I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.
My daughter is my greatest teacher. This seems strange in a world where children are reduced to a means to an end or even viewed primarily as accessories. In the West, children are something we have on our own terms. They do not exist for their own sake; they only exist if we will it. This is of course bunk. Any mother or father who has truly embraced parenthood knows that the entire meaning of our lives is to love and be loved in return. We love imperfectly, but it is why we are here.
Children teach us to love. They remind us of how selfish we are, which is the main reason so many in the West have abandoned parenthood. Parenthood comes with sacrifice and hard work. We don’t like having to look in the mirror, and children have a penchant for lifting up the mirror to our faces each day in order to reveal our failings. Parenthood is also the intermingling of joy and sorrow.
Our children take on our worst traits first, and then some of the good. It is one of the great struggles of parenthood. It is something that takes most of us by surprise and causes great disappointment within us. The last thing we want is for them to take on our bad traits. Our child will mutter some expression or respond in a manner that reveals our worst selves and how these little ones have absorbed exactly what we wish them to avoid. It should leave us stunned and humbled; pushing us to do better. Parenthood is to go on a journey. It is to walk along with a person who can reveal the good and the evil inside of our own hearts. The hope is in the end we will both have attained holiness, by God’s grace, and our perseverance.
Lately I have been contemplating the nature of suffering. I myself have entered a period of intense suffering. It has been a month since my fourth miscarriage. The original grief started with frenetic energy, an attempt to avoid the inevitable spiritual and emotional pain, and it has now lulled into the numbness that inevitably surfaces after a loss. I am also not one of those women who bounces back quickly physically. My body is a complete mess right now and all I can do is wait for it to reset. It took a year with my third miscarriage. Hormone deficiencies are exacerbated through miscarriage and the intensity of grief adds great emotional and spiritual weight.
My daughter has responded as well as a 5-year-old can be expected to respond in the face of my recent miscarriage. She only knows what it is to be an only child and she does not have the ability to comprehend the depths of grief at this point. I am thankful for this because no 5-year-old is mentally prepared for such gulfs. That does not mean she does not suffer. In fact, she suffers deeply through loneliness.
If ever there was a child who should not be an only child it is my daughter. Since a very early age, she has demonstrated a deep and open love towards other people. She is social, kind, and greets everyone she meets. She is an extrovert to the core, which she gets from her daddy. She accepts every child she comes across as a new friend and she is deeply hurt when that friendship is not reciprocated. She engages adults and children in conversation wherever we go and she is wholly unaware of her place as a child in society. She functions as a human person among other human persons.
She greatly desires a sibling. Yes, much of it has to do with the desire for a playmate, but she also wants a sibling to love, take care of, and lead. Mommy can only fill that void to a very limited extent. She reveals the ontological reality that all people are made for communion with God and with other people. We are social creatures by nature. She intuitively knows that she doesn’t belong alone. She knows that she is made to commune, to be in deep relationship with other people. She feels her status as an only child at a profound level. As her mother, I share in this Cross with her. The Crosses I face on my own are nothing compared the level of pain I endure in watching my daughter suffer. I would take all of her Crosses on if I could, but I know that is impossible and not even what is best for her.
It is a mother’s greatest desire to relieve their child’s suffering. One of the great battles I wage right now is in realizing that my daughter’s suffering comes from the fact that I cannot seem to have any more children. I cannot will my body to carry a pregnancy to term. I could not keep the four babies I have lost alive. My grief is exacerbated by my daughter’s loneliness. I can’t take her loneliness away. For reasons that are largely mysterious to me, God has willed only one child for us. No matter how much I yell at Him or my own body, I cannot change that fact.
My daughter is very good friends with our neighbors who have four children. She plays with them frequently, but she does not understand why she can’t play there whenever she is available. She doesn’t understand their need for family time. There are many times I have stood watching her, shoulders drooped, tears streaming down her face, and wails coming from her throat, because she is not welcome to participate in whatever is happening next door. She wants to commune and come to the party. She sees that community is a part of her deepest self and that Heaven is the realization of this reality as we enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.
No my daughter does not understand this at a theological level. She understands it at the deepest level of experience and I see it every single day. I walk it with her as I watch her struggle with loneliness. I long to take her loneliness from her. She isn’t a play-by-herself kind of person. She doesn’t cut herself off from her neighbor. Instead, she invites others in and she wants others to invite her into relationship. She waits for others to play and then she embraces everyone she meets.
My only hope is to trust that God will use her loneliness for some good. I must trust that He gave her the heart that he did because of the mission He will give her later in life and so she can touch lives now in true charity. I have to find some comfort, no matter how difficult right now, that all of this intense grief and suffering will come to some glorious end in God’s infinite wisdom and plan. Right now, I can’t see it, and chances are, I will never understand why my body is the way it is or why my husband and I have lost four children. It is as Bishop Barron points out in his Catholicism series: I am staring at a pointillist painting from an inch away and all I can see are dots. All I see is my pain and my daughter’s suffering. I am unable to stand back to see the whole masterpiece until I stand before the Glory of God, and based on past writings of the saints, the answers probably won’t even matter. Pax Christi.
Our society is filled with “experts”. There are experts in politics, medicine, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology, business, and the list goes on and on. An expert is someone who seems to know everything that needs to be known about a particular discipline. This should immediately put us on guard. Anyone who thinks they know everything that needs to be known about a subject, clearly knows very little. Humilitas is the hallmark of the wise. This is how we have been given the Socratic method.
