Dealing with Miscarriage Part II: Grief

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I wrote yesterday about what it is like to be Catholic with only one child without even realizing that it is Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility comes in many forms from the couple who cannot conceive to people like me who have a child and then suffer repeated miscarriage. I know that many people suffer from the grief of miscarriage. I want to re-visit a series that I wrote on my own experiences and I hope it ministers to you. God bless.

Swimming the Depths

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Blessed are they who mourn; for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:5

Grief is one of the most difficult aspects of life.  We are guaranteed that it will come our way.  Most of the time it blindsides us.  Grief in miscarriage can be lonely, deeply painful, infuriating, and cathartic all in the same day.  The grief sets in when we are told that our child is dead or it may set in once the bleeding starts or stops, or it may take years for the grief to overtake us.  Miscarriage is something that our society, and I hate to say it, the Church largely ignores.  This is probably for a number of reasons.  I would say some of it has to do with the abortion culture, some of it is privacy, and a lot of it is fear.  Fear on the part of the family who has lost…

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Being a Catholic Mother of “Only” One Child

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When my husband and I got married we figured given our somewhat later age (I was 29 when we got married) that we would have four or five kids. We had undergone a radical conversion while dating thanks to our priest sending us to a Theology of the Body seminar. We finally understood the why of the Church’s teaching instead of just the no. We decided that we would be open to children, even as I applied to graduate school. In fact, I was accepted to graduate school and then discovered that I was pregnant with our daughter. I put graduate school on the back-burner at the time.

Pregnancy was very difficult for me. I did not leave the house for a month because I was vomiting so much. Then something happened that was never on our radar. We went to our first ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. Our daughter’s heartbeat was strong, but we discovered that she had a twin who had died. What? Is all I could think of at the time. I had lost a baby, my daughter’s twin. It never dawned on us that we might lose a child in the womb. On the happy day of the wedding and Sacramental joining it doesn’t typically dawn on the couple the suffering that will be asked of them. It should. Through our Baptism we are united to the Cross of Christ and the mysteries of his life and death, but most of us don’t give it enough thought and prayer. It usually happens as it did for us, with a complete and total shock.

I was over-joyed that our daughter was healthy, but my heart was broken for the child that I had lost. I was sick and alone with my grief on many days while my husband worked. Eventually God gave me some peace in prayer that my other baby was in fact in Our Lord’s arms. It was enough to help me through the unexpected grief. But, it never occurred to me that I would be in this state of grief for years to come.

My daughter was born healthy and beautiful after an un-planned c-section. I was so happy and cried when I heard her for the first time. The first few weeks were the typical sleep deprivation and wonder of being a new mother. It is a time that I honestly don’t remember well and unfortunately it was marred by a rapid descent into post-partum depression. Ladies, PPD can come on suddenly and with bizarre symptoms. Get help immediately if you start having weird thoughts, anxiety, or depressive symptoms. I spent months crawling back out.

Five months after I had my daughter, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was pretty shocked, but happy. The pregnancy started differently. I had more energy and only threw up once or twice a week. It was a vast improvement from my previous pregnancy. I should have known better. One day I woke up and just didn’t “feel” pregnant anymore. It was a strange sensation. A friend (may she rest in peace) mentioned that with her miscarriage she stopped feeling pregnant. I knew deep within me that something was seriously wrong. About 12 hours later I began to miscarry. I was devastated. My husband grieved quietly so as not to add to my burden. I do wish men would share in that grief with their wives. It isn’t a burden.

Once again I descended into grief. The Church offered little help in this area. I read Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Limbo, which has never been a formal teaching of the Church. I spoke to multiple priests. I couldn’t baptize my little children before death, so I was concerned. Everyone told me to leave it to God’s mercy. So that is what I have done.

