The Loss of Innocence
A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more. --Matthew 2:18
In the liturgical calendar, December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a remembrance of the unnumbered baby boys murdered by King Herod as he attempted to eliminate the infant messiah of which the Wise Men spoke.
I woke early this morning, my mind spinning and unable to go back to sleep. The clock read 6:05 am but I knew if I raced I could still make it to early mass. With all green lights, St. Theresa Church is only 3 minutes away. Luckily, Father Dudzinski likes to give a pre-mass homily standing at the altar and he was just finishing that up and making the sign of the cross as I slipped into a pew.
The quiet of the church settled over me as I began to pray with the dozen or so other people up early during the octave of Christmas. My mind calmed as we prayed the Gloria, sparkling evergreens and poinsettias adorning the nativity scene on the altar steps. John Paul Raphael was born and died during the Christmas season. These same nativity figures stood vigil with us during the funeral mass, his tiny coffin placed almost in the manger. I think too of another nativity in another church, years ago when, as a young bride, I knelt before the baby Jesus on the 4th day of Christmas in my wedding dress. This life is a holy mystery. Journeys and detours strand us breathless and beaten on the side of the road. Twists and turns leave us awestruck in wonder at the beauty
of creation, the glory of faith, and the gift of goodness.
Twenty-seven years ago today, I married another man. I held every holy longing, dream, and expectation a young woman could want for her life and yet it didn't turn out that way. The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyred to silence the Light of Lights and the King of Kings. Blades slicing bodies and hearts to defeat the Prince of Peace. Violence and peace. Salvation and death. What would I say to her, this younger me with her flawless skin, un-stretched belly, and hopeful heart? Should I prepare her for the attacks to come?
As a young wife and mother, I was all in. I wanted all and gathered all into my arms, naively confident that all it would take to make it work was my tenacious commitment to our marriage and family. This was an earthly plan, sprinkled with faith and religion, but in actuality, rooted in my own strength and self-reliance. Attempting to ensure safety, I maintained a small vision of what we should all be and do in order for all to be well. I didn't yet know what I didn't know.
Who can know the mind of God? Who could know the most glorious moment of human history would be followed by the slaughter of babies? Why was this the plan?
I was an earnest and prayerful young wife. We were a devoted, holy Catholic family. Everyone said so. I focused on God and pursued goodness and truth with and for my family. When my marriage broke, I turned to the Lord. He fixes marriages all the time. He hears the prayers of husbands and wives and children and changes hearts and pours grace and nurtures forgiveness.
Why not mine? I was sure He would save us and then He didn't.
On some days eleven years later, the firefight and the wreckage still burn around me. The scars still sting.
And what of all those babies senselessly murdered? All those mothers and fathers and siblings forever cleaved in grief? Did they ever know their sacrifice? Do they rejoice in heaven that they glorified God in their deaths and that continents away I honor and remember their loss two-thousand twenty-one years later in a still, suburban church?
Mothers and fathers of dying children beg a faithful God for a miracle all the time. He always hears. He always answers and yet only some children are healed.
My baby died.
My marriage did too.
But God was not silent.
He is not indifferent or off-the-job during my deepest sorrows, your gravest disappointments, or the slaughter of all those holy innocents.
What would I tell twenty-three year old me, poised at the back of the church, festive in its Christmas regalia, her bridesmaids stylish in red holiday velvet?
"The journey is long," I would say.
The hardships are many.
The answers are few.
But... the One who walks with you is faithful. His comfort is secure. His promises are true. What we sow in tears WILL BE reaped rejoicing. (Psalm 126:5)
In middle age, I have the privilege of looking back and seeing the lay of the land from the vantage point of time, faith, and trust. There are countless answers I don't have, but I do know WHO is with me, and He has shown me the way through over and over again.
The loss of my first marriage is still an aching sorrow, but the holiness and beauty of my marriage to Ralph is more.
The death of my baby gouged a hole in my heart that will never heal, but the light and grace that flow through it make life and love even more beautiful. The truth is that in a surprising way, I feel closer to John Paul Raphael sometimes than I do to my living children. It is a holy mystery. We share a hidden intimacy that eludes death, a confirmation of the reality we cannot see, hear, or touch but that I experience nevertheless.
On this day I remember but no longer celebrate, the day when innocents were lost, I would tell myself this:
Cling to the mystery but surrender to the ride.
You are not alone.
You are desperately loved.
Let yourself open to that gift and claim its promises.
All will be well.