No one wants to look unbearable loss or sadness in the face. Most of us do everything we can to avoid doing so. Unfortunately, that can also mean that we turn away from the people who live though such circumstances.
November is for remembering. It's a time in which to look back on warmer days before the cold sets in; a chance to recall the year's joys before the holidays blur into the year's end. But invariably, as trees burst into flame and leaves fall, moments of regret and sadness come into focus, too. And for those, November offers a rhythm of solace and prayer -- one that draws us to contemplate the hereafter in the reign of Christ as King.
As Catholics, we are called not only to community, but to communion. We are sent by Christ to be Christ for one another. Our Holy Father Francis encourages us to do so by going, as Jesus did, to the "peripheries" of our world. Most of us identify that term with people who are at society's edge, those who are disenfranchised or alienated in some way. But I think peripheries exist in all our lives as the rough and uncomfortable places we cannot smooth, the struggles we have little hope of winning, the losses that cannot be restored.
In the wide spectrum of universal human experience, I would be hard pressed to identify anything more isolating than the grief of losing a child. Rationally, we all understand that death has no minimum age requirement. But while we may be able to get our heads around the fact that young people die from undiagnosed heart defects or the onset of cancer or tragic car accidents, we cannot get our hearts around it. No one wants to look unbearable loss or sadness in the face. Most of us do everything we can to avoid doing so. Unfortunately, that can also mean that we turn away from the people who live though such circumstances.
That is why St. Augustine's in Andover is offering a Mass of remembrance for children who have died through miscarriage, stillbirth or in early childhood. It is also why liturgies like the one happening there this Saturday morning should take place in every parish. Whether we have personally lost a child or not -- we should stand and pray together for those who have.
I know when I experienced a miscarriage many years ago, few were willing to share it with me. "You already have two children," some said. "Don't worry, you'll have another baby," others assured me. But what no one wanted to acknowledge was that the baby I had been carrying and already loved -- that unique and unrepeatable child -- was lost. Every bone and muscle in my body ached. When the tears began to flow, it seemed they would never stop.
If we want to reach the world with the Gospel, we have to be willing to set up camp in the valley of the shadow of death and allow ourselves to be "led where we do not wish to go" (cf John 21). We ought to learn how to accompany one another on roads of sorrow and grief so that none of us travel those roads alone. When we do, we will find that we are walking with Jesus on the way of the cross.
The reasons people give for walking away from their faith are various and many. In the end, though, I think the unmet needs we all have boil down to the same very simple thing. We all want someone to go with us, someone to listen to how we feel when we can't make sense out of life. We want someone to reassure us that there is truly more to all there is than what we can see. We need to grieve all the whos and whats we've lost in the presence of someone who will risk being present to us as we experience the depth of that loss. I believe that when we become willing to do this for each other, our hearts, and our churches, will be full again.
A Mass of Remembrance for Children who have died through miscarriage, stillbirth, or in early childhood is offered at St. Augustine Parish, 43 Essex Street, Andover at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. After Mass a basket of cards inscribed with the names of the children being remembered will be brought to the Monastery of St. Claire, where the nuns will remember them -- and their families -- in prayer during the entire month of November. If you are unable to attend, but would like your child remembered, contact Kathy Sexton at email@example.com.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.