Ten months later I discovered that I was pregnant again. I was happy, but scared. Then I went through what I can only describe as the pregnancy from hell. I would have four days of horrendous vomiting and then three days of debilitating depression and anxiety. It was hyperemesis and PPD together in one pregnancy. Then I went in for the ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. I really dislike those ultrasounds. The doctor came into see me and I knew it wasn’t good. There was no “fetal pole”, but I could be off on my dates. I knew I wasn’t. I chart after all. I went back a week later and all I heard was “blighted ovum”. The baby had died just days after conception, but my body missed the memo. Since I was at the 8 week mark, he said that we could see if my body miscarries naturally or I may need a D & E. I might need the same operation that they use in abortions. I was devastated. I chose to go home and wait, I had been through this before.

I began to miscarry shortly after, but it was not normal. The bleeding was extremely heavy and pouring out of my body at one point. I was terrified. This was not how things had gone before. I talked to the on-call OB who didn’t quite believe me. I am seasoned in miscarriages and knew something was wrong. Soon she told me to go to the ER, where they scooped me up like the actual emergency that I was. I can tell you that when the ER responds to you like you are an actual emergency it is very disconcerting. I had large clots and my body was incapable of having the miscarriage. I needed an emergency D & E. I remember they put me out cruciform on the table before I went under and I just thought of the Cross.

I also went through periods of post-partum after my miscarriages and my body never fully recovered from my last miscarriage. My hormone levels tanked and have never returned to normal, which is why I have to have my husband give me a shot of hormones four times a month in order to help my body function normally.

This is what my husband and I went through in the first four years of marriage. It had not dawned on us that we may only have one child. I didn’t want my daughter to be alone. My husband and I both have siblings and an only child was never our plan. Our plan. Isn’t that the great lesson? Even when we are Catholics who do not, I repeat, do not use contraception in any form, how many children we have is not up to us.

Catholics need to work on charity in this department. I am very happy for those families who are able to have tons of children. What a blessing! The reality is that God’s will is not the same for every family. For whatever reason, he may will only one child for us and we are under no obligation to justify that to others. The illusion of control in this department is rampant in our contraception laden culture, but it is also rampant within the Church. The open to life crowd forgets that being open to life also means being open to death. We have three beautiful children in Heaven precisely because we were open to life. We opened ourselves, albeit unknowingly, to the mystery of the Cross.

God wants me to be able to serve my family. Pregnancy and miscarriage has decimated my body. I am now on hormones for medical reasons and on a low dose of Prozac because of what I went through. Hormones are closely linked to neuro-chemistry. While a good many Catholics ignore Church teaching to their detriment, not all families do. My husband and I work hard to live as faithful Catholics and only having one child doesn’t change that fact. People who use NFP do so for a whole host of reasons, many of which are medical. NFP cannot be used in a gravely sinful manner, and at most, it could result in venial sin. Let’s try to remember that the families sitting in the pews next to us have a story that we know nothing about. I am the woman who still cries when she sees a new baby.

God has blessed us with one beautiful, intelligent, and amazing daughter. It comes with it’s own Cross. My daughter is extremely social and loves people. It makes me ache constantly that she is alone, but God has his reasons. God sanctifies each of us differently and watching her times of loneliness is a time to unite our suffering to the loneliness of the Cross. The next time you are at Mass, pray for the smaller families and the bigger families. We have no idea what is going on with them and the Crosses that Christ has asked of them. I am deeply grateful that I am the mother of my only child. She is the greatest blessing that my husband and I have been given. God bless you in this Easter season.

Christian Living: Binding the Wounds of Our Neighbors

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We walk this earth broken, ravaged by sin.  Each of us carries deep hurts from our experiences with other people.  It could be family, friends, work, church, etc.  Wherever there are people there is such brokenness.  The problem for each one of us is that we forget that fact.  We become blinded by our own duties, experiences, and beliefs.  We see the world as ourselves and no other perspective matters.  We forget, that as Christians, we are called to bind the wounds of the world.  I forget constantly.

