely solely on Him. In this fight, it is also essential to be thoroughly immersed in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She crushes the head of the serpent and she battles for her sons in the priesthood. She is our guide in this war and she will lead us ever more deeply into the Sacred Heart of Her Son.

Like all missions, I had a choice that I had to make. God wasn’t going to force me to make it. He simply showed me the way and then I had to make the choice. After the trials, temptations, moments of anger, frustration, confusion–even consolations can be very confusing!–suffering, and pain, it was only then that I could see that the battle is worth it. That’s often how things work. We don’t think it’s worth the pain in the moment. We want to walk away or flee. It’s much easier to write off something as too difficult, but God purifies us through suffering. It is only through willingly enduring everything God asks of us that we grow in deeper charity, faith, and hope.

When I stepped back and looked over the past year or more, I realized that I’ve already been living this vocation, but I’ve not understood it as God’s call for me. Even so, the battle has only just begun. I must rely on Christ and Our Lady to show me what is being asked of me and learn to do it in humble obedience and charity. A vocation is always a dying to self. It is where we learn to place others before ourselves. I’ve already learned this lesson once in this new vocation, but it is an essential aspect of all vocations that God gives to us. We cannot accept a mission from Him if we are not willing to learn to die to self.

This secondary vocation is directly tied to my primary vocation of wife and mother. By sacrificing and praying throughout my day for the priesthood and any specific priests God assigns to me throughout my lifetime, I also offer up my husband and my daughter. The suffering we endure because of my husband’s illness and the pain of my miscarriages and lost hopes of a son for the priesthood can now be united to the Church’s need for holy priests and the very real needs of priests themselves. These two vocations bring peace and joy since they are so intertwined. I’m thankful that God has entrusted so great a mission to me and to countless others.


The Way of Love

In the Mass readings right now we are working our way through my favorite epistle, the First Letter of St. John. It will play a key role in aspects of the book I’m working on. If there is one word that describes this letter it is love. The Beloved Disciple whose deep spiritual friendship with Our Lord is clearly seen in his writings and the one who took Our Lady into his home is clearly well versed in the school of love. He is the one Apostle who understands the full requirements of charity, which is why he stood fast at the foot of the Cross when everyone else fled.

We live in a culture that lives an understanding of love that is largely opposed to the example we find in St. John as he calls us to follow Christ. Love has been reduced to an emotion or a utilitarian pursuit of happiness. This means that once people have expended their use in our lives or those good feelings pass, we can promptly discard them. Our culture tells us love is about me and my desires. How does the person make me feel? Love is when we feel good about someone. Love necessarily dissipates through hardships or struggles in the relationship. If I’m not being completely fulfilled by you, then I will get rid of you.

This is not only true of romantic relationships, but all relationships in our culture. It is true of our friendships and our family bonds. We maintain what in reality are superficial connections to the people around us. They serve their use or give us some pleasure, but there is not depth or true sacrifice on our part. If the relationship becomes burdensome or difficult then we simply cast that person off and move on. The sad reality is that we all do it. The true understanding of love in all of its forms has been lost to us because of the philosophies of utility and will to power that undergird our society, as well as the innate existential fear we experience because of the Fall.

The message of Jesus Christ as explained to us through St. John’s First Letter is an antidote to this understanding of relationships. First, he explains the nature of God as the one who is love itself. God does not simply love and give love, His very existence is love. This is most exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in order to bring about our redemption. Love is by its nature sacrificial. Deeds are required of us to love. It requires everything from us, which is precisely why we tend to flee from the demands of charity. We realize that love will hurt at some point. We will in fact have to watch our spouse, parents, friends, and people we love die one day.

We also come to understand through St. John that we are called to love one another fully. Christ Himself tells us this in the Great Commandments that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John’s First Letter is a deep meditation on these words. Christ does not tell us that we are to only love our spouses, families, and chosen friends. No, He goes so far as to tell us that we are to even love our enemies.

