It was Holy Week 2012. I was grieving a child I would never get to hold, and whose face I would never get to see. Holy Week 2011 I had been pregnant. I carried a secret that only my husband and I knew about. That Holy Week we smiled at each other excitedly throughout the services of the Triduum. On Easter Sunday, we told family and friends that we were expecting.
And then, only few weeks later, we lost that baby.
The year that ensued was one filled with a lot of doctors’ appointments, a lot of negative pregnancy tests, and a lot of tears. By the time Holy Week 2012 rolled around we still had no baby in our arms, and the bitterness of infertility was starting to set in.
It seemed like everyone around us was announcing pregnancies and bringing home babies from the hospital. There was baby shower after baby shower. Everyone was happy and excited, and it was killing me.
Lent came to me as a relief that year. I didn’t feel like being happy, and Lent was something that I didn’t have to force a smile for. I could just be sad.
But it turns out the Lord wasn’t going to just let me wallow, like I had hoped. He is in the business of bringing redemption out of suffering. My Holy week journey would include the road to Calvary, but it would also include the joy of the Empty Tomb.
Survey that wonderful Cross.
Stations of the Cross is something most Catholics pray only during Lent, but I think it would do us a lot of good to pray the Stations many times throughout the year. After all, crosses are not just for Lent. We all deal with them, all the time. They’re heavy, ugly, and painful. But they can also bring us closer to Jesus, if we let them.
No one enjoys suffering, but when I think about my life, it’s been during those times of carrying a heavy cross that I have felt closest to God. That’s because “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted.” (Psalm 34:18)
When life is awesome, we often forget our need for God. But when life rocks us with grief, when suffering has depleted us of our own strength, we are forced to rely on Him, and He gives us the grace we need. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Co 12:9)
When I felt like I couldn’t face another smiling pregnant woman, or endure another person asking me “Don’t you want kids?” when the pain of wanting a baby was so overwhelming, when grief had zapped all of my strength, Jesus was there, pumping grace into my soul. I had to rely on Him because there really wasn’t anything else I could do.
That Holy Week, as Jesus carried His Cross to Calvary, I walked with Him, carrying my own cross of infertility. The pain didn’t go away, but there was comfort knowing Jesus was beside me.
Don’t forget about Mary.
Being a convert, I’ve been a little slow to pick up on Marian devotions. I was most wary of the devotion to her in Catholicism as I went through my catechesis. I believed she was Theotokos, God-bearer, and that she was full of grace, but I had never felt drawn to her for spiritual support, until that Holy Week.
“Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother.” It’s the fourth station in the Stations of the Cross. After praying it every Friday during Lent it finally hit me, Mary was a grieving mother, just like me. Her child died, just like mine. How she must have suffered, how she must have longed to hold her Son again, just like I longed to hold my baby.
Mary gets me. And what’s more, she is in Heaven, praying for me.
The Litany of the Saints gets real.
Remember when I said that Holy Week is a journey from darkness to light, from grief to joy? Well, it had been a pretty dark year, I had done a lot of grieving, and I was ready for some joy.
And God delivered in a completely unexpected way.
We were about two hours into the Easter Vigil, an amazingly beautiful, and amazingly long liturgy, when it was time to sing the Litany of the Saints, and I was starting to get a little sleepy. I half heard each name as it was chanted, and I in turn chanted the response, “Pray for us.” And then we got to Saint Anastasia, and I began to weep.
I never named the baby that we lost. My miscarriage was quick, messy, and confusing. I never even saw that baby. There was no way for me to know if it was a boy or a girl. But as I heard the name ‘Anastasia’ I knew that that was what we should name that baby. And I knew that that soul which I had carried for a such short time was in Heaven with all the Saints, before the throne of God, praying for me.
My infertility wasn’t cured that day, and I wasn’t magically given a baby to hold in my arms, but I was reminded that God had used my husband and me to create a new soul. There was joy in the knowledge that I was a mother, and that my baby was in Heaven. There is life after death, that’s the promise of Easter.
The journey of Holy Week.
That Holy Week I found so much grace in my cross of infertility. Grace forcing me to rely on Jesus in a way I never had before. Grace opening my eyes to elements of my faith I had not seen before. Grace bringing joy out of suffering.
Darkness to light.
Grief to joy.
Death to life.
This is the journey of Holy Week.
Written by Anna Coyne. Find out more about her here.