The respectfully hushed sound of shuffling feet was only briefly interrupted by the signal for the change of guard. Sitting with my laptop on my bed, I watched as thousands waited in line for their turn to say goodbye to the queen. Some held back tears, others allowed them to flow; some were quite stoic in their manner, yet all were there in one accord.
Each with their own story, they come, united in their grief as a nation, to mourn their queen's death. Yet, Queen Elizabeth II's death reverberates worldwide, surprising many with unexpected pangs of grief. Death has a way of tugging at hidden places, at deep memories, and perhaps even finding some unresolved grief.
I remember very clearly the day we buried my paternal grandmother. Watching my uncles dressed in black suits as they stood by their mother's graveside is a memory that remains forever etched in my heart. There was something comforting about seeing the family's elders conduct themselves through the rituals and ceremonies surrounding my grandmother’s death. I did not realize it at the time, but as I held my young sons close to me, my heart and mind were learning something about how to say goodbye. Family coming together to remember, mingling laughter and hugs with prayers and tears. The sorrow of the one leaving us tempered by the experience of shared grief. We were all together, old and young, a family in mourning, blessed by rituals shared with love.
As I have gotten older, I have attended fewer funerals than I would have expected. Even within Catholic families, many choose not to have a funeral Mass or even a service. Some, rather than a funeral, tell their loved ones they want a "celebration of life." They don't want people to wear black; they don't want people to be sad. Whatever the reasons behind these choices, I have always had the sense that we are missing something important when we disconnect our lives from the reality of death. For those of us who are Catholic, the richness of the funeral rites speaks truth amid confusion, turning darkness into light.
Our Holy Mother Church wants to accompany us in our times of sorrow and comfort us in our grief. As we allow our families and communities to be present for one another in their time of need, the burden is shared, and the heart is healed. These things can’t be hurried, and they can’t be ignored. It is a heavy burden to walk through life carrying grief unmourned.
Witnessing the ceremony around Queen Elizabeth II's passing, we have the opportunity to learn about making space and taking time to say goodbye. Let us allow ourselves to experience this moment in our shared humanity. And if some memories of unresolved grief come up, perhaps we can take this opportunity to bring them to the light of Christ; perhaps we need the time to properly say goodbye.
St. Ambrose spoke these words to a mother begging him to help guide her wayward son. The bishop, realizing the young man was not ready to receive instruction, denied her request but encouraged the woman, whom we now know as St. Monica, to keep praying for her son.
St. Monica is the patron Saint of alcoholics, conversions, mothers, and wives. Her steadfastness in faith is not only an example for us but a great source of grace.
Monica was no stranger to suffering. Before the seventeen years she spent praying for her son, she had already endured years of praying for the conversion of her husband and her mother-in-law. I wish we had her diary, but we don’t. We know parts of her story from what we read in her son’s diary.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo writes:
From his point of view, he owes his conversion to her prayers. We would not have a Saint Augustine without Saint Monica. But I wonder, would we have a Saint Monica without Augustine? Would we have a Saint Monica without the waywardness of the son?
As a mother, I often find comfort in the story of Monica and Augustine. When my heart is riven by worry for my children, I hear God speak to me through the words of St. Ambrose, reminding me that my tears, though hidden to most, are always seen by God. These tears not only water the ground my children walk on, but they also soften my heart for the work God is doing in my own soul. For the suffering God allows to come our way will always be for good; it will be for the greater glory of God.
First, I would like to extend our deepest gratitude for each prayer said for our family this week. My husband, Rick, had major surgery this past Monday, and your prayers have carried us through. His surgery was much more complicated than anticipated, but he did well and is home recovering. Looking back at everything that has transpired during these past few days, I can honestly say it is all grace. Emmanuel… God is with us… a truth, sometimes hidden, yet often felt. This is what your prayers did for me… they helped me remain aware. Aware of His Presence, of His Providence, of His Love, of His Care.
The last thing I said to him was, “I love you,” as they wheeled him off to the OR. I found a chair away from people in the waiting room, grabbed my coffee and my rosary, and settled in to wait for a while. After an hour and a half, I moved to a chair closer to the preop area door. Looking up each time the door opened, hoping it was the surgeon saying they were all done. A surgery that was supposed to take one hour turned into two, then three, then a call from the nurse saying, “There are some complications; try not to worry, we are still working on him.”
A lot goes through one’s mind and heart in those moments. A prayer of begging and surrender…
It was precisely at this moment that I felt the prayers calling down graces to live the present moment. A grace of courage to have a difficult conversation with God. A grace of trust to know that His Will is perfect and good; that no matter what happened, He was, and would always be, with us. He was with Rick in the OR, He was with our kids at home, and He was with me in the waiting room. And, always, a grace of hope.
Shortly after that call from the nurse, a friend texted and asked if I wanted her to bring me Communion to the waiting room. I said, yes, of course! Jesus wanted to be physically present in the waiting room with me. My friend stopped by, gave me Communion, and prayed with me. She was there representing all of you, and I felt your prayers strengthening me. There were moments when I felt afraid, yet I never lost my peace. I didn’t try to escape the moment either; I was able to remain present, in prayer, in the grace of the moment.