Now, to our culture, this is sheer madness. We are supposed to love people as long as it feels good and then move on. How are we supposed to love everyone including our enemies? We are supposed to hate and despise our enemies. In our Fallen state this feels much easier. Anger allows us to remain distant from the people who hurt us or who question our worldview. While righteous anger can be a great unifier, most of us battle to keep this unruly passion in check. If we examine our anger towards someone we often will see that it is predicated on vengeance more than justice. It’s a struggle because we are made for love and we want to be loved by the people we love, but often we aren’t, so we respond in anger through our hurt.

The radicality of Christ’s call to love our neighbor means that we will have to suffer in love. While loving the people who hurt, reject, betray, or persecute us does not make sense from our human perspective, there are often deeper spiritual realities at work. It is often the very people who reject us or who seek to hurt us who need our love the most. It may be that our love is given to them through prayer as is the case in those Christian witnesses who have prayed for their concentration camp guards who torture them the most or the saints who were persecuted by their own brothers and sisters, but pray ardently for them. The example par excellence of this is when Christ utters his cry of “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” There is so much we fail to see when we choose to hurt others.

A failure to love one another as we ought to is tied to a wide variety of factors in our lives, some outside of our control, and others a part of our Fallen nature. Many of us struggle to accept the love that is extended to us. We think we are unworthy of it or we do not know how to step out into vulnerability because of the inevitable pain that love will bring. Sin can hinder or make us incapable of authentic love, especially if we objectify people through that sin. And far too many people have fallen for the lie that love is simply about my happiness, feelings, desires, and wants. They have never been shown or taught what love truly means. It is to focus on the happiness of another, to will their good, and it is in emptying ourselves where we find our own ultimate joy.

The counterfeit versions of love that we see in our culture are an understandable diversion from the fear we all must confront in order to love fully. Fortitude is a requirement of love. For the Christian, we know that love is the Cross. This means God will require us to lay down our own lives for others each day as we learn to die to self. This is a painful process and one we flee from repeatedly. The constant mortification of our own ego is difficult. The Fall has made us believe that we are the center of the universe, but through grace we are made into a new creation and that requires purification and suffering. It is through this process that love is perfected and all fear is cast out. We come to find ourselves rightly ordered to God and others, which brings about our freedom. The perfecting love of God turns us into the fully alive human being we are made to be.

The ultimate irony for our culture–and for ourselves–is that as we flee from authentic love and accept empty shells of love, we find ourselves unhappy and lonely. Our culture is extremely lonely. For all of the instant communication at our fingertips, people are more lonely than ever. That is because love requires us to set our own wants and desires aside in order to give. We must become self-gift. A danger of social media is that it breeds narcissism. While it is good to keep up with people, it does not fully create the deep connections and friendship God is calling us to in our lives. We see teenagers sitting at tables with flesh and blood people while all staring at their phones. It’s much easier to placate the ego through attention and likes than it is to seek relationships with the people in front of us who will inevitably hurt us.

Everyone we love is going to hurt us. They are Fallen human beings just like we are, which means that their failings will cause us pain. We can’t avoid pain forever and it is in pain that we learn to love more deeply through the power of forgiveness. Like love, forgiveness is a choice we may repeatedly when others have hurt us. We often want things to be quick and easy and one-time choices. Both love and forgiveness require a repeated act of the will to continue to do what is good for someone and to forgive them when the pain they’ve caused us comes to mind. This includes those people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. Or even harder, those people who are still in our lives, but serious damage has been done. Forgiveness is a part of dying to self in love.

Our example, as St. John reminds us, is Christ Himself who shows us the way of suffering in love and the power of forgiveness. His sacrifice for us is truly radical. It is through sacrifice that we are transformed and conformed to Him. Growth in love requires suffering from us. In fact, even though we fear suffering, it is our experiences of pain in our relationships with people that lead love to deepen. Forgiveness deepens our love for others and it mortifies the ego. It is why Christ gave up His life for us and came back to offer forgiveness. He’s showing us the way of love.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

The Constant Powerlessness of Serious Chronic Illness

My husband quietly pulled me aside this morning and asked me to walk with him to our van. He needed to tell me that he had been coughing up blood again, but that he didn’t want our daughter to know about it at this point in time. He was about to leave for the ER. It’s been a familiar scene for our family for 1.5 years and it will continue to be one for the rest of my husband’s life.