I am a mother.  My primary role is to protect, teach, and care for my child.  How often do I forget that all she yearns for is my love?  My authentic, selfless, and total love.  She was created with that longing.  It is in her nature as a child created in the “image and likeness of God” to desire that love.  I am to show her how to fill that restlessness and ache.  I am to love her and then show her to the way to Love.  I am to direct her to the very reason for her being and that is to look and live in love with the Holy Trinity.  To see that it is in God’s very nature, in his essence to love.  He can give no less than his infinite, gratuitous love.  He is love itself.  Yet, even though within me lies that call, how often do I turn away?  How often do I turn away from showing my daughter the answer to the question that will haunt her until her time here on earth ends?

It is not just the people within our families who are clamoring for love, acceptance, and peace.  There are so many people who do not experience those things within their families, so they seek it in others.  How often do we, do I, fail to recognize that need within my neighbor?  I am not talking about physical necessities.  I am talking about how often I fail to respond to the poverty of love in the people I meet.  How often do I refuse to enter into the suffering of someone else out of fear or apathy?

Christ came to bind our wounds.  He came to rescue us from sin and death.  Pondering the awe of the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity becoming man, is stifling.  The Creator of the universe looked on his beautiful creation.  He looked upon his crowning achievement, man, and knew it was good.  How do we repay him?  We abandon him to worship ourselves.  Even though we violated the very nature of God in disobeying him and choosing a counterfeit, he still would not abandon us.  He could have left us in our sin and death.  Isn’t that what we do to one another?  No, he humbled and lowered himself and took on human flesh.  He walked among us.  He entered into history that we might know and see him.  He endured our sin.  He went into the vast ugliness of sin and accepted scourging, mockery, hatred, abandonment, and torture.  He even went to the very ends of sin: death and hell.

In light of the Risen Christ, who gave everything to conquer sin and death, we must choose who we want to be.  Do I want to bind up the wounds of others?  Do I want to show Christ to my family and every person in my path?  Will I give myself as an offering day-in-and-day-out to the people God has entrusted to me?  Will I choose to follow in his steps?  Will I cling to my heart of stone or allow Christ to replace it with a heart of flesh?  These are not questions that we asks ourselves once.  This is what each one of us must choose to assent to every single day.  If I am going to choose to love God, then I am going to have to continue making that choice no matter the pain, anger, fear, or weakness that I may face.  Am I going to allow God to be greater than my sin?  Can I truly let him come into the deepest recesses of my being and heal my wounds?  I cannot bring the healing salve to others if I do not allow God to heal my hurts.

In a society that thrives on individualism, it is easy to forget and admit our brokenness, weakness, and insecurities.  I forget so easily that I am a member of the walking wounded.  That includes over 6 billion people who are on this planet right now.  All of us are wounded, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  As Christians, we have the answer to all of the longing and emptiness of this life.  We have the Living God.  We are under the care of the Divine Physician.  It is now our call to go out and show Jesus Christ to the world.  We must start within our families and move out into the world.  God bless.  Happy Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

Stopping Division in Our Church Communities

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The biggest struggle in Church community is overcoming ourselves. There is a current within ministry, community, and other aspects of the Church that works hard to cling to power and stomp out opposition.  This is tied to fear and our own immature understanding of living a life of virtue and in communion within the Mystical Body of Christ.  We all do it from time-to-time. There are some things that all of us are going to have to confront in order to overcome the obstacles, hostility, and pain division causes.  We have all experienced disagreements or conflict within the Church.

First, we need to know ourselves.  We need to understand what sets us off and what fears we carry.  Then we need to examine whether or not we project those fears on others within our parish or community.  Human beings cling of counterfeits.  That is the nature of sin and the driving force of concupiscence.  Most of all we cling to power.  Power is a false sense of security for us.  In clinging to power, individuals or groups can begin to focus more on power than living the Gospel.  Any “power” that we have within the Church is from Jesus Christ.  If we are leader, it is a position of stewardship and service.  It is not meant to be used to squash others and create some form of authoritarian rule.  Obedience is never about power.  Power also tends to feed on fear of how things look.  In fact, an overemphasis on caring about what people think is toxic to the Christian mission.  People will reject us.  We must accept that.  We have no power over other people’s choices.   It is about understanding that Christ is King and we are not.  This is an easy temptation for all of us.  We are called to serve and share the message, the rest is up to God.  Let’s keep that in mind.