Five hours went by when, finally, the surgeon stepped out looking for me. She said he was in recovery and doing well. There had been some complications during surgery, so she still needed to run some blood work and keep him for observation, but she hoped everything would be ok. It would still be a while before I could see him, but I was so grateful. My friend, who was still with me, left, and I sat in a little corner, ate the sandwich I had packed, and just breathed. I breathed in the Holy Spirit and let Him wash over me. I asked for strength for what was just ahead, helping him through recovery, fully aware of my limitations due to my own disability. Once again, I felt the grace of your prayers, carrying the cross like Simon of Cyrene (cf. Matthew 27:32).
I got to bring Rick home the next day, and he is recovering beautifully at home. We are both resting, taking care of each other, and the kids are doing their part to help things run along. Yes, my friends, this is what your prayers have done for us. A highly complex surgery went well, and we are being carried by grace each moment. Like Rick said last week, let us always continue to pray for each other. Prayer works. We have experienced it over and over again. Let us not tire of asking… of offering sacrifices… of calling down grace for each other. Let us bring light to the places in darkness.
When I saw the little pyx containing Jesus in the waiting room, sitting next to me, I wondered who else He was visiting there. I got to be the one to receive Him, but I know He was not there just for me.
The other day I asked my son,
“Do you know how much I love you?”
He answered the same way he always does, “A lot,” he said.
This time though, wanting a little more, I asked, “How do you know?”
His answer was simple, perplexing, and profound…. “You breathe.”
He said this without pausing, without thinking about it; it was just a matter of fact.
Puzzled, I said, “I breathe? “… “Yes, mom,” he said, “you just ARE.”
What a profound truth. We are made by love, for love… Love is who we are.
We long to be seen, known, and accepted. To love is to encounter, to experience, to receive the other. This is why rejection is such a painful experience… We are meant to be received, but sin makes us ashamed. It makes us hide. But when we hide the parts we believe are unacceptable and unlovable, we make it impossible for others to receive who we truly are.
Where do we find a remedy for this illness? We find it in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. Deep within the heart of the one WHO IS, we find the truth of who we ARE.
Truth tells us we are known…
Truth tells us we are loved…
We must hide there, rest there, wait there… until we experience love.
And then, once we open our hearts and receive His love, we let it overflow.
Then, as we encounter others and receive them, they will experience God’s love through us.
In Him… Just breathe… Receive.
“Patience is a virtue.” We need to be reminded of this often because waiting is hard. Even Jesus, in His humanity, experienced the difficulty of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Jesus’ words give us a glimpse of the love and patience of His Sacred Heart. Love sent him down to earth to redeem us, but this required Him to enter time. He had to wait many years to show his disciples His way of life, to teach us His way of love.
Suffering touches us in one way or another every single day. Learning to pick up our crosses as we walk with each other in this valley of tears is the journey of our lives.
Sometimes this suffering will take the form of significant challenges, like an illness or the death of a loved one. But, often, we have a great opportunity to grow if we learn to suffer well through the smaller crosses God sends us every day, like learning to wait for God.
Jesus knew the disciples would scatter after His death. He knew they would doubt His resurrection and tremble in fear behind locked doors after His ascension… so He gave them something to hold on to. The hope of this promise, the promise of the Father, would be the smoldering wick that would sustain them while they waited.
The time between the Last Supper and Pentecost must have felt like an eternity for those disciples who had left everything behind to follow Jesus. The waiting was difficult but necessary. They had to let go of whatever was still left of their own impressions, ideas, and plans. They had to empty themselves completely to make room for God in their hearts.
The night before Pentecost must have felt particularly long and dark. They were almost empty, wondering how long this waiting would last. I imagine them looking to Mary when their hope started to falter, their hearts saying, “Mother, turn your eyes of mercy towards us.” And then, in an instant, they would receive grace to wait a little longer. They would receive hope.
Jesus makes the same promise He made to His disciples to each of us today, and He waits with us. He waits for us. What will we do with the suffering God allows in our lives and in the lives of those we love?
Let us turn to Our Mother, who is never far from us…
One day, I sat with my computer and began to write what I thought would be a reflection for this blog. My heart and mind, acting as one, poured words into my hands and onto the page, and, for a little while, words flowed effortlessly. But then, just as swiftly as they had begun, they stopped. Something in my heart told me… it was done.
I looked at what I had written; something was different. Rather than an essay, which is the form I usually use to express my thoughts, this looked like a poem. There were stanzas, and there was rhyme. When I read it, I really liked it. It was a prayer from deep inside. A song for my beloved, a piece of my heart.
But then came the question I always have to ask myself, should I share this with everyone? I knew deep down that this was not meant to be just for me, but doubts came over me. How could this be? I am not a poet. I do not even know if there are rules that should be followed. What if it is all wrong?
A year and a half went by.
One day, looking for something to write about, I came upon the saved file. I read it again, and I still liked it. It was still true; it was still fresh. Then came the question again… I wanted to share this, but the thought of putting this “out there” made me very uncomfortable. So I took that to prayer.
I realized that I was feeling vulnerable. This time I was not sharing a story, even a deeply personal one; I was not sharing my thoughts. This time, in sharing a poem, I would be sharing my heart. And that scared me. What if it was mocked, spat upon, rejected?
So, what did God do with me when I brought these questions to Him in prayer? He increased my desire to share it. It was as if He was saying, “Sing to me, my beloved. I want to hear your song.”
I would not be sharing my heart with the world. I would be letting them witness my love for God. Why? Because He asked me to… so that others may see the glory of God.
A few weeks ago, He gave me enough courage to share it, and I posted it on my social media accounts. For those of you who may not have seen it yet, I share with you my poem; I share with you my song.
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We are Ivonne J. Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
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