It was greatly disappointing nonetheless since we got a break from his symptoms for a few months and the medications he is on were doing their work to prevent further damage to his lungs. It was time to test for remission, so he’s been off of his medications for a couple of months. Unfortunately, the doctors have yet to be able to get him into remission for more than a month or two at a time. It’s one of those situations where we have great hope. We know others have gone years without symptoms and they have gone into remission. We always hope against hope that will happen for Phil, but instead of happening, we end up where we did this morning. I must confess that I was profoundly disappointed.

This morning hit me a lot harder because I had spent a couple of hours last night trying to help our daughter deal with some of the grief, pain, frustrations, and jealousy that she carries. She’s been down ever since her best friend moved on her birthday last month. It’s been a big adjustment for her and the pain of losing her four siblings (all miscarriages) and having a chronically ill father have been eating at her. I can see it in her eyes and it guts me every time I look at her. I can see it, but so far I’ve been unable to successfully help her fix it.

I frequently talk to her about how God’s plan differs for each one of us and that each family is different. Some people are asked to carry more than others. Some families have one child and some have fifteen or twenty children. Some families have parents with a chronic illness. My own father has been sick my entire life and now my husband is chronically ill. I keep telling her to offer it all back to Christ. To give everything over to Him in trust and love. He will heal those wounds. He is the One she can always turn to.

After talking to her, I know that her anger about the situation, her loneliness, and the fact that she spends far too much time comparing our family to everyone else’s are all making it difficult for her to turn to God. She’s far too much like me. She wants to know why? And most of the time we don’t get to know why. I breathed that same word out through tears this morning as I waited to hear news from my husband. I screamed it in agony during my miscarriages. I have yelled it in frustration so many times. The only answer that ever comes is the Cross, which is finally enough for me, but it is a difficult answer for a 7-year-old to fully comprehend.

I told her to befriend St. Therese. A woman who knows quite a bit about suffering and whom I know would be a loving and devoted friend to my daughter. Michaela has asked me to help her learn how to offer her struggles up to Christ and how to befriend a saint, so I will continue to try to help her each day. Even though I understand the immense value of redemptive suffering, I still wish that I could take all of her sorrow away. I know I can’t and that’s a part of how God sanctifies me. In loving her, I learn to embrace her Cross with my own. That’s a part of loving people. The part we are all terrible at. The part we flee from, but the part where God truly shows us the immense transforming power of grace and charity.

My husband is home, and as is so typical of his disease, he is doing well this afternoon. He coughed up patches of bright red blood for a few hours. The ER did what it always does; takes our money and offers no answers or solutions. My husband will call his Pulmonologist on Monday to ask for a CT scan so we can see how badly damaged his lungs are right now and then he will go back on the terrible, but life-saving drugs that keep his lungs from dying and the rest of him with it.

Chronic illness is to live powerlessness. It is a constant reminder that we are not in control. It is to enter into the great mystery of suffering, a mystery we largely experience alone. I can’t fully understand my husband’s suffering, just as he cannot ever fully understand mine. His suffering is largely mysterious to me. I can walk with him. I can love him and take care of him, but I can never fully understand. Only Christ can enter into those depths of my husband’s soul.

That reality is a part of the powerlessness we face and that’s one of the reasons why we flee. We fear what we cannot fully comprehend. We fear intense pain. We also fear vulnerability and opening ourselves up fully to that pain. We don’t want to suffer, so we avoid walking beside others or we refuse to allow others to walk beside of us. We don’t open up ourselves. We often realize too late that is a huge mistake to make because God places people in our lives for that very reason.

The only answer that makes any sense in the face of suffering is love, but we must be willing to walk into that suffering in love and stand fast. We must be willing to accept love from others. The ultimate answer to why is the Cross, which is Love. May we all find the fortitude and charity to stand together at the foot of the Cross and embrace the powerlessness we all face in this life.