Second, we need to get a firmer grasp on what love actually means. Love is not sentiment, it is not feelings.  In fact, I can wholly dislike a person and still love them.  I have to do it.  We all do.  Love is action.  As St. Thomas Aquinas defined love, “it is willing the good of the other.”  That means I love when I choose the good for a person.  This can in fact include punishment which is linked to justice; however, love never includes vengeance, pay-back, or answering upset feelings.  In fact, a decision to love cannot be based on feelings.  Feelings are largely involuntary and can be driven by the Passions.  That means we must overcome our feelings to choose to love, even the unlovable, and the difficult.  It doesn’t mean our feelings change per say.  It just means that we choose to overcome those feelings.  Love is an act of the will.

Third, gossip is grave matter and usually results in mortal sin. Yes, that is right: a mortal sin.  Why?  Gossip very quickly turns to denigration, division, character attacks, and causes deep hurt.  It is always the result of half truths or imagination and does not allow for a person to defend themselves. It is an attack against the virtue of justice.  We all fall into it, but it is time we start to understand the seriousness of gossip.  We can chat with our friends and work through problems, but we cannot divulge private information, provoke character attacks or personal attacks, launch plans for revenge, and we most certainly cannot use gossip to cause division and hostility.  This is the Mystical Body of Christ.  We are meant to overcome the world and that includes the natural inclination to gossip.  Gossip usually results in back-stabbing.  Gossip within the Church community needs to stop.  If we have an issue then take it up with the individual and deal with it like the adults we are supposed to be.  Once the issue has been talked about, we move on.  This is a problem for women more than men.  We all need to stop poisoning the well against others.

Fourth, we need to start to recognize the different gifts of each person.  This is tied to power and pride.  Each person is a unique body and soul created in the “image and likeness of God”.  That means that God created me to be me and you to be you.  You may not have the same talents, gifts, interests, etc. as I do.  You may be better at prayer, service, or hospitality, while my gifts are largely intellectual and in teaching, with some hospitality.  We are all meant to work together to bring the Good News to the world. We cannot do that when we are too busy trying to tear others down.  We need to stop fearing or trying to control other people’s gifts.  We need to embrace them so that we can learn something that may be lacking within ourselves.  We need to trust in God’s mission for each one of us and stop scrambling for some worldly prize or control.  Embrace everyone’s gifts!  We are all infants on the spiritual journey and we need to learn from the people God puts in our path.

Fifth, we need to accept that conflict will arise.  It is inevitable that conflict will arise at various times.  Even priests and religious have conflict. Gasp!  They are human too. That is how human interaction works.  What we need to do is resolve conflict quickly and move on.  Punishment may be necessary as long as it conforms to justice, which many times it does not because of a lack of understanding of justice.  We need to be mindful and make sure that our choices conform to the virtues.  We work through it, forgive, and move on.  That is the point of the Our Father and Jesus’ call to forgive.  Frequent Confession can also help in dealing with conflict.  The longer we hold on to anger or rage the more likely it starts to destroy groups within the Church community.  Conflict may mean changes in relationships, but it does not mean that sinful anger should be given free reign.  Sinful anger very quickly escalates to mortal sin.  The more I study theology, the more I realize just how easy it can be to fall into mortal sin.  This is very true when dealing with one another within the Church.  Sinful anger that turns to rage is a great threat to The Mystical Body of Christ.  I know.  Anger is something that I struggle with at times.  If this is an issue, go to Confession for healing.  And keep going because some sins are stubborn.

