A few days ago a friend of mine came to me to share some joyful news: She’s pregnant.
She felt some trepidation in telling me the news. This friend and I have suffered together through the grief of miscarriage; for her the loss of her daughter and for me the loss of four children, two daughters and two sons. She and I have stood at the foot of the Cross together bearing the agony of losing a child to miscarriage and learning to offer everything back to Christ.
She prayed with me at the local Planned Parenthood a few short weeks after my fourth miscarriage while she grieved her miscarriage that occurred a few months prior. We are sisters that Christ has bonded together through the shared pain of loss transformed in His eternal fire of love through emptying ourselves in service to the unborn. Even so, our paths are still very different.
“My path to holiness will differ from my sisters in Christ, just as theirs will differ from my own.”
By His grace, I have come to accept that I will not have anymore children. Our Lord’s will for me in this area is crystal clear. He has blessed us with our daughter, but my days of changing diapers and first steps are done.
This is an area spiritually where I fought hard against God’s will for years, only to discover that peace and joy are only found in living in accordance with His will over my own. I finally relinquished my grip and let go. I stopped comparing myself to other Catholic mothers and started to live the life that God has given to me. My path to holiness will differ from my sisters in Christ, just as theirs will differ from my own.
Even with this relinquishment on my part, my friend was concerned about sharing her wonderful news with me. She knows the tears I have shed in secret or at Mass because I miss my babies or because everyone around me my age seems to be pregnant. A couple of years ago the news would have been bittersweet for me. I would have been happy for her, but sad that I will never again get to deliver such amazing news again myself or hold another infant child in my arms that is my child.
“As we move deeper into the Divine charity, we come to discover that it is interwoven with fraternal charity.”
This time it was different because God’s grace has healed and transformed that grief. When she told me she was pregnant I experienced great joy for her. In some small way it must have been similar to the joy Mary and St. Elizabeth shared at the Visitation. My response to my friend was no longer inward. It was a movement of love and joy outward with no thought of myself. I could enter into her joy freely and completely, no longer inhibited by my own pain and desires. This is communion and this is what God calls us to with one another. In fact, heaven will not only be communion with the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, but a complete union with one another as the Communion of Saints.
As we move deeper into Divine charity, we come to discover that it is interwoven with fraternal charity. We know this through the Great Commandments Christ speaks to us in the Gospel of Matthew:
“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking,“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
“Our joys are truly together as one, just as our sorrows are truly together as one.”
Loving and serving God is directly linked to loving and serving one another. We are connected to one another at the deepest levels of reality. We don’t see it in our blindness because of the wound of the Fall.
Only in heaven will we be fully aware of our union with our neighbor that is fully realized in unveiled communion with the Most Holy Trinity. Our joys are truly together as one, just as our sorrows are truly together as one, as St. Paul tells us. This capacity for us on this side of eternity is dependent on many factors, some outside of our control, but more than anything it depends on how much we are willing to love and to open ourselves up to love in our relationships with others.
More than any other emotion we experience, fear will keep us from entering into the deeper relationships with others that God desires for us. Love costs us something. It hurts. It has to because it is meant to be a total self-emptying on our part. That means we can be deeply hurt, rejected, and betrayed by others. It means that the people around us will have different paths, different blessings, and different afflictions from our own. It means we may love others more than they love us. It means we will eventually be separated from the ones we love by death.
It’s easy for us to stand beside our brothers and sisters in joy, it is another matter when suffering arises. It is our impulse to flee, because suffering requires a deepening of love that includes hurting alongside the person we love. What we forget in this life is that the periods of suffering tend to give way to the most intense joy because it is in suffering that love is purified and made new.
“The task God gave me was grounded in both love of God and serving Him faithfully, but also deep fraternal charity.”
It is the same with my friend and our shared suffering. She has waited, endured, and prayed to accept God’s will these years of waiting for another child. God has blessed her perseverance with another child. He will not bless me in the same way. Instead, he has shown me in some small way how closely united I am to my neighbor and they to me. He is slowly showing me how much more I must open myself up to others, especially the people He specifically asks me to in a way that requires swimming into greater depths. The prospect of it feels like trying to hold my breath before jumping into the ocean. I haven’t quite found the courage to jump yet, but in His mercy and charity God is slowly showing me where He wants to lead me. Loving the people around me regardless of whether or not they return my affection is drawing me closer to Him. I am frequently told in prayer that I am simply to “love as He loves.”
Two days before my friend told me she was pregnant, a period of intense desolation finally ended when I discovered a task God asked me to complete was done. The battle I waged in this task was intense and it was something that I could only fully open up about with my spiritual director because of the intense amount of fear that plagued me throughout it, as well as repeated demonic nightmares. His response was that God is teaching me greater charity and that always costs us and it always gets the Enemy’s attention. The last thing Satan wants is for any of us to grow in both divine charity and fraternal charity. The task God gave me was grounded in both love of God and serving Him faithfully, but also deep fraternal charity.
Through the completion of this task and enduring the suffering asked of me, God blessed me with tremendous joy. In fact, it was so intense at the moment that I had to catch my breath. The suffering gave way to joy. In these moments God infuses us with grace that causes us to move outwards from ourselves. We no longer think of ourselves. We think only of God and our union with others. The joy I experienced wasn’t even my own because the task wasn’t for me, but God blessed me precisely because of my self-forgetfulness and desire to serve Him and my brother.
And in the case of my friend’s news, how could I not rejoice with her in the blessings that God has given to her? They are from Him. This realization was a gift He gave to me for persevering. I was then equipped to move outside of myself away from the pain of my own miscarriages to celebrating her news in a completely selfless way.
Self-forgetfulness is the path to both divine charity and fraternal charity. When we grasp and do not relinquish our grip on our own desires, fears, or plans we cannot open ourselves up to how God wants to transform our lives and the lives of the people around us. When we forget ourselves in love of God and our neighbor, we are able to be filled to overflowing with the gifts of true charity. This can only be accomplished through our dependence on God and our willingness to let go and allow God to take us into the depths.