Catholic Exchange: Mary and the Intolerable Gift of Waiting

The Church has an entire season dedicated to waiting: Advent. This season not only reflects the waiting for the coming of Our Savior and the hope of the Paschal Mystery, but the reality that much of this life contains periods of waiting. This waiting may be something joyful, such as waiting for the birth of a child or a marriage. The waiting may be a period of intense trial and suffering as we wait to see if a loved one is going to die or recover from an illness. This waiting may feel agonizing, especially for those of us still crawling down the path to holiness.

Mary our guide

As frequent readers know, I am in a period of waiting. There are days it is agonizing and days that I sense God’s presence and love. It dawned on me in my impatience for answers about my husband, that God uses waiting to allow us to enter more deeply into communion with Him. If we focus on the anxiety and fear of the unknown, we will be robbed of the serenity and comfort of our God who walks with us during these trials. I realized this truth when I looked out my window and saw the sunflowers blooming in the garden. Their stillness and beauty in the morning light reminded me to enter into God’s love while I wait. It is not easy, but it is necessary. It is not a journey we walk alone. Lumen Gentium tells us rightly that Mary is our guide and a guide for the Church. St. John Paul II furthers this teaching in Redemptoris Mater 5:

Mary “has gone before,” becoming “a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.” This “going before” as a figure or model is in reference to the intimate mystery of the Church, as she actuates and accomplishes her own saving mission by uniting in herself-as Mary did-the qualities of mother and virgin. She is a virgin who “keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse” and “becomes herself a mother,” for “she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.”

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Confronting Death in a Culture of Avoidance

Death comes to us all. It is a hard reality, but it is a reality that we can face with hope through our faith in Christ Jesus. Meanwhile, we live in a culture that largely ignores death. We hear mantras such as “You only live once” or “Live today like it is your last”, but these are typically expressions to assuage guilt over leading an immoral life. The reality of death is also ignored by the majority of people because death is something that is hidden or locked away in Western culture until we are faced with it. The only time it seems to be discussed is when a group is pushing for “mercy” through euthanasia.

I know I have largely lived as if death was some far-off reality. This makes little sense since I was a 9/11 relief worker and confronted the hard realities of violence and death at 20 years of age. I profess, along with my fellow Catholics, the teachings of the Church each Sunday which discuss the Last Things. It was not until recently, when my husband’s health took a dramatic turn, that I began to confront death. We are confronting it together, as married couples must.

Two months ago, I woke up at 4:30 AM to my husband yelling for me. He was standing over our sink coughing up a large quantity of bright red blood. He had coughed up blood a few years ago and had a lesion on his lungs, but it healed and we thought it was some kind of fluke. It wasn’t. Instead, what happened a few years ago was the first sign of symptoms of a mysterious disease. Over the course of the last couple of months, doctors have ruled out every normal possibility from tuberculosis to bronchitis to fungal infections. He’s been negative on every single test and more cavitary lesions (holes, for lack of a better word) continue to form in his lungs. We are now faced with a series of intense tests to definitively see if my husband has a very rare disease known as pulmonary vasculitis. He will have an open lung biopsy performed by a thoracic surgeon in the next couple of weeks along with a MRI, MRA, even more bloodwork, and the list goes on. A neurologist has also been brought in to begin seeing if he has the even rarer form of brain vasculitis. It’s a difficult disease to diagnose and treat. It comes with serious risks, including premature death.

This period has been marked by immense grace. God truly gives us the strength we need to confront the hardships of this life as they come. It doesn’t mean any of this is easy.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Strange Ways God Heals Our Sufferings

**I will be on Al Kresta’s radio program, Kresta in the Afternoon, on Wednesday, October 19th at 4pm EST.**

To be a Catholic is to live paradox. We may not be consciously or intellectually aware of this fact, or refer to it as paradox. Our Faith is centered on the greatest paradox of all, namely, the Cross. It is death that brings new life. Christ’s bloody, tortuous self-gift on the Cross brings about salvation for all of mankind. Saint Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

While I study and marvel at the paradoxes of our Faith, it is only recently that I found myself living paradox at a visceral level. In fact, when the world looks at someone in my circumstances it sees either “folly”, envy, or hatred. The truth is always stranger and much more interesting than fiction or perception.