Sixth, everything should be centered on Christ.  All of our actions, choices, movements should reflect our love and service to Christ the King.  The Church is our guide on the path to holiness.  Holiness is the goal.  If all of us set that goal a lot of conflict will begin to disappear.  When holiness is not the primary goal, conflict escalates and grows.  Serving within the Church is not meant to fulfill some desire for recognition or pride.  It is meant to be a self-giving act of love.  That is the same for leaders in ministries as well as other members of the Church.  If that is why we are serving, then we may need to consider a break.

Seventh, burn out is inevitable.  Serving in many groups will eventually lead to burn out, especially when we have families to raise.  When that time comes, it is time to take a break.  “No one else will do it”, we tell ourselves.  False.  We are not indispensable that is the devil feeding our pride.  We cannot serve if we are tired and depleted.  We cannot share joy if we feel exhausted and dead inside.  If you get burned out, then take a break.  It doesn’t matter if people get upset or are angry with you.  After loving God, we are told to love ourselves.  Christ’s command to love others is based on our love for ourselves.  If we do not love and take care of ourselves, then we cannot love and serve others.  Take a break when you need it.  You can replenish your spiritual life and return to serving within the Church when you are ready and God calls you back.  Even Christ went up on the mountain to pray and replenish.  He did so not because He needed it, but because we do.  I made this decision earlier this year.  I needed it so I did it.  It worked out because God called me to work on my Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy while I take a break from leading ministries.  Take a break when needed!

I have written this because I have either done or been the victim of all of these items.  I know the pain and damage that they cause.  I have seen a lot of these things within my own faith community over the past few years.  These are problems throughout the Church because we are sinful. We struggle, but we are called to overcome these struggles.  If all of us can agree that holiness is our calling, then the rest of these things will disappear over time as we work in holiness.  As always, I recommend frequent Confession in order to help us heal from our own iniquities.  The more we go to Confession the more we realize just how stubborn sin is within us.  Do you have any thoughts?  God bless.

A PTSD Catholic

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In 2004 I was diagnosed with delayed-onset PTSD. It took three years for my 9-11 relief work to catch up with me. While most 20 years olds were partying in college or worried about exams, I was consoling 400 people whose loved ones had been murdered in the Pentagon. I had only been in the Navy two years and ended up being a part of one of the most historic and horrific events of my generation.

I was raised in a nominal Catholic home. We went to Mass often, but that was the extent of our involvement in the Church. I had fallen out of going to regular Mass on Sundays by the time I volunteered to help after the attack on the Pentagon. I still read theological works, but was separated from His Church. I did go to Mass while I was a relief worker and my Mass attendance did improve in its wake, but I was still a cultural Catholic. 9-11 was the catalyst that brought about my PTSD. There were a lot of other factors, but this single event triggered it.  Look at the picture below.  I stood there with 400 grieving families members looking at this sight straight from Hell.

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There are a lot of stereotypes and stigma associated with this mental illness. People like the Veteran who murdered people in Florida recently do not help the situation. The media perpetuates a lot of myths about the disease, while claiming compassion for the thousands of Veterans who live with this condition. The vast majority of us, are the types who work ourselves into the ground and then collapse. We take on more than we can handle, but don’t realize it until it is over. We run into danger with little thought of the long term consequences. We want to help others, but sacrifice ourselves in the process.

My PTSD manifested while I was living alone and stationed in the United Kingdom. It began when I literally cried for a week straight. My father had had a serious health scare and it was the last straw. I went to my Leading Petty Officer (LPO) and he had me go to the Air Force Base for medical care. I was on a British base so the nearest hospital was a 2 hour drive. The doctor threw different medications at me and that was that. I then started having horrific nightmares, night terrors, and panic attacks. The telltale flash backs began as well. The military continued to throw medicine at the problem while I spiraled further and further into the pit. At this point I was active in the small parish in town and attending Mass each Sunday.