Socrates is told by his friend Chaerephon that the oracle at Delphi told him that Socrates is the wisest man in the world. Socrates’ first question is: How can this be? How could he be the wisest man in the world? He is even more perplexed because the oracle cannot lie. So he goes on the mission of engaging with other philosophers and “experts” to discover the truth of the oracle. He quickly learns that most philosophers or sages of wisdom held themselves up in high esteem. They do not see their own limitations in knowledge or practice of what they teach. Socrates acknowledges his own limitations, and so, the necessity of humility in attaining wisdom is born. In this humility, Socrates proves to be wisest, precisely because he does not consider himself to be so. He recognizes that truth and wisdom are never fully exhausted. We must first come to know our limitations and then we can proceed on the journey towards wisdom and truth.
The expert is the exact opposite of Socrates. The expert holds up their knowledge as superior and ultimate. We watch news programs and are inundated with experts. The primary goal of all of these experts is to tell us how to think. How often does a self-purported expert tell people to study the matter in question for themselves? True, I am not going to delve into quantum physics at this point in time, but the opportunity is open to me should I decide to learn at least the basics.
G.K. Chesterton lamented the dawn of the age of experts. He saw immediately that it creates a power struggle and make us intellectually lazy. The expert removes our own responsibility in learning. We no longer consider whether or not what is presented comports with reality, which is truth. We are all called to be philosophers, or seekers of truth (Fides et Ratio). In fact, we are all naturally philosophers, that is what Pope Saint John Paul II meant. Every single person asks the question “Why?” on a regular basis. Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have a purpose? Is there an after life? And the list continues on.
When we abdicate our own natural inclination to search for truth and wisdom, we leave ourselves trapped in a type of adolescence where we wait for other people to tell us how to live, act, vote, or understand a certain discipline. As Catholics, we submit to Holy Mother Church, but that is because we have learned through faith and reason, that Christ established the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who gives her form (life), and that the Church will guide us ultimately to truth. Our job is to swim into the depths and plunge deep into the truth of the Most Holy Trinity through the Church.
I do not write because I am an expert. Theological study has revealed to me just how little I know. If that is not how a person responds to graduate level work in the expansive mysteries of our faith, then they are doing it wrong and they missed Socrates’ lesson. In fact, every good theology program requires the reading of Plato’s, The Trial and Death of Socrates. Humility is a requirement of any good student of truth. That doesn’t mean we do not battle intellectual pride. That is a great temptation for any student, including the student who labors at home in the autodidact fashion, rather than through formal study at a university.
There is a very real and tempting danger in academia to desire the position of expert. I know that I have fallen into this trap at times. There is great power in knowledge, but it must be harnessed and ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful. My desire for self-gratification is not a properly ordered understanding of the knowledge God has given me, nor the intellect He gave to me. I did not create this intellect. I did not create the truths I study. I did not create the universe. I merely share in a limited fashion what belongs to Him.
My purpose as a writer is to open up the world to my readers. We are sojourners. We are on a journey towards truth together. Teachers, writers, artists, etc. are not meant to be “experts” we are meant, first to be students ourselves, and second, to point the way in whatever limited way God allows us to do so. When I write, I want to point towards the ultimate Source. I want my readers to jump into the deep. I want you to open up great works of theology, literature, philosophy, Church documents, Church history, art, etc. Sure everyone’s intellect is different, but that does not mean we cannot learn something, even if we walk away somewhat baffled. We should all walk away feeling small and unworthy in the face of great mystery.
There is nothing more complex or humbling than studying the very limited theology we have on the Trinity. Upon reading treatises–what few there are–on the Trinity our brain should hurt, and yet, our souls should soar. Terms such as procession, filiation, circumincession, spiration, paternity, relations of opposition, and tota simul are enough to make a person’s head spin. They only scratch the surface of the great mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
When we read an article or a book, we should look to the author as a guide and fellow traveler. We do not hold them up in some supreme place and presently halt our own thinking and philosophizing. Instead, we should mull around what the author is saying and truly come to understand within ourselves what is being said. In the case of Church documents, there may be times we are quite literally wrestling with God, as Jacob did. We all wrestle with God and we all lose, but we become closer to our true selves as we allow God to deepen our understanding of Him, even in the struggles.
When you read my work, no matter where it is found, never think of me as an “expert”. I want you to go read the resources I provide. I want you to learn more than me. I want you to swim deep into the truth. There are so many great teachers in world history and I only play at it. I am formed by my teachers: Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Benedict XVI, John Paul II. These are only a few in a very long and ever expanding list. Take my 1500 words and allow them to point you towards your destination: truth. That’s it. I want you to pick up the books I have read. The documents I study. That’s where I want you to go. The last thing I want is for you to think my 1500 words are good enough or the end of the story.
We live in a culture of instant gratification. We think 1500 words is good enough. It’s only good enough if we do not desire truth. It is only good enough if we want to remain trapped in mediocrity or to never try to understand why we are here. If you read one of my articles and do not desire to plunge into the depths, then I am failing you as a writer. God bless you on the journey….
I know that it is hard to understand me. Things I say and do are maddening. It is easy to push me away and to reduce my actions, words, and love, yes love, to hatred or envy. Often when we make choices out of fear, power, ignorance, or even apathy, we turn on others because they reveal those choices to us in some way. This is why when someone like me honestly shares the truth about pain and loss, I am accused of hatred or envy. I get it. In openly discussing the reality of miscarriage and the loss of a real person, I am implicating abortion. This implication is abhorrent to some, ignorant to others, and a long awaited sense of freedom and healing for so many.
I was supposed to grieve silently and on my own. I am supposed to take my cues from the abortion culture and pretend that I didn’t lose a child, or if it was a child, to grieve behind closed doors. I won’t grieve silently anymore, and neither should anyone else. In doing so, my desire to share my suffering in the service of others was greatly misunderstood by many. I knew this would happen, but I am not who you say that I am.
