A couple of days before I was received into the Catholic Church, Father M came to visit.
“I thought I’d run through the ceremony with you, tell you exactly what to expect. It’s going to be a very happy day!” He smiled.
But I cried. Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t stop them. Father kept talking and smiling as if all was well. He didn’t once mention my tears. I wonder what he was thinking. Maybe he thought they were tears of joy. In two days’ time I would be a Catholic. Perhaps I was overcome with emotion.
He was right: I was very emotional. But I wasn’t joyful, but exceedingly miserable. I had just miscarried our fourth baby in a row. I wanted to shout out, “I can’t take any more. I don’t know what to do. Please help me! ” Although Father saw my tears, he didn’t hear my unspoken plea.
I had lost four babies by miscarriage and I was suffering. I could make no sense of it at all. I felt so sorry for myself. Why me? I wanted others to know how I was feeling. I wanted to make them miserable too, because I didn't want to suffer alone. I refused to smile or eat properly or even be civil. I wanted others to worry about me and pity me. I was in a very bad way. And I couldn’t see how I was to put things right.
Throughout this period of my life, I attended RCIA classes. A friend of mine had entered the Church the year before, and I had a strange longing to follow in her footsteps. I went to the classes and met some friendly welcoming parishioners, but I didn’t really learn much about the Church or about God or how to pray. That didn’t seem to matter at the time. I wasn’t after knowledge. I just wanted that empty place inside me filled up. It was as if there was a rope between me and the Church. I was tugged closer and closer. I wanted to get right inside. I wanted to belong and to be loved.
So a couple of weeks after Easter, 22 years ago, Father M arranged for me to enter the Church. I just knew it was the right thing for me to do. Why? I didn’t know at the time.
Nine years later, a few weeks after Thomas died, I said the following words to one of the mothers in our grief support group: “Losing Thomas is not so difficult as losing the four babies I miscarried.” The mother’s eyes opened wide. She didn’t believe me. And she was right. I gave birth to a full term baby; for 28 hours I stood by his side as he struggled to live; I cradled him in my arms as he died, and then kissed him goodbye; I arranged his funeral and I watched as he was lowered into the ground. I had never experienced such depths of pain before.
So why did I say, “Losing Thomas is not so difficult as losing the four babies I miscarried.” I think what I meant was, “This time I have my faith to support me. This time, even though I still can’t make much sense of the suffering, I know there is an answer somewhere. This time I know where to turn.”
Yes, there were still days when I drowned in self-pity. I still constantly asked, “Why?” But “Why me?” gradually turned into “Why do any of us suffer? What is suffering all about?”
This morning, I read this quote from Bl Mother Teresa:
Suffering has to come because if you look at the cross, he has got his head bending down—he wants to kiss you—and he has both hands open wide—he wants to embrace you. He has his heart opened wide to receive you. Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you. Do you understand, brothers, sisters, or whoever you may be? Suffering, pain, humiliation—this is the kiss of Jesus. At times you come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you. I once told this to a lady who was suffering very much. She answered, "Tell Jesus not to kiss me—to stop kissing me." That suffering has to come that came in the life of Our Lady, that came in the life of Jesus—it has to come in our life also. Only never put on a long face. Suffering is gift from God. It is between you and Jesus alone inside….
Suffering is a gift from God. It is a kiss from Jesus. It has meaning. Isn’t that so consoling?
How do people cope with suffering when they have no faith? How do they ever make sense of it all? I am so glad God drew me into the Catholic Church at a time when I really needed Him. Without faith, the weight of my suffering would have crushed me completely.
I entered the Catholic Church and I found God. I discovered a faith that sustains me through all of life’s difficulties. I no longer wonder why God chooses to send me suffering. I know at such times, I am so close to Him, He can bend down and kiss me.
I think back to that day when Father M came to visit and I cried. If I had truly understood what it meant to enter the Church and become a Catholic, tears would still have streamed down my face, regardless of the miscarriages. I would have cried from the depths of my soul… not tears of sorrow, but huge tears of joy. Perhaps my tears made perfect sense to Father M after all.
Image: Portrait of a Young Girl Hiding Her Eyes by Pietro Antonio Rotari