I finally checked myself into the hospital for a month. Thankfully, the one thing the military did do right was get a contract with the top London mental health facility. How, I do not know? Mick Jagger was treated at the hospital I stayed in. Finally, I had doctors who were concerned with treatment that encompassed psychotropic medication and psychotherapy. It was there that I was introduced to EMDR. The single most effective treatment that I have undergone for my PTSD symptoms. The point of EMDR is to help each patient piece together memories of the event. Part of the problem for PTSD sufferers is that we have major memory loss about the event and can only remember it in pieces. Our brains cannot process incomplete memories. EMDR seeks to remedy that situation. I eventually left the hospital and continued treatment until I decided to leave the Navy after my 6 year contract was up. I had active PTSD symptoms for about 5 years.

Nowadays, I am able to function normally with my 9-11 experiences. Things have complicated a bit after having three miscarriages and serious hormone deficiencies. My PTSD symptoms have manifested in the wake of my most recent miscarriage that was traumatic in that it required emergency surgery because I hemorrhaged. I have recognized some avoidance symptoms in myself and it looks like I may need to look for an EMDR specialist in the area. PTSD does make it difficult to handle new traumas.

So, how is this tied to my Catholic Faith? It is a Cross. I have a very hard time resting calmly in the Lord’s arms. I am always pushing forward and running away. I am extremely restless, which impacts my family and my relationship with Our Lord at times. PTSD sufferers tend to drown out their pain through: drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, etc. My tendency these days is food, as I am actively trying to live a life of holiness and avoid super risky behavior. But, it is still an unhealthy, and at times sinful, way to avoid the pain. There is a deep ache that lives inside of me because of what I have seen, what I have lost, and what I have experienced. I will spend time running away from Christ, only to collapse and beg for His mercy. It takes me a while to remember that He loves me and will extend it freely.

PTSD sufferers do not tend to talk about their experiences. Why? First, because a lot of people cannot possibly understand what we have been through. Can you understand combat, a terrorist attack, rape, abuse, etc, if you have never experienced that kind of horror? No. Unfortunately, while we should talk about it, most of us have experienced the dumbest and most unkind words from people. “Suck it up”, is not a proper response. Yes, this is based on ignorance, but it is hurtful. Second, we do not want to burden people with our suffering. We tend to be the caretaker types, we want to help others, but do not want to add to other people’s struggles. Third, media stereotypes make it even harder. I had to think seriously about writing this post, because of how it could be misconstrued.

There are a lot of stereotypes about PTSD. Hollywood tends to make movies where the Special Forces Veteran murders people while having flashbacks. I have worked with Special Forces guys and they are not a bunch of sociopaths. This is so unbelievably rare. In fact, the highest risk for PTSD sufferers is suicide. We tend to suffer in silence, rather than lash out at others. Stop taking information from the media, they are doing more harm than good.

For me, I know deep down that I will remain restless and on the run until I rest in Christ. The problem is, learning how to rest in Christ. I have been in flight mode for so long that I struggle to disengage, even now. I went from PTSD to three miscarriages in a few short years. It was a constant stream of pain and grief. It makes it very hard to “Be still and know that I am God”. I know that is where I belong, but some days it is much easier to drown my sorrows in copious amounts o sugar. Then the self-loathing begins anew and the cycle begins again. Thank God, Our Lord is patient.

 

Mental illness is a clear path to Golgotha. It is a heavy Cross to bare, especially in a society that is either fearful or apathetic about those who suffer from PTSD or depression. With so many mass shootings, people think that all mentally ill people are psychopaths. This could not be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that you may work alongside someone who sufferers from PTSD, depression, or anxiety and not even know it. If you are blessed enough for someone to open up to you about their struggles be sure to show compassion, even if you yourself don’t get it. That person chose YOU to share with in their battles. As Christians, we should be helping one another in love and mercy. All of us are waging a serious battle with sin and suffering. Let’s help one another to learn to rest in God.