My Cross becomes heavier.

Two months ago I lost my fourth baby in miscarriage. We named him Andrew Thomas. We discovered his death on August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic. We named the baby after my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, on a Dominican feast day. The pain of the last couple months has been intense and filled with questions, anguish, anger, and confusion. The sorrow of this miscarriage is coupled with the very likely reality that I will not be able to bear any more children to term. The NaPro hormone treatments I was on throughout the pregnancy did not increase my hormone levels at all, and after seeing a beautiful healthy baby with a strong heartbeat twice, our baby boy died. My family and I carry the dual Cross of the death of another child and infertility. We are living proof to a world that thinks it can control fertility that only God decides family size. It should also be a reminder to Catholics who struggle with being self-righteous, that not every family with one child is using contraception.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Reaching Out to the Suffering

One of the dangers of our weakness in the face of suffering, is the propensity to cave in on ourselves. We can turn inward and isolate ourselves from the people around us and the world. This is a natural response to pain. We want to lick our wounds and deal with the pain on our own. The problem with this tendency is that it cuts us off from others and our loved ones. Suffering and grief are not experienced in a vacuum. Oftentimes we overlook the people grieving beside us. We also can forget that suffering is not a unique experience. We are not the only ones who suffer, far from it. This is not to limit, deny, or ignore our own personal sufferings. Suffering is universal, but the experience of suffering is as varied as there are evils and pain in the world. There are people who are starving, victims of violence and war, cancer patients, those battling natural disasters, and yes, people like me who are grieving the loss of a child in miscarriage. It is important that we not isolate ourselves or the notion of suffering when grief and pain come our way. We must suffer, but it is important for us to avoid self-pity.

Suffering is often a missed opportunity. We live in a world that runs from suffering. This is of course logical, since suffering is to endure immense pain. The reality is, however, that we live in a Fallen world where suffering and sorrow are an everyday occurrence for somebody. Oftentimes that suffering is a shared experience, like miscarriage. There are many, even millions of people, who know the profound pain of loss. The opportunity in the face of this type of suffering, or any type of suffering, is to learn to minister to one another. In giving of ourselves, our pain is lessened. In giving away love, we are filled up. It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity.

I thank all of you who took the time to write to me or post a comment on my recent piece on miscarriage, both here at Catholic Exchange and on my personal blog. Your comments were appreciated, but they also revealed to me that the suffering brought on through the loss of a child in miscarriage is widespread and often ignored. It showed me that by sharing my own pain, I am able to share in the burdens of others. This is one of the great lessons of suffering. If we turn inward and ignore others while resting in the delusion that we are alone, then our pain intensifies. We become cut off from others and from God. In suffering we are called to give of ourselves in order to lessen the pain of those around us. Grief cannot be taken away. It must be endured by the individual who has lost a loved one, but we can reach out to others and simply remind them that they are not alone. We make helping others too complex. We can’t take away another’s pain, but we can recognize it. All we can tell the grieving is, “I am so sorry for your loss” and continue to be a presence walking with them on their journey.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Lent and Christ’s Thirst for Us

We are now past Laetare Sunday and well on our way towards Holy Week.As we work and pray through these last few weeks of Lent and Holy Week, we will once again stand at the foot of the Cross. It was on the Cross of our salvation that Our Lord uttered the words: “I thirst.” These very same words changed the course of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s life as she received her “call within a call” on September 10, 1946 as she sat on a crowded train in the mountains of India. As we walk these last few weeks of Lent, let us reflect on Jesus’ thirst for each one of us and all human beings created in his “image and likeness.”

Perhaps you have read about Blessed Teresa’s experiences and her focus on the thirst of Christ, perhaps you have not. Meditating on these words from Our Lord is to walk deep into the mystery of God’s love and desire for each person. It is a love that is difficult to comprehend and even accept in our sinful and often wretched state. There are many days where the love expressed from the Cross is too much to bear and we tell Christ, as Saint Peter did, to leave us because we are too sinful. Thankfully our all loving and merciful Triune God does not heed our request.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta did not reveal her call fully until she wrote a letter to her Missionaries of Charity in 1993.  She felt urged to share the message of “I Thirst” with her sisters after Saint John Paul II delivered a Lenten message on the exact same theme. These two great saints understood the depth and love expressed in these two words.