No, We Can’t Fully Protect Our Children From Suffering

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

G.K. Chesterton

Our culture seeks to hide suffering behind closed doors. The elderly are left in nursing homes while the unborn are “humanely” disposed of in abortuaries. We pretend that suffering can be fixed with a small pill, a drink, one more car, another cheeseburger, or dull it with copious amounts of television, drugs, alcohol, or pornography. I see the attempts to hide suffering in the media. We are supposed to keep our children protected from the suffering of this harsh world. This is a lie parents tell themselves and it is an attempt to avoid reality. It is impossible to hide the Fallen nature of this world from our children.

We worship the God-man, who suffered a torturous death on a Cross. Our churches–at least they are supposed to–have a Crucifix front and center as a reminder of the central reality of Our Faith that is the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord. Our homes are also often adorned with this instrument of torture, as a minute-by-minute reminder of the price and sacrifice offered in love for each one of us. As Catholics, there is no hiding the reality of suffering. It’s front and center in our Faith.

Children already know dragons exist. The idea that we can hide pain and suffering from our children comes up against reality once our children come into contact and develop relationships with other children. They see quickly how difficult human relationships are in our Fallen state. Each child comes to learn that they will eventually be left out, mocked or made fun of, left to the mercy of another’s moods or whims, hurt, and that the people we love eventually let us down, move, or even die. It is impossible to hide these realities from children. They know. And, like us, they also know that it’s not supposed to be this way. They rail in angry frustration at the injustice of it all because they know instinctively that we are made for more.

We can’t protect our children from suffering. Last year my own daughter went through a death scare with my husband when he became extremely ill at a rapid rate. At five-years-old she confronted the reality of her own father’s mortality. Thankfully, he survived and is now in what appears to be remission, even though he will have Wegener’s Granulomatosis for the rest of his life and it could take off at any point. It’s something that is always in the back of our minds.

She knows the realities of suffering in her daily life. She knows the pain other people inflict on one another through the disagreements and occasional nastiness of her friends. She sees it when her father and I let her down when our own sinfulness hurts her. She cries the tears of pain when she learns that her best-friend is moving on her birthday and she cries in frustration when she isn’t treated as well as she should be by a friend or their family.

As her mother, I can’t pretend that suffering isn’t a reality for each one of us. I can’t sugar coat it, and often, I don’t even have the power to make it any better. In fact, this has been one of the greatest lessons of surrender that I have learned as a mother. Many of the moments when she is hurting all I can do is hold her close and cry with her. I am not called to protect her from the suffering. I am called to teach her how to embrace it and offer it up to Christ. I do so by standing steadfast alongside her as she cries in agony, even as my own heart bleeds inwardly, longing to relieve her pain.

It is in those moments that I catch a tiny glimpse of what Our Heavenly Mother endured at the foot of the Cross. She shows me how to stand strong in the midst of intense suffering. Our Mother shows me how to love my daughter through the pain and to embrace her Cross alongside her. I remind my daughter to offer it to Christ and to allow Him to help her through it. It isn’t easy. Our Fallen tendency is to flee from the Cross, but as Christians, we are called to embrace it. We are meant to walk together in communion. So often we make the same mistakes of the first Apostles, except St. John. We flee when we are called to endure.

As parents we have to learn to relinquish our own will when our child suffers. It is impossible for us to suffer for them. We can only suffer with them. Suffering is a part of the sanctification process for all of us. It teaches how to love. Suffering shows us what love costs and it is through this pain that we learn to love more deeply. We can’t truly love if it doesn’t lead us to sacrifice a part of ourselves on behalf of the other.

We can’t protect them from suffering, but we can lead them to the One who will help them to persevere, provide them peace, rest, joy, and love them as they are meant to be loved. Other people, even people who love us and who we love, will let us down and hurt us. It is only in Christ that we learn to receive the love we are made for and through Him we learn to love others as we ought to.

My daughter is going through one of those difficult times when she is suffering pain and disappointment and I can’t take it away. What I can do is love her through it and stand fast when the tears start flowing. I can show her my own vulnerability and the tears I shed on her behalf as her loving mother. In some small way, I pray we are both brought closer into the loving embrace of Our Heavenly Mother, whose great desire is to lead us to the Most Loving and Sacred Heart of Her Son, Jesus Christ.