It has been a painful road, but that is the nature of this life. Suffering is an aspect of being human that comes to us all. It is what we do with the pain that matters. I choose to share it, not only for mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents who grieve miscarried children, but for women and men who have had abortions or who are contemplating an abortion. My bringing to light the miscarriage-abortion problem is not a condemnation. I condemn no one, but I have an obligation to save women, men, and unborn babies from abortion. This obligation is not born of envy and hatred. It comes from love. I want to address two accusations from my interlocutors. First, that I am envious of women having abortions and second, that I hate abortion supporters and those who choose to have an abortion.
First, envy by its very nature will not drive a person outside of themselves in the service of others. Envy is to covet, desire, or want to take something that is not ours. It is to hold what someone else has in such a high regard, that we do damage to ourselves. We no longer see the good within us, because we want what someone else possesses. Envy is deadly for a reason. It causes us to cave in on ourselves and to focus on what we have not been given or earned. Envy steals gratitude and robs us of happiness. I do not pray at abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood in these parts, out of envy. How could I? Why would I want to share anything with a person of who I am envious?
It is true that for a woman like myself, and I know countless other women, it is difficult for us at times to be present at a clinic where women are choosing to deliberately end the lives of their own children. We live in a world where I apparently can only have one child, who I am eternally grateful for, but where millions of women who can keep a pregnancy kill their children and their own motherhood of their own free will. I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt me, but I am not envious. Their children, your children, are not mine, although my husband and I would adopt them in a heartbeat. I do not have a claim to them and I know this, so I am not driven by envy. I would stay home and write angry articles and blogs, rather than go pray in front of an abortion clinic. I wouldn’t share my own suffering in the service of others, instead I would rant and rave about what I don’t have in my own life. Some of you took the sharing of my pain as complaining, but you completely misunderstood my desire to help others who suffer as I do. Reducing me to a whiner is to completely disregard my purpose and my point, and quite frankly, it is to let yourself off-the-hook in trying to understand me.
In our culture, civil public discourse has been completely abandoned. Social media has become a place for people to spew vitriol in a vile manner because it is easy to hide behind apparent anonymity on the Internet. We should know by now that nothing we do or say on the Internet is ever truly anonymous or private. This has created an environment where anyone who disagrees with us automatically hates the other person or a group of people. This is a way to discard, discredit, or label a person. More often than not, however, this charge is false and it betrays the accuser’s own anger and inability to listen to opposing viewpoints. In the case of someone like myself–and the vast majority of those who pray diligently in front of abortion clinics, provide resources or time to crisis pregnancy centers, who gather items for poor women in crisis pregnancies, or who even write or speak on this topic–it is to confuse hatred and love.
Like envy, hatred does not drive us outside of ourselves. If we choose to publicly unleash our hatred on a particular issue, our message is automatically ineffective and revealed for what it truly is: An impotent clanging gong. Hatred is not accompanied by charity. Hatred is not sustaining and it consumes us, not the people we are trying to attack. I do not hate you. I honestly do not hate anyone, not even terrorists, and I saw the horrors of 9-11 in person as a relief worker. Hatred destroys us and I know that, so I do not fall for that trap. No, I love you, your baby, the father of the baby, and your family and friends. I don’t stop to ask whether or not that love is deserved. I love the people who have screamed at me. When I pray at the local Planned Parenthood the sign I hold is one I made and it says “You and your baby are loved beyond measure” and my daughter holds a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help holding the baby Jesus. I am not there to condemn you, but to be a loving and peaceful presence during a time of fear and confusion.
Love is not a feeling. Feelings may accompany love, but love in itself is not a feeling. Feelings are fleeting and change from moment-to-moment. Love is to will the good of another. It is to desire the genuine good for someone else and to go outside of ourselves in the service of that good. My miscarriages have taught me the deepest compassion and love for women seeking an abortion. It may seem “logical” to the culture for my pain to turn to hatred and envy, but it has not. The opposite has occurred. My pain has been transformed into a deep desire to help those women I see walking in and out of Planned Parenthood in my community.
As I said, love is to desire the good of another. That means my desire in love, the reason I am in front of our abortion clinic, is because I want those women to know that fear does not have the ultimate say. Whether it is fear of poverty, motherhood, dropping out of school, anger from family and friends, pressure from the boyfriend, husband, or parents, fear of medical conditions or whatever it is driving that choice, we all have the ability and courage to stand up to fear and pain. What is lost in choosing an abortion is tremendous. It is not only the loss of a child, your child, it is the loss of motherhood. It is a loss of the greatest opportunity to love and be loved.
Motherhood transforms a woman into the greatest person she can be, whether it is through biological, adoptive, foster, or even spiritual motherhood, for those women who cannot have children, those who have chosen chastity in the service of God, and those women who serve children in a variety of ways. In having children, our lives move away from being so much about ourselves, and they are changed into the service of another. This may sound daunting and burdensome, but we were made to and for love. In truth, the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in return. There is a profound joy in motherhood that cannot be attained anywhere else. We only have to be open to love, sacrifice, pain, and joy.
I would never say that choosing motherhood is easy. It is not. It comes with tremendous sacrifice. There is nothing that has taught me more about my selfish nature, a nature we all have, than motherhood and marriage. Yes, my career path changed drastically when I became a mother. I did a lot in my Twenties. I served in naval intelligence, went to college, interned at The Heritage Foundation, lived in Europe, and the world was my oyster, but even with all of my accomplishments I knew that I wanted something more. My daughter is that more.