After reading Holy Father’s letter on “I Thirst,” I was struck so much—I cannot tell you what I felt. His letter made me realize more than ever how beautiful is our vocation….[We] are reminding [the] world of His thirst, something that is being forgotten….Holy Father’s letter is a sign…to go more into what is this great thirst of Jesus for each one. It is also a sign for Mother, that the time has come for me to speak openly of [the] gift God gave Sept. 10th—to explain [as] fully as I can what means for me the thirst of Jesus…

Letter to the Missionaries of Charity, March 25, 1993

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

When Painful Anniversaries Come and Go

I should probably learn to be more aware of dates. It would help me to better understand why certain days seem to be harder than others. Yesterday was one of those days. It didn’t dawn on me until this morning why yesterday had more weight to it. Yesterday was the 3 year anniversary of my last miscarriage.

I know many moms who hold onto those anniversaries and many have told me I should do something special on that day. I haven’t, though. I am not sure I am strong enough to relive it every year: February 17, March 23, and a date I can’t remember in early December. The only anniversary I keep is 9/11 because of my relief work. That has healed in its own way and time.

I already live with the reality of my miscarriages every month when my husband has to give me 4 shots for my hormone problems. I remember it when my daughter is lonely or announces to a crowded restaurant that we don’t know if mommy will have anymore babies. The answer to my daughter’s statement is closer to “no” for a whole host of reasons. Three and a half years of debilitating post-partum and releasing tons of hormones into my body are the primary reasons. There is no certainty of more children even if my husband and I decided to risk it, but post-partum depression and debilitating anxiety would be waiting in the wings for me and I just got out of it. God asks Crosses of us we never imagined on our wedding day. I don’t have graves to visit because there were never funerals or bodies to bury.

The ache is in every part of me as I learn to give all of these losses back to God. As I learn to move past the added trauma of my last miscarriage and the pain of having no more children. Masses have been said for all three of my babies and I remember them throughout November. Sometimes God’s will is the harder road and for some of us, God says no more children, or even no children. The path to holiness is different for each family.

Words tend to fail me on anniversaries. I am struggling to type now. It seems a time of tears and an aching heart leaves me speechless. All I can do is sit before the Tabernacle and ask for the grace and strength to bear this Cross well. I don’t always bear it well, which is why I also have to pray for an end to anger and frustration at the same time. I am a work in progress, as are we all, and it is in suffering we learn to reach out even more to Christ. It is when we are laid bare with our chests cut open and our hearts broken that Our Lord binds us and helps us back to our feet. And so it is today, as I hold back tears and release tears, all I can do is rest in Him and beg for the grace to persevere to the end. So I forgot the anniversary yesterday, but I never forget the pain. It only eases as Our Lord and Our Lady pick  me back up and point me home.

 

 

9 Articles to Help You on the Spiritual Journey October 12-18

path-in-the-woods-13615460746I3Here is this week’s installment of articles and blog posts to help you on the spiritual journey. Enjoy! Pax Christi.

Where the Rosary Appears in Lord of the Rings, Br. Joseph Bernard Marie Graziano, O.P. Word on Fire/Dominicana

Giving Up on Prayer, Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction

Make Your Work an Act of Worship, Fr. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O., Catholic Exchange

Year of Mercy Extraordinary Graces, Fr. Ed Broom, OMV, Catholic Exchange

Be Hopeful Despite Everything, Steve Greene, Crisis Magazine

Some Spiritual Truths that Will Set You Free-A Meditation on a Teaching by St. John of the Cross, Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington DC

Blindfolding God, Br. Jonah Teller, O.P., Dominicana

The Vulnerable & Rejected God: Power Made Perfect in Weakness, Chris Hazell, Word on Fire

Pope Francis and True Mercy, Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire

Catholic Exchange: Learning Prudence from Miscarriage, Post-Partum Depression, and NaPro

