This year I experienced what could be called a most un-self mortifying Lent.
In one respect, at least, it was excusable: in the midst of the season, I learned I was pregnant. As such, sacred vessel of new life that I was, I mostly felt excited and jovial over the news, instead of the prescribed solemn and penitent.
But that’s not why my Lent was lame.
It was more the fact that, expecting a baby or not, I only managed to keep my 40 days for life vigil a handful of times and indulged in meat abstinence on Fridays with obscene sushi consumption. Add to this that I fell asleep twenty minutes into the Passion of the Christ and failed to read more than thirty pages of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection and it’s obvious that any dedication to ‘subduing one’s flesh’ or doing something extra and spiritually enriching never rose above ankle level for me.
Ergo, I decided make a Divine Mercy Novena, which begins on Good Friday and ends on Easter Saturday as a way of making up for my general Lenten lethargy. Where I had failed to enter into the mystery of Christ’s cross, I was determined, at the very least, to bring a profound sense of Christ’s resurrection into my heart and home.
And then I had a miscarriage.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the novena, for a moment.
Almost as soon as I began trekking through the prayers, Easter week started shaping up as a harried, and awful week. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, the devil circled nearby all week long to beleaguer the faith out of me (I noticed he did not come around when I wasn’t really making an effort).
But in the backdrop of all of this was the novena.
Everyday a different group of souls (mankind, priests and religious, those separated from the Church, unbelievers, those ignorant of Christ, souls in purgatory, the souls of children, the humble, meek, devout, faithful and, finally, the lukewarm) is prayed for. Immediately, I was struck by how realistic and practical those ‘divisions’ of souls were. I say this because everyone falls into one or more of those categories at any given time during their lives (knock on wood for purgatory).
Like a ‘camino’ of self-discovery, as I prayed for ‘them,’ i.e. the souls that Jesus wants to deliver into his unfathomable mercy, I discovered that I was essentially was praying for myself. So often I’m the one who is ignorant of who Christ is. I separate myself from Him and His Church through sin, I become inexcusably lukewarm during key times such as ahem, Lent, for instance.
But, wait, this novena is about Divine Mercy and not self-loathing! I also prayed for good, meek and devout souls and for myself as someone who can be faithful, devout and yes, even meek at times. Throughout the novena I could not forget that true humility (as well as mercy) also requires acknowledging our good points and those of others no matter how difficult that is at times.
I, for one, struggle with understanding God’s mercy, which is probably telling of how I too often fail at extending mercy to others. The novena deepened my understanding of the goodness of our Lord as the source of inexhaustible mercy. I also learned that I still have much to learn when it comes to growing in humility and regarding others mercifully.
This Easter, however, I experienced what it means to humbly surrender to His will and trust in His mercy in a very personal way.
On the sixth day of Easter, we learned that our baby had died.
On that very sleepless night, in that cold emergency room, my husband and I cried, held hands, and hugged each other. And yet even in the midst of our loss, we concluded that, in the end, we trusted God. By grace, we were able to place our trust in His will and plan for us, and to entrust our baby to His loving mercy.
And in the backdrop of all this, still, was the novena, in which the souls of children are particularly prayed for.
Jesus, I trust in you.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, we attended mass. As I gazed at the still fresh Easter lilies surrounding the tabernacle and image of the Divine Mercy that hangs behind the altar, I felt a profound sense of resurrection both for myself and for my little one. My baby is alive somewhere and one day I hope to meet little him or her in Heaven.
Yes, it is a saddening thing to lose a child. There will always be a hole in our hearts for never having known them. But it’s an equally beautiful thing to experience being immersed with them under the tent of God’s hounding mercy and compassion.
That evening, after mass, we named our baby and I finally a felt splinter of joy in my soul as I left for home with my husband and with the two beautiful children God has blessed me with in this life.
It was the first time all Easter.
“Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 Jn 5:5
Copyright 2012 Marissa Nichols