My daughter is greater than anything else I have ever done or been given. She teaches me daily in the art of wonder, beauty, self-sacrifice, and innocence. There is nothing in this world like hearing someone call you “Mommy” and in hearing your child tell you they love you each day. It is this joy, mingled with immense suffering through the four babies I have lost in miscarriage, that drives the compassion inside of me to pray at abortion clinics, collect supplies for women in need, and write about this topic knowing that I will be attacked for my honesty.
I know what lost motherhood feels like. I know what it is to lose an unborn child. I also know the abundant love of motherhood. No, I don’t hate you or envy you: I love you. I know that love can seem unbearable, unwanted, or burdensome. At the deepest level of our existence, we are made for love, genuine love, and that is what I am doing at Planned Parenthood and in my writing alongside the countless others striving to build a Culture of Life. I am striving, imperfect as I am, to will the good of another.
My family and I just spent 5 days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was my first visit to the islands. It is an absolutely beautiful area. My husband and I are not big on the most popular beaches near us such as Virginia Beach, Myrtle, or Hilton Head. We don’t like crowds. The nice thing about the OBX is there are miles and miles of beach, which helps to minimize crowds and make for a peaceful vacation. While we were there my daughter and I perused a couple of the beach stores. She wanted a souvenir and needed some new sunglasses since she had left hers at home by accident. While we were in one of the stores, my daughter found a Frozen bathing suit that she really liked, a two piece.
In my early Twenties, I gave into the predominant culture that says women need to show off their bodies. This was further driven by the fact that I was in the military and in peak physical condition. I worked out 6 days a week and while I do the same thing now, vanity is always a struggle that must be fought against. I dressed modestly, but smartly back then. I never had any desire to wear short skirts lest I be stuck pulling them down all day and I also never had any interest in tops that showed a lot of cleavage. I am outdoorsy, so I had a more Eddie Bauer or L.L. Bean look to me than anything else. I still do. That is my Montana upbringing influencing my style choices.
When it came to going to the beach with my friends, I ended up choosing a bikini with short board shorts. It was what everyone else had bought on our shopping trip and I decided to join in. In reality, I felt self-conscious and realized any male attention I was drawing was not the kind I was ultimately looking for. I remember quite clearly trying to hide in the waves as much as possible on the crowded Ocean City, MD beach. Plus, nobody mentions that string bikini tops get knocked off by the waves, so that creates it’s own battle and embarrassment.
Flash forward 15 years and I now see why I felt so uncomfortable. Women are beautiful creations of God. Paintings, sculpture, and all mediums of art have portrayed the wonder of the female form. There is something good, mysterious, and alluring about the female sex. The problem arises when we distort that beauty and turn it into lust. The culture preaches lust and sexy over beauty. The skirts these days stop just below the butt and the tops leave very little to the imagination. Prom dresses look more like swimming suits than gowns. All of this tells our daughters that sex is the only way to get a man. It also doesn’t allow them to be comfortable in their clothes or their own skin. Watch teenage girls these days. They spend a lot of time re-adjusting their clothes because they feel self-conscious with so much skin showing.
Men are visual creatures. There is nothing wrong with admitting this fact. Ask any man and he will admit this truth. Men are drawn to the female sex because God made us as their helpmate and for the propagation of the species. We are meant ‘to go forth and multiply.’ This call has of course been sterilized, no pun, by the contraceptive mentality of Western culture. This is part of the reason women have been reduced to an object and told that being sexy is a requirement. We have not been freed by post-modernism. Instead we have been enslaved and reduced to the sex object we supposedly were fighting to avoid.
A woman should desire to be beautiful, body and soul, to a man; not an object of lust. Sexual desire is a healthy and even holy aspect of marriage. Sexuality is a gift from God and in no way should it be viewed with derision. Any thoughts that sex is dirty or wrong comes from Puritanical views of human sexuality that are diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. Sex is holy, period.
We need to teach our daughters that modesty is beautiful. If they want a man to see them as a person, then they cannot dress in a manner that is meant to incite lust. That is hardly just. Women cannot claim that men should learn to control themselves when we are intentionally trying to insight desire in men who are not our husband. We have an obligation to protect our brothers in Christ and to not be a near occasion of sin for them, but it is more than that. We should be respecting ourselves as unique creations from God who are meant to complement men. We are shrouded in mystery because of our ability to be co-creators with God. A woman can be beautiful in a bathing suit that is meant to complement the features of a woman, rather than show as much as legally possible. A knee length dress shows off the natural curves of a woman more than the shortest skirts. I tend to hold to the rule if I can’t genuflect in it then I am not wearing it.
I can’t explain all of this to my 5 year old right now. She doesn’t understand why I told her we don’t buy two piece bathing suits, except a tankini that covers as a one piece. We will have these discussions as she matures into a young woman, and often. I plan to tell my daughter that modesty reveals her dignity and beauty to men. I am not saying frumpy. I am saying modest. She can save sexy for her future husband. There will be plenty of time for that when marriage comes, if that is the vocation God calls her to in adulthood.
It is time to teach our daughters that they are beautiful gifts from God and that is how men should view them. We need to stop being a part of the problem and treat our brothers in Christ with the charity and respect they deserve. We’ve bought into the lies of our culture. Let’s abandon those lies for the beauty of our Catholic faith and the true dignity of men and women.
Has the pro-life movement fully embraced what it espouses? This is a question I am left pondering in the wake of my most recent miscarriage. I have sensed for some time that there is indeed serious cognitive dissonance going on within the movement of which I am a member. My miscarriages have taught me that while we preach to the world that a child is murdered through abortion, we do not fully live that message in our response to families who have experienced a miscarriage or recurrent miscarriage.
