I am watching a young family struggle with a cross with which I am somewhat familiar—the one attached to burying a newborn. Though the cause in each case was different and she had a little more time to prepare, that preparation has little to do with the enormous tragedy when it strikes. It simply hurts.
I found the pain astonishing in relation to the size of the little person who visited for so brief a time. What this grieving mother related to me in one conversation brought back so many memories, and there were the familiar echoes of how each family member was affected in his or her own way. Throughout the ordeal, each suffers and shares a sense of helplessness.
It’s difficult to express what affections and hopes are wrapped around a child you’ve not had a chance to know. Most children are received into loving arms—not because of what they’ve done, or who they will become—but because of who they are. They are ours, they are an expression of love between man and woman, they are entirely new but deeply rooted in the human family because of physical ties, which are themselves a creative gift of God who understands the need for such things.
And what happens when these ties are sundered prematurely? They cut and tear as deeply as any other, though some might wonder at the curious weight of so small a being. The human heart is disposed to deep communion with others, and motherhood in particular bears within it a compass that leads her along these paths of love.
And yet, in our fallen world, the mother’s path is hazardous and often terrifying, because to give oneself as a total gift of self is to invite suffering. This is what philosopher Alice von Hildebrand describes as “the jeweled cross,” which indicates the layers of meaning in such trials.
Jewels have value in this life—for their rare beauty. Their appeal is universal, they are often associated with marks of distinction, and they can be obtained only at great cost.
The cross has often become such a banal cliché that many forget its torturous associations. Christians are wisely challenged to reflect on its meaning and the details of such a love that would compel the God-man to freely endure this suffering. Truly the human depths of our love and gratitude for God can never grasp the real cost of his gift.
So what does a “jeweled cross” indicate? It means that the suffering we endure for love has value—and even more so when joined to the salvific work of Christ. His is the cross that gives merit to our pain, and he is the one who shows what love can accomplish.
While we meditate on this truth in Lent, every tragedy, such as the loss of a child, can become its own Lent—of seeming endless duration. Its Easter mysteries may be shrouded in tears, and the victory of love over death may be clouded by the very ache of such love so tinged with fresh sorrow. That is entirely understandable.
But laying these sorrows on the altar of God will allow those jewels to glimmer and shine over time—so that their value may begin to emerge. The pain subsides somewhat, the unexpected insights seep in, and the hope of reunion may direct many to amend their lives.
With trust, we must accept these painful lessons for our own growth, because in the end despite all the treasures attached to such crosses, the one carrying it is of the greatest value.
Copyright 2010 Genevieve Kineke