A Gift of God

Life has been busy, and I’ve had little time to write in spite of having no shortage of thoughts and ideas I’d love to develop. An important date is approaching, however, and love compels me to honour it.

Today in Mass, I don’t remember exactly how it came up yet it is no surprise such a subject should arise, death was mentioned. I think we were being urged to contemplate how we hope all to be united with the Father in the end. It is impossible for me to think of death now without remembering our son, Matthew. In one week, it will have been two years since his death, and as the intense pain of losing him seems at last to be diminishing, the yearning to be united with him one day is as strong as ever.

Our experience with Matthew was somewhat unique: not many people, thankfully, receive the news that their unborn baby has a condition that is incompatible with life outside the womb. We had only begun to rejoice in his arrival in our family when we learned he would not be with us for much longer. Fiat! It is truly amazing how the Lord in His great mercy gives us the graces we need to face the trials He allows us to bear for His greater glory. The Lord gave us the grace to believe that this sick baby was a gift to our family, even if we could scarcely understand how. It is why we named him Matthew, which means “gift of God,” so that we would never forget.

Now, two years later, standing in Mass, struggling to pay full attention as a somewhat weary mother of three, I am graced with glimpses into the meaning of our special gift from God. I see that it is thanks to Matthew that I have had to face my brokenness and my littleness and seek help in my growth towards wholeness. It is thanks to Matthew that I have learnt all the more profoundly that all is grace – bootstraps be hanged! all we can do is make an immolation of ourselves! It is thanks to Matthew that I have learned what it is to reach into the deepest recesses of my heart to give all that I am and have to others and not to make excuses, for so many people served me in this way when I was desolate. It is thanks to Matthew that I have greater empathy with those who have lost babies or who have no babies, having been thrown together with other suffering women. And I really have no doubt that it is thanks to Matthew’s intercession that we now have his twin sisters, born also on his birthday. There will always be pain when one has lost a child, but such a child can also bring a special joy, and my heart is confident that some bright morning when this life is over, my Matthew and I will enjoy the embrace we were denied in this world.

Today is Father’s Day. I am filled with joy and gratitude for the man who is the father of my children, for my father, for the father who raised my husband, and for all the men who have been fathers to others, be it biologically or spiritually. I am also filled with an intense joy and gratitude for our Father, Jesus’ Father, the God who loves us with more love than we can possibly imagine but which we can catch a glimpse of in the relationship of a truly loving earthly father with his children. His mercy and His generosity are beyond telling, and I do look forward to snuggling up to Him in the next life, however that might play out in the mystery of heaven! One almost begins to perceive death as a gift to be awaited and received with reverence, for it is through death that we are transformed and invited to new life… Well, that is a very large topic to consider at some point. I am grateful also for St Joseph, foster father to Jesus and patron of a good death; may he pray for us, especially the fathers among us, and that we may be prepared to meet our Father at the end of our lives.

Gift, gift! All is gift. May my little Matthew Gabriel pray for all of you who are reading this, that you may see how all that has come to pass in your lives has been a gift from God in some mysterious way, for He makes all things new!

Teetering on a brink, an answer comes

Last night, my husband and I had the opportunity to talk a little, and we discussed the day’s homily and got onto the topic of the Narrow Gate Christ speaks of, and how the purifications of Purgatory are reportedly more painful than any purifications we might endure in this life, and this brought me to a place of frustration I’ve been heading towards for some time now:

“I’ve been trying to become a saint since I was something like twelve years old, and look at me! I’m still impatient, still moody, still irritable, more irascible than ever, and I still crave the regard of others! For all my striving, I don’t seem to be getting very far. It’s like there is a delicate balance of making an effort and relying upon God’s grace, and I can’t strike it. Recently, I just feel like giving up trying. Maybe the secret is to nag God: hey, God, I need more grace because, as you can see, I’m still pretty pathetic and not getting anywhere, so if you want me to become a saint, you better give me a lot more help!”

Shortly thereafter, we acknowledged the hour was late and we should go to bed, and on my way, I picked up one of the most densely inspirational books in the way of Christian living that I know, My Daily Bread, written by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. I flipped through and landed upon the following – it was a bit of a tollelege moment, if you recall St Augustine. Each chapter begins with the (imagined, yet arguably inspired) voice of Christ, followed by a reflection, followed by a prayer.

“Son, the grace of devotion is not just a holy feeling, nor is it a religious mood. It is an intelligent attachment of your will to Me and to whatever I command or desire of you.

2. This is a very great grace. I will grant it to you if you will make a sincere effort to turn your back on whatever hinders your spiritual progress. You must empty your heart of all useless interests in order to make room for Me.

3. Often it is such a small matter that prevents one from obtaining this grace. Misguided self-interest cuts many people off from this glorious gift.

4. I desire you to have this grace. It will make you loyal to Me in all things. If you do not have it yet, it is because you have not yet prepared your soul for it. Pray for it and labor for it. Gain control of your feelings and unreasoning desires by acts of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Above all, begin a determined battle against the outstanding faults in your daily life.

5. With this grace of true devotion, you will find many things easy which now seem difficult and impossible. You will never again lose sight of My power, wisdom, and love, and you will consider it a privilege to follow My Will.

THINK: If I make a firm and persevering effort to abandon my foolish love for unnecessary distractions, God will give me the gift of devotion. From then on, I will no longer depend on feelings or moods, but will follow God’s Will intelligently and faithfully even when I do not feel like doing so.

PRAY: My loyal and loving Saviour, you lived an earthly life of devotion to Your Father’s Will. By self-giving action You made reparation for my many acts of disobedience to His holy commandments. By self-giving action You also proved Your love for me. You gave me an example of true devotion. Grant me the grace of true and solid devotion to You, so that I may prove my love for You by self-giving. No matter how I may feel, let me do only what is pleasing to You. I desire not only to avoid all sin, but also to do many little extra things for Your sake. Make my devotion like Yours – a constant self-offering which will prove my love beyond all doubt. Amen.

My Daily Bread, Confraternity of the Precious Blood (1954), Book 2, Ch. 13

It can be hard to find a good spiritual director. I’ve had the guidance of a number over the years, and only one felt like a perfect fit for me, and he I only enjoyed the companionship of over the course of a three-day retreat. Jesus has not left me orphaned, though. When I was a teenager, I prayed that if He would not send me a spiritual director, then would He please send me the books I need when I need them and guide me thus. I have often noticed Him answering this prayer, and this was surely yet another instance.

I need to continue striving, but I need to refocus. I need to assess my life objectively, and I need to do things the way God wants me to do them rather than the way I want to do them, for my will’s discernment is still often clouded by “misguided self-interest.” In the past few months, it’s become clear that I need to make time to be alone, something that used to be easy but with three children is a challenge. I’ve started taking Saturday mornings to myself while my husband minds the kids, and it’s been a wonderful time to recollect myself and look objectively at my life and try to bring some intelligent order to it. I suspect my next sabbatical should be devoted to my spiritual plan of life.