September 24, 2010

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Parents carry a heavy cross when their children suffer

Sean GallagherThe beginning of October is just a week away. With the crisp autumn air and the changing of the leaves, it can be a beautiful month around Indiana.

But it can also bring with it a sense of loss. The bright, warm days of spring and summer, filled with blooming flowers and life seeming to be bursting out all over the place, are on the wane. The gray days of winter can seem just around the corner.

It is fitting, then, that in the middle of September the Church seemed to prepare us to find a spiritual lesson in this annual change in the seasons.

On Sept. 14, we marked the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is a day when we are reminded of the true glory that God leads us to when we carry our own daily crosses, when we accept and don’t seek to escape suffering and loss in our lives.

The following day, we celebrated the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. Our own suffering only leads us to glory when we join it to the suffering of Christ. And the perfect model of that is Mary, who surely endured a pain the depths of which we cannot fully imagine when she stood at the foot of the cross.

But it was a pain that was ultimately redeeming because it was joined to the pain and death of her Son.

We might not be able to fully imagine Mary’s suffering and realize its true power. But we can do so, at least in part.

I can remember like it was yesterday when my oldest son, Michael, was hospitalized at only 14 months old with a serious case of pneumonia.

When medical personnel would poke him for one more IV or a blood gas test and Michael would curl up into a ball with his mouth wide open but feeling so much pain that he couldn’t even cry, it felt like my own heart had been pierced.

And as the infection took greater and greater hold of Michael’s little lungs, my wife, Cindy, and I could see his life slowly drain out of his frail body.

For nearly two weeks, we kept a constant vigil by his hospital bed—in a sense, at the foot of Michael’s cross.

Thanks to the skill and loving care of many medical professionals, our son fully recovered and is now an 8-year-old full of zest for life.

But as we walked along the corridors of the hospital, Cindy and I saw lots of other children in much worse conditions than Michael, and their parents who suffered along with them.

And I know parents, including my own, who have borne the tragic cross of the death of a young child.

So, although Cindy and I suffered along with Michael, we know that other parents had larger crosses to bear.

The feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows might do little to ease the pain of such parents when they are in the middle of it.

They may very well feel that the warmth and light of spring and summer are gone forever, that the beauty of autumn has passed them by and that they are now stuck in an endless winter.

If you know parents in such a sad situation, do what you can materially to ease their pain. Help them carry their crosses. Visit them if they want to have visits. Offer to provide meals, do chores or run errands for them.

And never forget to pray for them. They might not yet be in a place to, like Mary, join their sufferings to those of Christ. Perhaps we can do that for them in our own prayers, trusting all the while that doing so will eventually, in this life or in the next, turn that long winter into an eternal spring where every tear will be wiped away. †

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