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.
Last week the fall 40 Days for Life campaign began. I have prayed at Planned Parenthood for the last six years, ever since my only child and amazing daughter was in the womb. As I have experienced the loss of our children in previous miscarriages, I would find myself needing a temporary break from the pro-life movement. I would only make it out once or twice a campaign. My own grief and need for physical recovery made it difficult for me to go out to pray in front of an abortion clinic.
Imagine my surprise when I found myself standing in front of Planned Parenthood last week. Not only did I go out once, I went out three times for a total of 5 hours. I then came home and signed up to be out 4 hours every single week throughout the entire campaign. Me?! A mother grieving the loss of her unborn child. A child who died at the same age when many abortions take place.
To the world I should be angry at the men and women who walk into the clinic to intentionally murder their own children. I should be envious that these women are able to sustain a pregnancy and are offered the great love of motherhood, only to do the unthinkable. My own grief should keep me from going to pray at Planned Parenthood, most especially on surgical abortion day, which is Saturday in these parts. Instead, I make a point of being out Saturday mornings. It makes no logical sense for someone in my position to be there, and not only once, but on a regular basis. And yet, I am.
Entering into the Cross of Our Lord.
When I pray at Planned Parenthood, I always take an icon of Our Lady and Christ, either Our Lady of Perpetual Help or Our Lady of Tenderness. Lately I have also taken my First Degree Relic of St. Monica and a few other homemade signs. This time, however, I got the nudge to make a sign that shares my own pain. My sign states: “I know the agony of lost motherhood after 4 miscarriages. I am here to help.” The phone number for our local crisis pregnancy center is on the bottom. Not only has God called me to pray at Planned Parenthood, He has asked me to lay out my own pain, grief, and sorrow for the world to see.
This past Saturday, I held my sign and prayed all 20 decades of the Rosary. As I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, I began to weep. Christ asked me to bring my own Cross and lay it at His feet, but He asked me to do it in a place where the horror of the Cross is on display as innocent babies or torn apart and murdered; babies just like my little Andrew. The innocent die in that place. The Cross is experienced in a profound way while praying in front of an abortion clinic. This is something almost everyone experiences, but it takes on an even deeper level for the mother or father who has lost an unborn child, or many children. So I listened and I wept at the foot of the Cross. My own grief and suffering united to the intense suffering occurring inside that building.
Grieving the forgotten.
I realized immediately the mind-boggling paradox on display by my witness. I was not angry, envious, or hate-filled. Instead, I was filled with sorrow and compassion for all involved. These men and women are turning away one of the greatest gifts offered to a man and a woman: parenthood. When a woman kills her own child, she not only violates her own nature and vocation, she says “no” to love. Her child dies a violent death at her own hands with little thought on her part in that moment. Lord willing the profound remorse and move towards healing and forgiveness comes later. I know the great love of all of my children. As I drive to Planned Parenthood for my vigil hours, I see baby Andrew’s heartbeat flickering on the screen in my mind’s eye, and I remember the most intense joy of that moment. I know exactly what these men and women have chosen to do: kill their own child and say “no” to love. I know at the deepest level what is lost.
My Confessor pointed out that God calls me to Planned Parenthood precisely because I know the proper grief that should be reserved for a lost child. I know their dignity and the love they should have known and been given. I can grieve for the mothers and fathers who do not grieve. I watched one woman proudly walk in with a grin on her face. A reminder of what the Fall has done to us and the desperate need for salvation. God has called me into this great evil and place of sorrow, so that someone may grieve the tragic loss of those children and love them. I also can pray for those mothers and fathers for what they have lost, whether they know it or not. They lost the transformative power of love and the great gift of parenthood. I can ask my four babies: Caleb, Victoria, Marie-Therese, and Andrew to pray and intercede for all involved.
I did not expect God to call me in my hour of sorrow to pray at an abortion clinic. It was surreal to stand in the morning sun holding the sign revealing my own agony while tears streaked down my face. Each hour at Planned Parenthood, my own wounds are torn open as my suffering mingles with the suffering going on inside. I sense the Cross at Planned Parenthood so completely that it can only be likened to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Yet another paradox.
Suffering comes to all of us, but God asks us to have the courage to follow Him into dark places so that He can bring us out into the light once more. He calls us to enter into pain, sorrow, agony, and suffering so that we may be transformed. It makes little sense in the moment. In fact, it seems to be madness at the time. Who would ever expect a grieving mother to pray at Planned Parenthood out of charity and compassion? Who would ever expect the mother of a murdered son to befriend the murderer? Who would expect a terror victim to embrace their terrorist? Or an Auschwitz prisoner to forgive the prison guard? God heals us in His ways. They are not our own and often they are the opposite of what we want to do. It takes fortitude to walk deeper into suffering, to go into the furnace of purification. What strange ways does God use to heal you? If we listen and we walk where He asks us to go, we will be transformed. It is a slow process, but it is where good comes out of suffering, evil, and sorrow.