Battling Anger

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Anger.  Why are so many of us angry? Do we realize that we are angry? Does it bother us? I was just observing a Twitter exchange, I can’t really call it a debate.  There was too much profanity and no intellectual exchange for it to be considered a debate.  What struck me though, as has happened before, was the level of anger this person lobbed at a friend of mine.  

 
At first I was incensed that someone would talk to a friend of mine like that, knowing full well that it is all too common on social media.  I myself have been on the receiving end of it.  I have been called: a bigot, racist, Pharisee, hater, homophobe, and the list goes on.  When I watched this exchange, I began to think about the person’s anger, it really seemed to be rage.  I began to see myself.  You see, I struggle with anger.  I have a fearsome temper.  It only comes out in all of its horrific glory a couple times a year.  Thank God for that! But it is awful, and it shows me the depths of depravity within me.  It also reveals unresolved pain and a fear that I am not loved either by my family or by God.
 
I know anger.  So when I see it in others, I know that there is some kind of pain that needs to be healed.  A hatred that is pointed inward, but lashes out at others.  It comes from a deep fear of not being loved and it is always driven by pride and power.  Rather than choose to accept Christ’s sacrifice for them, angry people fight between a belief that they don’t need a Savior and a deep rooted knowledge that they do.  It is a war that is in the hearts of us all. We want to be God, but we aren’t, and so our sinful nature drives us into anger.  Or we have been hurt by others and that fear of being unloved drives our rage.  How could God love me?
 
The other issue with anger stems from pride.  We don’t want to be told what to do, or hear that our lifestyle is wrong and immoral.  This is a big one in the “gay marriage” debate.  No one, and I mean no one, likes to hear from someone else that they commit grave evil.  For those who do not know Jesus Christ, this is even more difficult.  What they cannot see is that all of us either have, or are capable, of grave evil.  All they see is someone saying “no” to their choices.  Christianity is not about accusing others and relishing in their fall.  No, Christianity, is about saying that we are a band of sinners, hopelessly lost without Our Lord who loves everyone.  Only He can show us the true way, and yes that means abandoning sin.  But true freedom lies in that abandonment and falling into Love.
 
It is hard for every single one of us to abandon sin.  I sin daily.  The more I go to Confession, the more I see how deeply rooted my sins are and how much I need His grace to overcome them.  Saying that a behavior is sinful is the beginning of understanding our own inner pain and hatred.  Unhappiness stems from sin. Anger stems from sin.  It is hard to take a look in the mirror and say, God I need you to do it, I can’t.  This is especially difficult in a culture that is as fiercely independent as ours.
 
So, why are we so angry? I suspect it is because in those moments, or perhaps always, we are afraid we are not loved, we hurt, and we think we can do it ourselves.  Anger resolves nothing.  It hurts the people around us.  It destroys dialogue and quite frankly, it leads to violence.  I pray for healing for all of those who like me struggle with this deadly sin.  Advent blessings!

The Foot of the Cross

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November is the month in the Church when we remember and pray for the dead.  The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints to celebrate the men and women who have gone before us and who pray for us from Heaven.  Then All Souls is on the 2nd, which is dedicated to the dead and most especially those souls in Purgatory.  My parish has had a major influx of priests this year.  This summer we had a different priest each weekend because our priest was very ill.  A very good friend of mine died in July and I needed to have a Mass said for the baby we lost in February.  It happened that this past weekend is when those Masses were said.

 
In the middle of all of this, I quite unexpectedly had my first duty as a Eucharistic Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) to the sick in the hospital.  I have had this ministry since June, but I live in an area that is only 2% Catholic so there have not been any Catholics in the hospital on my weekends.  I was surprised to be called to this ministry.  I prayed and genuinely asked The Lord if he was serious.  Me?  I am not exactly the confident type that likes to walk into complete strangers’ hospital rooms.  I am also very sensitive and struggle greatly with fears of death.  After intense prayer, I felt like He was surely calling me to minister to the sick.
 