As we pray in front of Planned Parenthood, we are so sure that a child is being torn apart, limb-from-limb with each abortion. We even believe this about a child aborted at 7 weeks, which was the age of my child who died a week ago in a miscarriage. Our hearts ache, we grieve, we pray fervently. I know from personal experience that surgical abortion day is truly tragic. It is not only heart-breaking because a child has been murdered, but it is painful to watch these women stagger out of the clinic. I have watched women unable to get home, who were either too sick, hopped up on medications, or too emotional to leave. I can’t approach them or offer them comfort lest I be arrested, although, the compulsion has occurred more than once in me. There may come a day when I say “the hell with it” and walk over to check on those women regardless of the consequences. This desire grows in me after each of my losses. They may not know that they have killed their own child, but I do, and the denial of their motherhood will have long term consequences. I weep for them and greatly desire to console them.
I have never questioned, even before I lost a child in miscarriage, that a child dies in an abortion or miscarriage no matter the gestational age. When I found out that I had lost my daughter’s twin, I mourned the loss of a child. With my third miscarriage the child died days after conception, and yet, I knew that I had lost my child and I grieved as one who has lost a child. My grief has compounded over the years as I have now lost four babies.
So what is the disconnect I see? People within the movement far too often do not show the same care, concern, or understanding of those families who have lost a child to miscarriage as they do to an abortion. Now it is understandable that abortion is truly horrendous and it is the great moral and human rights issue of our day. There is no doubt of this fact, but a miscarriage is also the loss of a child. Why is it then that rather than allow or encourage the grieving process we tell people who have suffered miscarriages some of the following: You can always have another child (can I really?!), they are in a better place, how disappointing for you (I just experienced this one), something was clearly wrong with the child, a miscarriage is just a hiccup on the road to parenthood, and the list goes on and on. If we truly believe what we say, then why are we treating families grieving a miscarriage in this manner?
Life is sacred. All human life is worthy of great dignity because all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. The image is no less at the moment of conception when full potentiality has entered the human being or in a person who is 107 years old. When a woman finds out that she is pregnant, she isn’t rejoicing over tissue. We constantly state this argument to the pro-choice side, and yet, we don’t fully embrace it ourselves. If we truly understood these words then we would be grieving with miscarried families. We would be reaching out to them with support and resources and we would be learning from their experiences.
The available resources are sparse. I’ve looked and only recently has miscarriage become a more open topic of discussion in social media. We should be recognizing that they, that I, have lost a child or children. We certainly should not tell them that they can always have another child or that a miscarriage is disappointing. A miscarriage is agony and comes with profound grief. While we all grieve differently, a person who truly understands when life begins, knows they have lost a child in a miscarriage. A child they will never hold. Would we go to a funeral and tell someone that the loss of their loved one is a great disappointment?
The reality is that many times we are not fully aware of the philosophies within our culture that influence us. It took me taking an entire graduate course that focused on the philosophy of nihilism for me to understand how I too have been shaped by false philosophies. The advent of medical technology in the area of fertility and sexuality has completely reshaped how our culture understands children. Even within the pro-life movement, the lie that we are in control of our own fertility is believed. This blog post is not meant to address the contraceptive mentality, but that is an issue I plan to address at a later date. While it may not be intended, this influence is betrayed in words which imply that a family can control whether or not they have a child or more children. We do not know if we can have more children, if any. It isn’t up to us, it is up to God. This erroneous thinking is largely subconscious and unintended, but it can do damage to those who are suffering from the real pain of miscarriage and infertility.
Tied to the on demand fertility of our culture, is the belief that each pregnancy is a part of the journey to having a child. In some cases the desire to become a parent supersedes everything else and miscarried babies are disposed of and not even recognized as lost children. They are dehumanized. This understanding that miscarriage is a part of the process points to a disconnect within a movement that argues the sacred nature of all unborn children in the case of abortion. This is precisely why implying that the loss of a child in miscarriage is merely a disappointment betrays the errors of our culture. Pregnancy is not a trial and error presupposition. I do not get pregnant as if I am playing Russian roulette. I get pregnant in the belief that I will give birth to each unique child I carry. My immediate response to a pregnancy test is one of love. When that child dies, no matter what age, the loss is devastating precisely because it is the death of a child. I am not test driving a car. I am a co-creator in an “embodied spirit.” Each unique baby is a gift and many of us can forget this fact, even if we do not mean to forget.
When an individual said that I must be disappointed in my loss, I was taken aback. Disappointed is not a word I would use to describe my emotional state at the moment. I didn’t just lose my job or the house of my dreams. I lost my fourth child. The bleeding of this miscarriage has only begun to let up. Grief-stricken, agonized, in anguish, angry, sorrowful, suffering, these are words that describe how I feel right now. I am not disappointed. I am suffering tremendously from the loss of my fourth child. And, no, it does not appear that I can just have another child. While I know this person meant well, it is crucial for us to understand that words matter. If we want to win this fight and end abortion, then we need to truly live the pro-life message. We need to celebrate each human life as sacred and discard any part of the “throw away” culture or erroneous philosophies which may have infected us. We need to stop telling people that they can always have more children, that a miscarriage is only a stumbling block on the road to parenthood, or that parents who have lost children in miscarriage should not grieve as if they lost a child. These are all lies. They are lies that we have mistakenly taken on from the culture of death.
I understand and I have learned that people do not know how to respond to grief. It’s awkward for people, which I understand to a point; however, if we are truly going to bring a Culture of Life to the world then we need to stop ignoring the very real grief families suffer from with miscarriage. We need to stop using accolades and partial truths in response to their pain, to my pain. After four miscarriages, I pray at Planned Parenthood precisely because I understand, better than most, a child is being lost, as well as motherhood. A mother who has miscarried understands abortion in a completely different light. No, we don’t know the trauma and horror of abortion, but we certainly know what it is like to bleed out our beloved child. We know intimately that life begins at conception. We know it in our very being.