Two and a half years ago after my last miscarriage, I decided to stop and visit a priest friend of mine who had recently been re-located from our parish. During our visit, he told me something that I had not even considered, nor wanted to consider. It was simply: “Constance, God may only want you to have one child.” He had been our parish priest through two of my miscarriages and he had been the priest to come see me when, unbeknownst to a great many people, I wound up an in-patient at a psychiatric hospital just weeks after having my daughter because I had severe post-partum depression and anxiety. My anxiety was crippling and I could barely function. My priest friend was seeing something that I just didn’t want to see at the time and that is, God has given me a Cross and I need to decide how to live with it and that means making prudent decisions while also trusting in His love and plan for my life.

A couple of months after that visit, a Natural Procreative Technologies (NaPro) physician introduced herself to me. She had heard through the grapevine that I had experienced repeated miscarriage and she was confident that she could help me. I was stunned and had a bit of hope after 2.5 years of devastating losses. She ran an extensive battery of blood tests on me and discovered that I have very low estrogen and progesterone levels. In fact, she told me she was shocked that I had even gotten pregnant to begin with. She prescribed me HCG shots to give myself four times a month in the second half of my cycle. The progesterone corrected immediately, but the estrogen did not and she wanted me to go on estrogen. I wasn’t comfortable with that at the time. We were not actively trying to get pregnant because I was battling post-partum from my recent miscarriage in which I had hemorrhaged and required emergency surgery. Estrogen comes with a one page warning of cancer risks. While that may mainly mean women in menopausal years, it gave me serious pause. My doctor and I decided to wait to use it until we were looking to get pregnant.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Mother’s Day and Miscarriage

I am going to share this again. I am totally not trying to toot my own horn here. Mother’s Day is coming up and that can be a difficult time for many women. If you have had miscarriages, then you are a mom. Your children have just been given the gift of the Beatific Vision without a sojourn here. I know that doesn’t take the pain away, believe me, I know. Share this with your friends who have had miscarriages. Remember at Mass on Sunday that you children are celebrating the Heavenly Liturgy with us as Christ presides over every single Mass. Here is my meditation on the Rosary and miscarriage that is up over at Catholic Exchange.

Last month we recognized Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility comes in many forms: those who cannot have children, those who suffer repeated miscarriage, and those who cannot have more children after they have one or two. There are many different types of infertility and it is something that I know well. It is the great Cross of my adult life. I have been given one beautiful and amazing daughter and I have had three miscarriages. Dealing with infertility or the death of a child in the womb, stillbirth, or after birth is deeply painful. It is only in light of the mystery of the Cross that our pain and anguish can make sense. After my last miscarriage, I began to meditate on The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary in relation to miscarriage.

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

One of the hardest parts of miscarriage is all of the waiting.  When you initially suspect you are losing your child, you have to wait to confirm with the doctor.  Then the ultrasound confirms that your baby has died.  The waiting starts anew for the miscarriage to begin, or be over.  After the miscarriage itself you wait for the agony of the grief to subside.  You wait to feel joy, peace, or even whole again.  So much waiting.  It is difficult, but uniting this to Christ’s agony the night before he died can help bring you comfort.  With my last miscarriage, I was exhausted and hurting from all of the waiting.  I was waiting to bleed out my child.  It was agonizing for me.  Think of how Christ felt knowing that he was about to be tortured and crucified.  Most importantly think about how much weight he felt taking on all of our sins.

Look at what Scripture says about the Agony in the Garden. Matthew 26:36-46 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Look at how Our Lord felt.  He was overwhelmed with sorrow.  Isn’t that how it feels to lose a child?  Don’t you too want someone to keep watch with you in that hour of loss?  The pain is unbearable.  Lift your pain and suffering to Christ.  He knows how you feel.  He wants to comfort and wait with you in that hour of need.  He always wants to be there for you.  It is hard, but try. Give the agony over to him.  I know how hard it is to just give the grief over to Him.  You may feel anger, betrayal, or incredible sadness. Or, like me, you may feel all of these emotions.  Give it all up to Him.  Every single emotion, thought, feeling, action.  Ask Him to sit with you in your agony.  Ask Him to welcome your child into His Kingdom.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.