Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Each Advent season, we are reminded of the glory of Mary’s Fiat, her yes to being the mother of the Messiah, the Christ, the One foretold to save humanity. With boundless openness and trust to whatever this yes would bring, a young girl’s life and the life and death of every soul on earth was changed for all eternity.
Not only did Mary say yes once, but she willingly said it again, and again, and again, in answer to each new danger, suffering, and future unknown.
“May it be done to me according to your word.”– Lk. 1:38
Mary’s unflinching trust astounds me, reminding me just how much my own faults and sin distance me from her glory. Despite this distance, I too had a moment of yes, when I willingly opened my heart to God’s Will. Unfortunately, my yes came with such great suffering that I struggle to welcome God’s Will into my heart again. An intense fear of the unknown holds me back.
Today, I am working towards Marian Consecration with a group of supportive CatholicismRocks members in a shared journey through the 33 Days to Morning Glory retreat. Next week we move through our final days of preparation before our personal consecrations on The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I am making this consecration because I find myself again at a precipice of spiritual growth and conversion. I feel Our Lord calling me to something important, being guided in a certain direction.
With this next yes, the road ahead will be challenging. There will be no turning back. I will have to stand firm in faith, let go, and trust God again. I am humbled by the knowledge that anything I suffer is a fraction of what Jesus has done for me and my salvation. Though pain and sorrow still linger from the last time I said yes, I cannot deny the desire growing in my heart to suffer for my Lord again.
My personal fiat began some years ago at a time when my prayer life was so complete, that I once asked God, “Why is my life so good?” I had an intense guilt that my life was so very blessed, when others around me suffered. I began to feel unworthy of every blessing and grace. There is a saying that God only gives to us what He thinks we can handle, so I asked Him, “Don’t you think I can handle suffering?” It made me feel sad interiorly to think that God did not trust me with such a responsibility and gift.
Whilst praying, I found myself almost begging Jesus to trust me in this. To allow me to share in His suffering as my gift to Him. In that moment, I completely trusted in God, and had a love for Jesus so intimate, that I willingly gave my yes, my fiat, and doing so opened a floodgate of even more grace. For days, I basked in the love of my Lord. Then, not long after, I came to understand suffering as I had never known before. Almost immediately, I wanted to give it back.
I was 21 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. My husband and I were at the radiologist for a routine ultrasound. Everything was going well - head circumference good, overall size good, fingers, toes, little nose all good - every limb where it should be. We rejoiced when told we were having a boy! How happy our son will be, we joked, no longer the odd one out among his sisters.
Then the technician turned his attention to the baby’s heart. The image on the screen blurred, then came into view. Immediately, I noticed it. The heart looked different. My mind went back to the last ultrasound before our youngest was born, when this same technician took great pains to tell us how strong her heart was, even pointing out how the distinct four chambers beat rhythmically.
The technician grew quiet. I held my breath. My husband’s grip on my hand grew tighter. He saw it too. Just two chambers pumped within our baby’s heart. Two large chambers side by side, where there should be a square of four.
At 36 weeks' gestation, our baby, our son, our fourth child, EJ, died in the womb.
I was due to be induced just six and half days later at 37 weeks. A pediatric cardiologist and crack surgical team had all been assembled and were making preparations. They were optimistic. They gave us hope. They had seen serious heart malformations before, though not with an additional hole in the aorta and another between the chambers as our son had, but not one singular procedure that they had not successfully corrected before. They were the most experienced team at the most famous children’s hospital in the country. We were in good hands.
Of course, this team of hopeful experts came into the picture many weeks after that fateful ultrasound, and the myriad of follow up ultrasounds, consultations with experts, and multiple second and third opinions we requested. We did not meet the team that would be our hope until many weeks after the worst day of all. The day when we were taken into a windowless room, with yet another expert in his field, grim-faced counsellor by his side. A terrible day, when fifteen words were spoken in such a way that they echoed hollowly in the four beating chambers of my own heart…
“Is there anything we could tell you that would give you cause for a termination?”
“What?! No! Are you kidding me?!” It was my husband who spoke, shocked, incredulous.
The room grew silent. All eyes looked to me. With my hands gripped in fists, teeth and jaw clinched, tears streaming down my face, I replied, “We are Catholic. There is NOTHING you could say that would give us cause to kill our child.”
The physician sighed gravely, before proceeding to tell us everything that was wrong with our baby. How rare his condition was. How incompatible with life. How unlikely he would live long, or even take his first breath. Would we consent to an amniocentesis? Congenital heart defects are common in “fetuses” with Down Syndrome, so it should be ruled out.
I was living a nightmare and I could not wake up. I knew that at this late stage of pregnancy, such a procedure was highly risky with 1 in 200 ending in spontaneous miscarriage. We would never take that risk.
I did not know where my strength and fortitude came from. I looked this cold, unsympathetic man directly in the eyes and said, “You just concentrate on fixing his heart and we’ll look after the rest.” Reluctantly, he referred our case to the pediatric cardiac team.
At around 30 weeks, I stood in the nursery, the smell of fresh paint lingered in the room. A wallpaper border with trucks and fire engines ran along the middle of the walls, separating the dark blue of the lower half from a lighter hue above. I turned and took note of sunbeams flowing in through the window, landing delicately in gleaming patches of gold on the floor. In an instant, I was on my knees, crying out to God. Why? Why? Why, God? I begged for His Will to change. Please, anything but this. When I said I welcomed suffering, I never meant this. Please! Take this cup from me!
I have never cried so long and so hard in all my life. I cradled my protruding belly as I curled into a ball on the floor, sobbing loudly, unable to stop. I felt alone in my misery. I tried everything I could to bargain with God to take back my suffering. I was wrong. Didn’t He see? I was not strong enough for this.
Earnestly, I sat up and kneeled with my hands clasped to my heart, still sobbing, and prayed, “Please, please, at least let me be able to hold him. Don’t let them take him away. Let me be able to hold him, Lord.” After some time, my sobs turned to whimpers, my tears flowed less. In a moment of peace, a gentle knowing flowed over me. I nodded in quiet acceptance.
It has been 16 years and 8 months since we buried our son. God did give me what I begged for that sorrowful day alone in the nursery. I got to hold our baby for 7 hours, with my husband, in a private hospital room. After a while, our other children and extended family joined us, as well as our Priest, who offered a beautiful blessing and anointing.
With constant prayer and the love and support of both my earthly and heavenly mothers, I endured one of the greatest sorrows a mother can ever know. When this terrible season passed, my prayer life suffered. I continued to pray, but my prayers became dry. How could I turn back to God and trust Him again with another yes? The mere idea frightened me, and there grew a wall inside my heart.
And now, as I approach Marian Consecration and laboriously chisel away at each brick of that wall with constant prayer and fasting, I find myself not naively asking for suffering, but accepting of it, as St Mother Teresa insists, as “a gift from God.” St Faustina calls suffering “a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” St Faustina willingly endured great suffering for the salvation of many lost and hardened souls.
St Mother Teresa also tells us that when we suffer with joy, we console the Heart of Jesus, who longs, who thirsts, to be united with us. We are asked to take up our cross and follow Him. I pray that whatever God wills for me, I may remain steadfast, like Mary, repeating my yes again and again, until the day I stand face to face, empty handed, having already laid all that I am, and all that I have, at the foot of His Cross.