Compassion for the grieving goes a long way. Movement towards the grieving and tangible support can in some way lessen the burden of grief. We cannot take away another’s suffering, but we can walk alongside those suffering from miscarriage. I have learned from relief work during the largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, as well as in my own suffering, that the grieving are not looking for great gestures, profound thoughts or answers, or for someone to fix their pain. The grieving only desire a recognition of their pain and the understanding that it is warranted. They are looking for a human response from the people around them. “I am sorry for your loss” is enough, because, quite frankly, it is all that can be said. This type of response recognizes the child lost and does not minimize or dehumanize the unborn child. In the case of miscarriage, people are also looking for guidance. They need to know how to respond to a miscarriage, especially Catholics. There is no reason why the pro-life movement cannot devote some time and effort into resources and ministries for those bereaved by miscarriage.
The pro-life movement cannot be fully effective while ignoring its members and countless families who have experienced miscarriage. We cannot continue to treat miscarriage like an “unfortunate” event. This type of approach is patronizing and insensitive and it is completely contradictory to the arguments, the true arguments, we use to fight abortion. It flies in the face of the very mission we have all signed up for, which is the protection of children, women, and men. It is incoherent to fight abortion in one breath while remaining silent or responding hardheartedly to the pain of miscarriage. Either life begins at conception or it does not. We don’t get to hold onto abortion as a great horror while ignoring the anguish of miscarriage. Both result in the tragic loss of a child. The pro-life movement needs to fully embrace the message found in the Culture of Life and that means responding to the great sorrow of families grieving the loss of a child to miscarriage. If life does begin at conception, which it does, then miscarriage should be recognized as the great tragedy it is, which is the loss of a child that comes with profound grief.
My reversion back to Catholicism took place back in 2009 after a few years of wandering, confusion, and self-worship. I was living in Washington, DC for an internship at The Heritage Foundation. I had decided to try my hand at conservative politics. I didn’t know it then, but God was beginning a radical change within me that would transform the way I see the world, including politics. I had left behind an unhealthy relationship (for both of us) in which I had cohabited with a man for a couple of years. I was broken and battling the Catholicism which had always been a part of my identity, even if I had wanted it on my own terms. Instead, God reached me in that brokenness through the beauty of the Liturgy and He showed me the vibrancy, beauty, paradox, and joy of Christianity.
While I was in DC, my roommate suggested that I try to go to Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It was just 10 minutes down on the red line from our Capitol Hill apartment. I was unsure. I had been attending various Protestant Bible studies and groups and my search was proving frustrating. The first Mass I attended at the Basilica, I did not even make it through and I left early. I thought I was done being a Catholic. At the time I didn’t want to fully admit to my need for the healing salve offered by Christ through His Church, but the Holy Spirit would not be deterred. Thanks be to God! For reasons I don’t remember, I ended up attending the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica that year and it forever changed my life.
My experience of Catholicism in my childhood and early Twenties can only be likened to what Bishop Barron has written about in many of his books: beige. The Liturgy, while the Blessed Sacrament was present, was not transcendent and transformative. I didn’t know about the presence of the angels and Communion of Saints in the Liturgy until I was in my mid-Twenties. That understanding also changed my view of the Mass forever. The year in which I attended the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica solidified this understanding as I could sense with the eyes of faith that the Mass was truly Heaven on earth. From the reverence of the priests, to the sacred music, to the lofty ceilings, mosaics, and stained glass, I knew with every fiber of my being that Jesus is Lord. Shortly afterwards I realized that politics was not for me and I left DC for good after 4.5 years of living there off-and-on.
Soon after I met my husband, I was finally Confirmed, and entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. We were married in a very traditional parish and two weeks later moved to our current Diocese, one which is similar to the one in which I grew up. As time went on, I started to see how even though we are of a more traditional bent, the fights between espoused “conservatives” and “liberals” is destructive. Both sides have something wrong and both can be blinded by ideology. This became even clearer to me when I began my graduate theological studies and the first thing my professor told us is there is no “conservative” or “liberal” within the Church. Those are terms borrowed from political philosophy and they form divisions. True, there are nuances and differences in theological thought, but they are not understood through the lens of political ideology.
So why are these terms unhelpful and even divisive within the Church?
Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Athanasius of Alexandria who is a Doctor of the Church, as well as a great theologian who united the Eastern and Western Churches. A great deal of his work and mission was responding to the Arian heresy running rampant in his day. In fact, the Arian heresy has proved to be one of the most virulent heresies and can be seen in various forms even in our own day.
He was born around 300 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. After receiving a quality education, he became a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria. He worked closely with the Bishop and attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 AD. This Council focused primarily on the divinity of Christ in response to the Arian heresy which had been advanced through the Alexandrian priest Arius.
Arianism greatly threatens an authentic understanding of Jesus Christ. It teaches that “the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained forever inaccessible to us” (Pope Benedict XVI, Doctors of the Church, 14). It was at Nicaea where the Creed incorporated Greek term homoousios, which means “of the same substance” as the Father. It was the first and only term to be added with no theological or biblical link, and it pointed to the Church’s willingness to integrate philosophy and theology together into the Faith.
Shortly after the Council in 328 AD, the Bishop of Alexandria died and St. Athanasius was elevated to Bishop. Even though the Church had firmly and unequivocally affirmed the divinity of Christ, the Arian heresy raged on creating painful and destructive divisions within the Church. St. Athanasius fought hard against the heresy and created powerful enemies in the process. He spent 17 years in exile. He continued to spread the Faith in the West, as well as monasticism which he had learned from the hermit, St. Anthony, during his time in exile. After many years of suffering for the authentic and true Faith, St. Athanasius returned to Alexandria to finish out his days. He died on May 2, 373.
