“I no longer have a life of my own.” These words spoken by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross pierced me deeply as I searched for quotes by her on suffering. This is the very thing I am wrestling with as I battle to submit to God’s will in my own life. I have accepted the crucifixion He has called me to—for the salvation and sanctification of the priests He has entrusted to me through prayer, sacrifice, and sufferings. I am weak and it is not easy to embrace everything He asks me to endure.
I’m wrestling with this calling as I miscarry another child: My fifth. The agony and shock of it never lessens, no matter how many babies I lose. I can barely fathom that I have lost five babies. This time, I had no idea I was pregnant. It was the furthest thing from my mind until I realized what was happening to me.
No words in the face of such suffering
There are no words in the face of such suffering. Suffering is shrouded in mystery and, when we find ourselves at the edge of mystery, all we can do is fall silent. Our Blessed Mother and St. John stood silently at the foot of the Cross with Our Crucified Savior. Even when He entrusts His Mother to St. John, and gives her to the Church and His priests, there are no words spoken between them; only the silent gaze of two people fully immersed in the agony and mystery of Christ’s salvific work.
Family, friends, and priests do not know what to say to me. I do not expect answers or words that will take away the gaping wound in my heart. The greatest mistake we make in the face of tremendous suffering is in thinking we can fix it or that people expect us to fix it. There is no answer or solution to why I have lost five babies. There is no answer to why this is my particular path while my friends can have babies with no problems while other women choose to murder their own babies in the womb. That is the Fallen world we live in.
If I dwell on this aspect of the mystery of my suffering too long, then I will go mad. Eventually, I must fall silent in the face of the Cross, so must my family, friends, and priests. The Cross is something we endure in love. It is not something we can avoid or fix. Instead, we ask for the strength and grace to be present in other people’s lives while we endure our own cross. We must find the courage to remain silent alongside others.
When we are not the one being crucified in a given moment, we must seek to endure the Cross with our loved ones as Our Blessed Mother, St. John, St. Mary Magdalene, and others did. We must stand fast—despite our desire to flee—and remain silent with those who are suffering the agonies of this life. We all go through this life being crucified, watching those we love bear their crosses.
The life of the Christian disciple, which is a crucified life, requires both an acceptance of the nails driven into our own flesh, the lashings of this life, the crown of thorns, and the piercing of our own hearts, but it also requires the courage, love, and reverence of suffering that allows us to fall silent beneath the crosses of others. To be present to them in love.
There are no words to take away grief and sorrow. I learned this 20 years ago when I stood before the smoldering wreckage at the Pentagon, where Flight 77 had been used as a missile by terrorists on September 11, 2001. As I stood with 400 grieving family members a few short days after 184 of their family members and friends had been murdered, there were no words for me to say to them. All I could give them was my silent, tear-stained presence in the face of their inconsolable grief. It seems like very little, but it is enough to stand silently with those who are being crucified through suffering. Our presence is an act of love.
As Christians, we endure tremendous agonies, but we do so with hope. We do not despair. It is in fact possible to grieve, sob, and even yell out to and at God in our sorrow, but still hope that all will be set right and that our suffering will be used for good. As I miscarry this child, I will not be given an answer to why I am suffering in this way again. Instead, Christ has given me a purpose for my suffering, which allows me to channel all of my agonies towards the salvation of others by participating in His salvific work on the Cross. Our suffering has redemptive value and saves souls when we unite it to Christ on the Cross.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross sought to suffer for others, much like other saint heroes of mine, such as St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Faustina. All three women were victim souls for the salvation of others. When St. Teresa Benedicta said her life was no longer her own, she was coming to understand what following Christ costs. She was beginning to see that loving Him and loving as He loves requires a total surrender of self to His will over our own. This process is brutal as we have to be purified and refined of our natural tendency for control, aversion to suffering, sin, and lack of willingness to suffer for those who hurt us. This battle should give us great hope, however.
St. Teresa Benedicta writes:
The battle wages over the human soul; heaven and hell wrestle for it. If we could see this soul in its loneliness and need, conscious of its way only in dark distress, its way shrouded in foggy night, if we could witness its struggles, its fallings and recoveries, we would be engulfed by a trusting certainty that the soul is signified in the hand of God, that its way and end lie clear as day before the gaze of the Almighty, and that He has commanded His angels to lead it from error to light.
In the darkness of our distress, the sufferings of this life, and the daily battles with sin, Christ is leading us to our ultimate end. Even when we cannot see God and we see nothing but darkness concealing our vision of Him, He is with us. This is why we never grieve in despair. We may sob uncontrollably or fling dishes across the sink in agonized frustration while crying out “why” or even experience numbness (all things I’ve experienced or done in the past two weeks), but we do so in order to wrestle with the mystery of suffering and to submit to being crucified with Christ.
Wrestling with the mystery of suffering is a sign of our faith. It is when we stop fighting and fall into despair or indifference that we are spiritually in danger. As I recently told a friend, I have quite literally been in my car alone screaming at the top of lungs at God, banging on my steering wheel, and sobbing in agony after each one of my miscarriages. It is because I know He is there that I can yell out in my agony. Our lamentations are prayers to God.
I have found it is after these moments that I am able to surrender and fall silent before the mystery of suffering. The release of anger in the face of death allows us to surrender. It was not supposed to be this way, and we know this with every fiber of our being. As we grieve, we have to release the anger or it will turn into bitterness. Much the way a child beats against their father’s chest when they are hurting, so do we at times when we have been cut to the very depth of our being by the mystery of death.
Comfort & Hope
St. Teresa Benedicta’s hope is even more profound in that she understood her suffering to be a gift offered to Christ Crucified for the salvation of souls. She could remain joyful in the face of tremendous suffering because she trusted that Christ accepted the offering of herself to Him in order to save souls. This is the same radical trust, surrender, love, and joy that pervaded the souls of St. Therese and St. Faustina, as well as countless other saints. They trusted their sufferings would save souls, even though they battled doubt like the rest of us. The saints sought to hope against hope.
St. Teresa Benedicta writes shortly after her mother’s death:
But I trust that from eternity, Mother will take care of them. And (I also trust) in the Lord’s having accepted my life for all of them. I keep having to think of Queen Esther, who was taken from among her people precisely that she might represent them before the King. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther. But the King who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. That is such a great comfort.
The only way forward for anyone with this calling is through a radical surrender in faith and trust. Those who are asked to suffer for others are not given an answer to why they suffer in certain ways. All they know is their suffering is needed for some mysterious reason. I have willingly told Christ I will suffer for His priests. My problem is I’m never prepared for the forms that suffering will take because it is not on my terms. It tends to be the things that cause me the most pain.
I will never know in this life why I have one daughter, but have lost five babies. Christ is not going to tell me why it is this particular agony He is allowing in my life to be offered up for others. It is, in fact, the loss of the very thing I so earnestly want—a son and more children—that I am called to suffer for His priests. I do so in hope despite my present grief and agony and hoping one day to embrace the Cross more fully in love like the saints.
St. Teresa Benedicta understood what Christ is trying to teach me and all of us. We must trust in Him in the face of suffering. We must be willing to fall silent. To accept that our lives are no longer our own.
My miscarriages are a reminder that my life—and theirs—do not ultimately belong to me. My suffering is being united to Christ Crucified for the salvation of others. In that knowledge, I can rejoice despite my broken heart. This is the wisdom of the saints. This is how we become saints. There is no other way except through the mystery of the Cross.
image: Icon of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer (New York City) / photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)