On February 17, 2013, I experienced my third miscarriage. It was by far the most traumatic mentally, spiritually, and physically. The baby, who we named Marie-Therese, had been dead for weeks, but my body did not register this fact. The pregnancy was brutal and I was waiting for the miscarriage to begin. That evening, as we sat down to Sunday dinner, I began to hemorrhage blood profusely.
A short while later, we got to the hospital and the medical staff raced me back to a room. Nurses and doctors crowded around me as they tried to get IVs into both of my arms in the event I needed a blood transfusion. I felt bad for the paramedic student who was learning how to put the larger gauge needle into my arm, which had already had an IV in it three days prior when I experienced a debilitating migraine and had been in that very ER. I was trying to encourage him and joke with him even though things were pretty serious for me at that point and the digging around in my arm with the needle wasn’t particularly pleasant.
Eventually, I was wheeled back to the Operating Room for an emergency D & E. The last thing I remember before the anesthesiologist put me under was that they literally laid me out cruciform on the operating table. They strapped my arms down. I uttered a very sleepy Hail Mary and the lights went out. I woke up about 30 minutes later and I was no longer bleeding to death. It was a shock to me mentally to be bleeding to death one minute and perfectly fine—except for the agonizing grief—walking out of the hospital about two hours later after some time in recovery. It was one of the most chaotic nights of my life.
My body sustained a pretty heavy beating that took me a year to recover from due to the blood loss. More than anything, I was trying to deal with the agony of it all in light of my Catholic faith. I had only reverted back to the Church four years prior and my husband and I suffered a miscarriage almost every year of our marriage up to that point. My mother never experienced any miscarriages and I couldn’t understand why God kept allowing this to happen to me.
Three days later, my husband and I—along with our then 1.5 year old daughter—were scheduled to bring dinner to the homeless families who were staying at our parish for the week. My husband offered to go on his own, but I wanted to try to serve others despite my own deep pain. Once we set everything up and were waiting for the families to arrive, I asked him if I could go sit with Our Lord in Adoration for a few minutes.
I walked into the nave and looked at Our Lord exposed in the monstrance on the altar. I was worn out and burdened with grief, frustration, confusion, and anger. I turned to walk around to a pew on the other side when I saw the Confessional door open. No one was in line. For some reason, I stumbled into the Confessional and sat down in front of the priest and began sobbing my way through my Confession. I was engulfed in my grief.
I didn’t know him very well. He was new to the parish. It didn’t matter, because he said something to me that changed everything for me and that I will remember forever. He told me that I was being refined in the fires of suffering and that God purifies us so that we can become like gold. This priest very gently and lovingly pointed me towards the Cross. It is through the Cross that we are purified by the fire of God’s love. It was exactly what I needed. Through him, the Holy Spirit led me towards the Cross where Christ always meets us in our agony and sanctifies us through pain in order to perfect us in charity.
One would think that I would have understood the centrality of the Cross as a cradle Catholic, but I didn’t. I didn’t grasp that the Cross is the very center of the path to holiness. That the Cross is a non-negotiable aspect of Christian discipleship. That we can only reach the resurrection and eternal life through the Cross and by uniting our own cross fully to His. We must be purified and refined in the fire of God’s love to become holy and that necessarily means suffering in this life.
The Cross teaches us how to love with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. My miscarriages taught me how to love more completely and to be willing to sacrifice and suffer for others. It is a lesson I wouldn’t have learned any other way. My now Master’s Degree in Theology pales in comparison to the lessons I have learned in charity through the refining fires of suffering, trial, and affliction. All of the knowledge in the world is useless if we do not come to understand that love is learned through sacrifice and deepens in the face of suffering, loss, and vulnerability. That moment was one in which the Holy Spirit guided me to the Way of the Cross, which is the only true path we can walk in this life if we hope to attain eternal life.
Our Lord did not just point me to the Cross, He also comforted me in my profound desolation. He met me in my agony through this priest. He meets us in what we know, in our own unique experiences, and personalities. We naturally, as well as spiritually, connect with some people more than others in accordance with God’s will. I have only now realized how much Our Lord was meeting me in that moment. This priest died shortly before Christmas, and as I have prayed for him over the last few weeks, the Holy Spirit has illuminated this moment even more for me nearly eight years later.
This priest, Fr. Mike, shared the same name as my own father who I am very close to. He had a legal background and my dad was a lawyer for nearly 20 years. His keen intellect was reminiscent of my dad’s and he was only four years older than him. His priestly ministry was cut short by illness just as my dad’s legal career was cut short by illness.
I wanted my dad to come visit after the miscarriage, but his chronic illness made it impossible for him to travel across the country, so instead, Our Lord sent me this priest, which is particularly significant for me given the path I am on now. My natural father couldn’t come to help me, so Christ sent a spiritual father who I would be able to relate to because of the similarities to my own father. Such is Our Lord’s gratuitous love and compassion.
Fr. Mike profoundly understood the Cross and because of it he led me to the only answer that can be given in the face of devastating loss. He died the day before Christmas Eve. The first reading for daily Mass on the day he died is from the Book of Malachi and says of God:
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
He selected for his funeral Mass a reading with the same reference found in the Book of Wisdom. He himself entered into that refining fire a few short months after I stumbled into Confession with him. He spent seven years—that perfect holy number—in the fire before he was called home two weeks ago.
Nothing about his story or mine is incidental. It is all a part of God’s Divine plan. The words he spoke to me guided by the Holy Spirit on that day would be the very same words read in the Mass on the day of his death and again at his funeral Mass. They were life-giving words given to me in the face of death. May Fr. Mike rest eternal after having surrendered himself fully to the refining fire of Divine Love in this life and may I endeavor to do the same.