It has been a very stressful week for my family and me with multiple health scares and the ever present agony of waiting for news. I did want to start a brief series on the cardinal virtues based on a term paper I wrote for grad school. This first part is from that paper. We will consider this the introduction and next week I will begin on prudence. I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.
The cardinal virtues are essential to the moral life. Each human being is made for happiness and truth, which can only be found in God. In order to discover and live this happiness each individual must foster proper habits through the cardinal virtues. In the Christian life the assumption is that the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the movement of grace, are all at work within the individual as he or she works towards the ultimate truth of God. While the focus here is on the cardinal virtues, the supernatural virtues are always at work in each Christian’s life. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance are virtues which order behavior to the pursuit and habitual response to goodness and truth. An individual cannot hope to live a moral life fixed on objective truth without the constant pursuit of these virtues in daily living. It is within the seemingly mundane tasks of daily living where the bigger moral questions are grounded. If an individual lives their private life virtuously, then those habits will spill over into public life and the moral orders of family, community, and country.
In examining virtue and calling others to its pursuit there is often a stumbling block tied to freedom. Individuals may see the virtues as a limitation of freedom and an imposition from external forces against the desires of that particular person; therefore, freedom must be rightly understood first in order to prevent this impediment. Since human beings are spiritual and bodily creatures, there is a natural order within each person at the ontological level. At the very level of being human beings are made for goodness and truth. This goodness cannot be completely blotted out by sin and concupiscence. Far from limiting personal freedom, the virtues order and give direction to life. Servais Pinckaers states, “Far from lessening our freedom, such dispositions are its foundation. We are free, not in spite of them, but because of them.” This means human beings are free when they conform their lives to their natural inclinations for goodness and truth. Freedom is grounded in the human desire for good, “The natural root of freedom develops in us principally through a sense of the true and the good, of uprightness and love, and through a desire for knowledge and happiness.” Freedom itself must not be seen as the ability to do whatever one wants, but as the perfection and pursuit of goodness so that each person may be fully alive.
Since freedom is grounded in goodness, there must be an examination of how best to achieve this goodness. As stated before, the supernatural virtues play their essential role, but the cardinal virtues are the habits needed in daily living. The process of acquiring virtue is life-long and a slow process requiring discipline. It is to make small choices in conformity to truth each day, so that truth is the ever present reality for the individual. Pinckaers uses the virtue of courage to explain this process, “The development of courage is progressive. It is acquired far more through small victories of self-conquest, repeated day after day, than through dreams of great actions. It grows with the dogged effort to study, to finish a task, render a service, or overcome laziness or some other fault.” This development of habit applies to all of the cardinal virtues, but there is a hierarchical nature to the cardinal virtues. They develop, deepen, and are grounded in one another.
 Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, Third Edition, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 358.
 Ibid, 358.
 Ibid, 357.
 Ibid, 356.
Being a writer on the Internet is tough business these days. The criticism that is leveled at writers on a daily basis can be demoralizing and downright inhumane. Much of the criticism I see is from people who have not even read the piece that I wrote on that particular day. They make a comment purely based on the title. Since we pour ourselves into our pieces, we can tell when someone has actually read an article we’ve written. Either that, or I missed someone’s favorite item in the article and I hear about it.
When you finally land a freelance gig, you have to keep the momentum going that landed you that position in the first place. That momentum can slow when criticism begins to pile up. It is easy to criticize individuals who write on the Internet, whether as bloggers or professional writers. We can easily believe that our own worldview is the only worldview and we share that on the comments sections of various articles or blogs. The Catholic world, where I primarily write these days, is no different. We nit-pick at each other. There always has to be someone who criticizes or points out a believed oversight. Today I want to share with you a few thoughts on being a writer as well as suggestions for commenting on the published work of a brother or sister in Christ. I am going to share my view and experience, so that you can consider it the next time you go to comment.
1. Writers have a word limit, usually around 1500 words.
Most websites have a word limit around 1500 words. Some have even lower word counts and a longer article is usually for a special project. For people who do not like to write, 1500 can seem like a lot of words, but for a writer that is a very limiting space. It is even more limiting when we want to back up our articles with quotes or historical information. Bloggers are not limited because it’s their own space and they can write as much as they want, but to write for a publication means limits. Consider that the next time you are on Catholic Exchange, Crisis, First Things, Catholic Culture, National Catholic Register, etc.
2. We have to make choices in our work.
Much of what I write about is theological in nature and related to the Catholic Church in some way. When I write for the websites that I contribute to, I have to consider the audience, the mission of the site, and a topic. It is impossible for me to cover every single topic in one post. It is impossible for me to completely cover a topic in 1500 words. That’s what books are for. I do the best that I can to give the important information. When I worked as a linguist for the Navy, we called giving the main points a gist. When I write an article about a saint, theological point, or contemporary topic, I am giving you the gist. I give the most pertinent information. When I write about a saint, I have to pick ONE saint for the day. I cannot cover multiple saints in one article without doing an injustice to one of them. I pick the saint who speaks to me at that moment and I make the choice to learn more about them through research, intercessory prayer, and the writing of the piece. Most of the topics that I write about could fill a library, so keep that in mind when reading an article on the Internet.
