Friday, January 13, 2012

My companions on this journey

One thing I have come to appreciate so much about the Catholic Church is her teaching on the saints, especially during grief. The universal Church with her saints has come through  many times. Allow me to introduce you to the women who have helped me on this journey, women whom I have never met but because of the communion of saints I have come to know. I  feel closer to these women most days than I do most of my friends and family here on Earth.

Mother Mary. Ok, obvious one, but truly she has helped me so much. I never had a strong devotion to Mary and growing up always felt like I just didn't "get" her. After burying Caleb I found such comfort in the statue of the pieta where Mary is holding her dead son. Mary and I could now relate on a whole new level and it has been immensely healing. One of the things I struggle with constantly is guilt. I ask myself over and over again "What kind of mother stands by and does nothing while her child dies?" Because even though the doctors and friends and family say it wasn't my fault, it sure feels like it. It feels like I stood by and let Caleb die without trying to intervene in some way. When I brought this question to Mary in prayer, she answered "I am that kind of mother." She stood by and did not intervene while her son died. She knew it was the Father's will and therefore let it be. This helped me so much and I was finally able to let some of the guilt go, knowing she had done the same thing.

Hannah from the Old Testament. Hannah longed for a child of her own after years of infertility. I prayed to her often when we were trying to conceive Caleb. Hannah pours her heart out to the Lord and begs Him for a child. God hears her prayers and she gives birth to a baby boy named Samuel. Hannah's famous line is "For this child I prayed." I loved that quote so much that we ordered a decal of it and put it as the center piece in our nursery. After finding out Caleb had died and waiting for him to be born, I re-read Hannah's story while in the hospital. I almost shut the book when I re-read my favorite verse. The whole verse states " For this child I prayed, and now I in turn give him back to the Lord." She gave him back! Literally she took him to the temple after she had weened him and left him there to become a priest. My heart ached for my son, but I knew like Hannah that I had to give him back to the Lord. I found consolation knowing that scripture tells us the Lord favored Hannah so much that he blessed her with more children.

The divine part of all of this just keeps going on. So, I feel like Hannah because we cant get pregnant and I relate to her on that level. Then we both have sons whom we have to give back to the Lord. Then we go on to have more children. We chose Abigail for the name of our little girl because of Abigail in the old testament. You can find her story in 1 Samuel 25. Almost the whole chapter is dedicated to this heroic woman. The crazy part is that one tiny paragraph at the beginning is dedicated to someone else- Samuel! Hannah's son! The first part of the chapter speaks on Samuel's death. Again when I re-read this the other day I almost threw my Bible down. Samuel dies, then Abigail comes into the picture. Caleb dies then Abigail comes into the picture. I know it might just sound like I am trying to put these thoughts together but truly I feel Hannah is with me, showing me the story of her son and letting me relate it to the story of my family.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seaton- She was the first American born saint. She was a mother and then a widow and then started a religious order and founded many Catholic schools. What I love about this woman is that she became a saint even through her fear. The story goes that St. Elizabeth lost a few of her children to disease. After losing them it was known that she could not say the "Our Father" because the part where it says "your will be done," was too hard for her. She couldn't say it because she was terrified of loosing another child. WOW! And she still became a saint. This helps me so much on days where the fear is too big for me and the idea of doing God's will sends me into panic thinking about burying another child.

Blessed Zelie Martin- This women is not canonized a saint yet but is on her way. She was the mother of one of the greatest saints of our Church, St. Therese. I am not lying when I say that Zelie came to live with me this summer. I felt her presence so much and I devoured every book I could about her.

Zelie gave birth to 9 children. Her heart longed to have a son so she could raise him to become a priest and offer that back to our Lord. Her first little boy came, Joseph, and only lived 3 months. This was the first child she would have to bury. Then, miracle of all miracles, she gave birth to another boy. This son, also named Joseph, only lived a few months as well. So here she is, this long awaited prayer finally being answered in two sons, only to lay them in the grave. Zelie said that the grief of losing Helene was enough to kill her. But, on she went and she was faithful. She said over and over again that we cannot expect happiness here on Earth, only in Heaven.