I was a relief worker, so I have been around extreme suffering, but nothing could prepare me for what I experienced this past Saturday evening.  The first family that I saw were in good spirits.  It made it easy for me.  I was nervous and unsure of myself.  There was a woman who was ill, her husband, and their son present.  The husband needed to get on the road because he did not like to drive in the dark.  I did the short version of prayers. It went well.  The gentleman gave me a tip and that surprised me greatly.   I promptly put it in the basket at Mass on Sunday.
 
The second family I went to was completely different.  First, they were in the hospital room directly across the room my 2 year old was in in August.  They were an elderly couple.  The woman barely spoke English and suffered from dementia.  The husband was trying to explain to his wife that I was there to pray with them and give them Holy Communion.  She spoke in German.  Eventually we calmed her down and I began.  I only had one host left because there had been 3 people in the previous room and I had only brought 4.  I had to break it in half.  As I did so, a voice clear as day in my head said, “You should not be doing this, you are a woman.”  I struggle with being an EMHC because my husband and I are more traditional, but I know that I am called to this ministry.
 
I wasn’t expecting attacks from the enemy.  I should have been.  Given that I am directly confronting  suffering and bringing Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity given out for us.  It solidified my belief that I need to wear a scapular.  Our Lord is not going to question  me in a moment I am ministering to His sick.  He is not going to accuse me.  I should probably take holy water with me next time too.  To be quite honest, it took it out of me.  I was exhausted by the end.  For those who don’t believe in the Devil, you know him when you hear him, trust me.  He is usually much more subtle and operates in temptations, but occasionally, he comes out in force.
 
This couple desperately needed Holy Eucharist.  The gentleman  was 91 and struggling mightily with his wife’s illness.  He felt alone.  His wife was confused and in tremendous pain.  He began to tell me about his life.  He has truly suffered.  He was in the Nazi Navy and had survived his U-boat being sunk by a US ship.  He was rescued by a US Navy Destroyer and brought to a POW internment camp in the US, where he stayed for 4 years.  After the war ended he went back to Germany and to his wife.  Even after all he had endured he wanted to live in the US.  After a few years he was able to get a job in Virginia and he and his wife emigrated.  His wife has been ill for 20 years.  He did not know what to do.  He did not want her alone in a nursing home.  So this elderly man was trying to care for his sick wife on his own.  It reminded me how the fringes of our society (as Pope Francis talks about) are the unborn and the elderly.  It made me deeply sad.
 
Even with all of his suffering, he always trusts in the “Good Lord” as he referred to Our Lord.  I stood and listened to him,  amazed by his life story.  He gave me a hug.  Even though it was hard, this is clearly where Our Lord wanted me.  I am a Navy Vet myself and I happily listened to him talk.  He thanked me in  German and I returned with “you’re welcome” in German; one of the three words I know of German.  His wife told me “good-bye” in German, as did he, and I returned the German.  If there is one thing I learned living in Europe and being a linguist, even if you do not know a language, people greatly appreciate you trying their native tongue.
 
I left and met my husband and daughter for dinner.  I was emotionally drained and my heart hurt for that suffering couple.  I have seriously prayed for them and the other family every day since.  Being an EMHC to the sick is going directly to the foot of the Cross.  It is meeting people in their affliction and brokenness.  For those few minutes, I share in that pain and bring them the only help available: Our Lord in His Real Presence.  It is a humbling experience.  I feel wholly unworthy and truth be told, I walked out of the hospital unsure that this is where God wanted me.  Given that my response has been prayer, I think that this is where He wants me, but it is a very hard ministry.
 
The Lord calls us out of our comfort zone to serve him.  I have not gone into the deep of other people’s suffering since my 9-11 relief work days.  I never expected to be called back in after all I endured in the years that followed.  I may not fully understand what He is up to in my life right now, but he is also healing my own brokenness in some way.  And so I will persevere and continue to bring Him to those in need.
 
What are some ways Our Lord has called you into the deep?