Lately, I haven't been going there though. I've been looking to the feast of the days that I suffer. Finding meaning in our faith has been more enriching than reading about the torture Job endured (again). And I'm learning more about myself and my relationship to the Holy Family in doing so, for what it's worth. It certainly isn't an easy effort. But I have found more meaning in it than just meditating on the rosary or praying a novena or reading a specific Scripture. Or maybe it's just that it feels like less of a selfish endeavor? I don't know.
That's actually one of the beautiful things about our faith - the diversity of the teachings. We have so many places to go to find God, don't we? Even in a moment like this, I find myself drawn to Him and wanting to understand where I fit in His plan. And no amount of 'fitting' means anything without understanding the origin of Christ's passion.
So a-feasting I went.You might want to go grab a cup of tea. This ain't gonna be a short read. Nor is it gonna to be fun. I guess a small part of whatever is left of me right now hopes you might also find some meaning in suffering and that the effort I put into trying to understand this will help you too. I had to at least try. So without further ado... here's what I came up with:
Feast of the Holy Cross
There is mystery in both infertility and the cross. Christ made His cross a source of life for the world though, and that is why we make time to celebrate it. There is nothing but the pain of death for us without the cross. We are the grain of the wood in the cross and it is very much a part of us in all that we do. So as much as I want to say that there is no meaning to be found in the void that infertility leaves in my life (and the pain that it so constantly brings), I know that all things are redeemed already. If we are all a part of the cross, that means God didn’t forget this pain. Not even this pain.
I am the cross and the cross is mine. When I was born, I became His through baptism. But even in that moment of cleansing, I was marked with the cross on my forehead. A symbol of death painted across the fresh, chrism-scented skin on a newborn baby…
And it doesn’t end there. I was taught how to greet the Lord every Sunday as a young child. You dip your fingers into the font outside the sanctuary and you cross yourself in the name of the Truine God. You literally reclaim your baptism with a symbol of the instrument of death by anointing yourself before you prepare to worship. And you repeat this as a preparation for every prayer you pray. Everywhere we go in our daily lives through the years of Christian Catholic life, we are putting on Christ through the cross in this motion. Do we always stop to think of why we do it though? Do we realize we are welcoming suffering with this act?
I can certainly say that I am not conscious of it 100% of the time. But I was conscious of it 100% of yesterday. I was helpless from the profound pain and truth that the cross represents. And as I sat there, feeling like all hope had been ripped from me and that all the power and strength and resolve in my weary soul had been crushed, I somehow became aware that the cross is not supposed to be a source of death to me. How can hope be dead, when Christ conquered the cross? How can there be no redemption from infertility when Christ rose from the dead so that I might live? How can I be dead inside when I’ve been redeemed by God?
In every way, it began to make me feel like the cross was my only protection from this sorrow that I felt. Do you remember the antiphon we sing at the moment of baptism? “You have put on Christ, in Him we have been baptized. Alleluia, Alleluia!”. I started to think of the cross as shining armor in that moment when for some reason this antiphon popped into my head – Christ’s redemption is literally something I could wear. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? (said the girl who has plenty of Catholic jewelry – not the least of which are crosses, medals, prayer beads…). I’m brilliant, y’all. You know, like a 5 year old who thinks they just invented something because it just occurred to them for the first time in earnest. Annnnyyyway.... Just like the priest so broadly signed a cross onto my forehead as a newborn, I started to understand the meaning in my own pathetic suffering. With that realization, I quickly make the sign of the cross and wept until I had no tears. And that took hours.
Speaking of gut wrenching sorrow…
Our Lady of Sorrows
How apropos is it that today is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows?? Great, now I have to figure out how to connect (once again) to a mother figure and understand her pain at losing her child… while I mourn a child that I don’t have. JUST WHAT I WANTED TO DO TODAY after I’m left with the soreness in my abs (from weeping) of someone who did 1000 crunches yesterday.
Don’t get me wrong, I get that the Blessed Mother suffered intensely and grieved the brutal torture and death of her Son. And maybe it’s a good thing that I find myself basically incapable of connecting to anything but her suffering right now. Mary and I have a weird relationship. Suffering is the only thing that really helps me connect to her. It’s not for lack of praying, but it’s also a reason to keep praying. That’s where Mary and I are anyway.
So Our Lady of Sorrows. What are we celebrating? Yesterday was a celebration of an instrument of death – so I suppose today is a celebration of gut-wrenching agony. Times seven. Because that’s how the Bible rolls…
The Bible provides seven sorrows, to be specific. These are:
The dark prophecy of Simeon
The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt
The loss and discovery Jesus in the Temple
Mary meeting Jesus on His way to Calvary with the cross
Mary at the foot of Jesus on the cross during crucifixion
Mary holding Jesus after He was pierced by the lance and taken down from the cross
The burial of Jesus
It’s not just suffering Jesus’ death that this feast is celebrating. It’s so much more. It’s a veritable pain buffet that spans Jesus’ entire life. We’re reminded that motherhood *is* suffering in this feast day. And there are real examples that modern day mothers can certainly relate to in these seven examples (ask any parent who has lost a child in a store in the blink of an eye…).
But it has to be more than that. I have to believe that this is a day that highlights the essence of female suffering and that it is not about physical motherhood as much as it is about the nature of being a woman. Are we not meant to suffer? As I look up images of Our Lady of Sorrows, I notice that Mary’s heart is often depicted with swords piercing her heart. I can relate to that feeling right now. And yet I have no child in my arms. How can I relate to anything Mary suffered?
I’m also finding that in previous years, this feast was known as Our Lady of Compassion. And I think most of us know the Latin derivation for the word compassion is ‘cum’ and ‘patior’ (literally: to suffer with). So maybe I find not a mother to look at in Mary so much as I find someone to suffer with me. I don’t know. We’re not there yet. She’s the master of willing it to be done unto her according to God’s will – and I am most certainly not. I wish I could say I was, but who among us has reached that in their infertility journey – especially a couple years into it?