Her 8th child, Therese, was a beautiful baby girl. However, Zelie had gotten breast cancer at this point in her life and could not breast feed the baby girl. There were no wet nurses in the town and Zelie held Therese in her arms as she watched her child die of starvation. Ok- seriously! By this point I would have given up faith altogether. But she didn't and in fact she kept her courage. While others thought her and her husband were CRAZY to have another child, they did. After burying 4 children (it is said that Zelie made sure she laid each child in the coffin herself), Zelie gave birth to her 9th child, Therese. This was to be her crowning jewel. This child was to become St. Therese of the child Jesus, doctor of the Church. Through St. Therese's intercession countless men have been led to the priesthood, more than Zelie could have ever dreamed of! God had such a bigger vision for Zelie's life than she even knew.

Zelie has helped me so much, not only with losing Caleb, but also with having Abigail. She writes a lot of the agonies of having a child after a loss. How the anxiety of it all is enough to kill you. I find comfort being able to relate to her. We chose Abigail's middle name after St. Therese, but also after Zelie's 8th child, Therese, who died of starvation. The child no one knows about and who is mostly forgotten but through her death gave way for her sister, St. Therese, to be born. I promised Zelie I would always remember her children, especially the ones who died so young.

Lastly, there is good ol' St. Monica. This was a mother who knew suffering. Her son, Augustine, was a terrible sinner. She prayed day and night that her son who was lost would come back to God. The thing that I love most about St. Monica is the fact that really she didn't do anything special, except pray and cry. She was known to shed so many tears over her son that the priests and bishops she went to for advice would see and hear her coming because of her obsessive tears and wailing.

Today, whenever there is a statue of St. Monica she is always holding a handkerchief because that is her symbol. How beautiful that she was so messy! I have cried so much and most days, especially in church, I just cannot seem to get it together. I always think of good ol' Monica and her crying with her handkerchief. All those tears and prayers to God eventually changed her son's heart. Augustine had a radical conversion back to our Lord and became one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church.

The extra cool thing about St. Monica and St. Augustine just happened to me recently. Each January my husband and I pick saints out of a box filled with saints names, to pray to for the following year. Well I went first and got St. Monica. "Perfect," I thought because I knew how much I would need her through my tears. Well then Nathan went next and picked for Caleb (so that he could have a buddy in Heaven). And guess what- he drew St. Augustine! This made me cry! I could not believe it and felt so held by the saints. I mean I know we believe in Heaven and the communion of Saints and all that, but sometimes it is hard to see the realness of it all. That night I saw it. St. Monica and St. Augustine, me and Caleb. I am not calling myself a saint by any means, but the mother/son relationship these two had was incredible and it gave me comfort to know my little boy loves me that way, like he hasn't forgotten about me. Nathan picked St. Joseph, which fits him completely, and Abigail got St. Phillip Neri. Not too sure what will come of that one, but we will wait and see.

So, these have been my companions. So many times I have not been able to run to God in all of this. I am scared of Him, I doubt Him, I do not trust Him the way I used to. We have a rough relationship right now but are working on it. However, during these times I have leaned on the saints to show me their examples of choosing hope even through suffering. I have felt so close to these women and know that they are walking right along side me, even if I cannot physically see them. I will be forever grateful to be Catholic and to have the communion of Saints. I long for Heaven when I will see these women face to face and we can all catch up and share our  stories of serving the Lord.

St.Monica, Hannah, St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton, Blessed Zelie Martin, and Mother Mary- Pray for us!

1 comment:

  1. Hi RyAnne! I recently came across your blog and I am finding myself reading each and every one of your posts. I love this post on the saints! Thank you for writing it. Your faith always has and still does inspire me. I am thankful for the time we spent together while at WIU. I enjoyed our Bible Studies very much. God Bless you and your family. Caleb and Abigail are SO very lucky to have you as their mommy!