3. We make inadvertent mistakes.
One of the hallmarks of charity is that we learn to give people the benefit of the doubt. I have chosen three websites to contribute to at this point, and they chose me. All of us are orthodox and desire to share the mission of evangelizing the world. These three websites do it in vastly different ways, but all with the same goal in mind. When a writer types a wrong date, phrases something wrong, or misses a typo, expect that it was an accident. If it turns out the phrasing was intentional, then consider if you have the knowledge, humility, charity, and ability to correct them. You may not be called to fraternal correction and maybe you are. Be prudent.
4. Writing is a very difficult discipline.
Writing is tough business. It is truly a gift that God gives certain people to be used in service of Him. There are days we have to force ourselves to write despite our mood or schedule. We have to come up with topics out of thin air. Yes, much of daily life and cyberspace provide a wide range of topics, but that doesn’t mean each article is easy. Some things flow out of us and other times it is like pulling teeth. Don’t assume because it is on the screen that it came easily to the author. Many pieces come from sweat and tears. Pieces that are written from deeply painful personal experience may have been written with a lot of sobbing involved.
5. Sharing our work in public is hard, and I mean hard.
Every single time I submit a piece to one of my editors or write on my own blog my heart begins to race. I get embarrassed because I have shared a part of myself in my work. It doesn’t matter the topic, there is a little piece of me in every article I write. I wait for the hammer to fall as people come out of the woodwork to criticize what I worked so hard to share. I write to share the Faith, but even that is not good enough for many people.
6. Editors are human beings too.
If we are a freelance writer for a large website, then we have an editor. They read every single one of our pieces and try to catch anything we may have missed during our editing process. They miss things every now and then. Many editors read more than 20-25,000 words per week from their writers. So cut them a break. Cut all of us a break. Yes, we will all make grammatical errors every now and then. It is not the end of the world.
A Few Words on Commenting About Our Work
Consider your training before you comment.
There are a great many lay Catholic writers out there, which is a good thing. There are a lot who have no formal theological training, which is fine. There are plenty of theologians out there who do write. Every Catholic should read the Catechism, but reading the Catechism is not even close to be the same thing as being a theologian. Theologians don’t just read the Catechism, they read the documents that are in the footnotes of the Catechism, while also learning thousands of ecclesial terms in Latin and Greek. Both serve the Church and are needed, but they are not the same thing. When we read an article by someone who is formally trained (I do not include myself here because I am still a student) we should consider whether or not we have the knowledge base to correct them. Humilitas is a good thing! Not every MA or PhD is correct, but someone armed with the CCC is going to be out of their depth pretty quickly. So, the Internet is not where we are King of the Mountain, it is where we can learn.
Do you really think the author intentionally missed your favorite thing?
Once again this goes with humility. It is not a bad thing if an author missed your favorite saint, item, song, book, theologian, etc. As I said above, we have a limited amount of space and we have to make choices. When there is more than one saint on any given feast day, I pick one saint to write about. I am trying to go deeper into the faith and that individual’s life. If I try to include multiple saints then I can only remain at a superficial level. If I am writing about Theology of the Body or some other theological school, there is no way I can give a full picture in 1500 words. Read the books I cite if you want more information! That’s how I learned. I read the books. Writers are limited and correcting us on your favorite item does no good. We are aware of those things, but chose to leave them out.
Stay on topic.
Please, please, please, if you are going to comment on one of our pieces, stay on topic. I do not respond to comments on my work that are not on topic. I don’t have time for those rabbit trails. If I write about St. Thomas More, then he is the only saint I am focused on for that day in my writing. If I write about Magisterial teaching authority, then all I am talking about is our obligation to obedience on that day, not prudential judgment. If I write about science and the Church, I am talking about the Catholic Church and not Young Earth Creationism (Catholics are not). If you are interested in genuine dialogue with the author, then write thoughtful, patient, charitable, and on point comments. We love to engage with our readers, but not when we can’t even understand what a person is talking about.
Check the sinful anger.
There is such a thing as righteous anger. It is the type of anger that leads us to pray Rosaries outside of abortion clinics and give up our job when people try to force us to violate our conscience. Ad hominem attacks, however, fall into the sinful anger category. Do not call an author names, even if they are the biggest jerk on the planet. You see what I did there. I personally leave discussions the minute they turn into personal attacks. It’s not worth it and the conversation has turned from discourse to a fight. When you become angry because of an article, consider first why you are angry. Did they strike a nerve? I can understand heresy making a person angry, but not sinfully so. Pray for them. There have always been heretics. If you can keep your cool and discuss the issue with them, then fine, but yelling, ranting, screaming, etc. does no good.
Think before you go full Grammar Nazi on us.
If we are writing for larger publications it is because somewhere, somehow, someone has seen our potential as a writer. You don’t have to agree with them, but that is what happened. Most of us have some knowledge of the English language. It doesn’t mean that we will not make mistakes, but it does mean that we are not uneducated and illiterate. Many of us are in, or have achieved advanced education of some kind. I am in graduate school. So, when you find an error, don’t go all English teacher on us. It is condescending and annoying. For me, I am quite happy to have readers correct my typos or errors. I pass them along to my editors. I don’t mind correction, but I mind people talking down to me. I am an adult and not sitting in your English class. Offer a quick, “There’s a typo here or a probable grammar error here.” I can figure it out without the English lesson. Fraternal correction, whether in the spiritual life or in matters of grammar, has a lot to do with presentation and tone. Just point out the error and leave it at that.
The Internet is a great place where people can exchange ideas and share the Faith. It is also a place of rabid anger and vitriol and that includes by self-professed Catholics. Let’s learn charity and humility in our dealings with people in social media. Before you share a comment, consider your tone and its applicability to the topic. If a writer doesn’t respond to your comment it is probably because it was too angry, off point, or unclear, or they are just too busy. All writers greatly appreciate their readers. We just ask that you treat us with the dignity and respect that human beings deserve. God bless.