October 23, 2020

‘Where I needed to go was home’

The gift of a mother’s love and faith continues on in the life of a daughter

Similar to many women, Brie Anne Varick has found her life to be especially touched by mother daughter relationships. She had a special bond with her late mother, Dr. Melanie Margiotta Linehan. Here, she poses with her 18-month-old daughter Rose. Brie Anne and her husband Mike are expecting their second child in early November. (Submitted photo)

Similar to many women, Brie Anne Varick has found her life to be especially touched by mother daughter relationships. She had a special bond with her late mother, Dr. Melanie Margiotta Linehan. Here, she poses with her 18-month-old daughter Rose. Brie Anne and her husband Mike are expecting their second child in early November. (Submitted photo)

Second in an occasional series

(Editor’s note: In this series, The Criterion will feature young adults who have found a home in the Church and strive to live their faith in their everyday life.)

By John Shaughnessy

At 34, Brie Anne Varick adds a touching twist to the story of the prodigal son.

The story she shares is of a mother who gave her children a strong foundation of faith and values, and a daughter who desired most of all to be accepted by friends, romantic partners and a world focused on “fleeting moments of contentment, pleasure and excitement.”

“Ignoring who I was made to be and not fully believing in my identity as a daughter of God led me to look for my identity in the world, and it was unsatisfying and unfulfilling,” Varick says about her earlier life.

“After a lot of heartbreak and being let down by the secular culture time and time again, I eventually surrendered because, like the prodigal son, I had run out of places to turn and had spent every last drop of myself.

“I needed peace and needed healing, and the only thing that I knew to do was go to confession, go to Mass, go to adoration. Reflecting back now, where I needed to go was home.”

When she came “home,” she found her mother once again waiting for her with open arms, the gift that mothers always extend to their children. And she discovered a community of other young Catholic adults who also wanted to live in grace with God.

Varick needed the love and support of both when her mother was dying at the age of 53.

‘The greatest miracle’

Dr. Melanie Margiotta Linehan centered her life, her family and her medical practice around her Catholic faith. She used her medical knowledge to help promote natural family planning to couples as a way “to grow in holiness together.” She also assisted couples dealing with infertility, offering an approach in line with the Church’s moral teachings.

At the same time, Linehan—Varick’s mother—personally dealt with a complicated list of conditions that eventually led to heart failure and her death on Nov. 7, 2015.

“It was almost as if God waited until I was strong enough and ready to surrender to his will that my mother should be with him in heaven,” says Varick, the oldest of her mother’s five children. “She had suffered a lot and would have continued suffering here on Earth, but for whatever reason he wanted her back with him.”

She acknowledges that the loss of her mom is still hard to understand at times, “especially after years of praying for healing and miracles and wanting to believe that God could do all things.” In those times of struggle, she focuses on the foundation of faith that her mother gave her.

“This journey did show me that God can do all things, but his ways are not our ways,” she says. “A return to physical health is not always the miracle he has in mind. The greatest miracle is a happy death and eternal salvation in heaven. This is our Christian faith, the truth we profess.”

She also reflects on the graces she experienced in the last days of her mother’s life, graces that continue to sustain her.

A special promise

When she received a call from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis that her mother didn’t have much time left, Varick rushed there, praying that God would let her mom receive the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist before she died.

Arriving at the hospital, Varick found her mom was still conscious. Moments later, a priest—who was in the hospital to see another patient—came into the room and heard her mother’s confession.

That evening, as her aunts and uncles spent time with her mother, Varick headed to nearby SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. There, young adults were having eucharistic adoration on that first Friday of the month.

“I felt the power of support from my community as they were all there with our Lord in the Eucharist,” she recalls. “We were singing a praise-and-worship song, ‘I Surrender,’ and the words had never been more relevant to my life. I knew God was asking me to surrender and trust in him. With all the strength I had, I gave my consent.”

Within moments, she received a phone call from one of her aunts to return to the hospital.

“Seeing my distress, my friends and community followed me to the hospital and waited in the Methodist chapel as my family and I were with my mother, praying and saying our goodbyes.

“She died early Saturday morning, a first Saturday. Those who have a devotion to the Blessed Mother know that one of her promises to people who pray the rosary and love her Immaculate Heart [is that] she would take her children to heaven on the first Saturday of the month.”

For Varick, the mother who had always extended her arms to her was now in the arms of the Blessed Mother.

Still, there was one more grace—“my last miracle,” she says—that was awaiting Varick.

Tears turned to joy

That moment came at her mother’s wake.

As a registered nurse who worked in a hospital’s intensive care unit at the time, Varick “had seen a lot of death and had comforted families whose loved ones had passed away,” but her mother’s death was a different challenge.

“I was not with my mother when she died so I was afraid to see her, knowing that she wasn’t really there. I went to pray in front of her and let myself grieve and cry at her side. It wasn’t long before I heard a gentle voice, soft but clear, say, ‘Why are you crying? I’m not here.’

“There are moments where I have thought I heard God speaking to me in prayer, but this was different. My tears literally turned into joy. My mother was with God, and her happiness was beyond anything I could imagine.

“I know I received a gift. I had lived the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ through the experience of suffering, death and hope with my mother. This is a mystery, but it gave me confidence, a hope in the resurrection like I have never had before.”

Sharing a mother’s embrace

Varick is a mother now herself. She and her husband Mike are the parents of 18-month-old Rose Gianna. The couple is also expecting their second child in early November. That will be five years, to the month, since the death of Varick’s mom, a woman whose influence lives strongly in her daughter.

Similar to her mother, Varick has made her Catholic faith the central part of her life, her family and her profession. After 10 years as a registered nurse, she is now the coordinator of the archdiocese’s Office of Human Life and Dignity.

“Working in the intensive care unit as a nurse, I felt like I was serving God’s people by taking care of the physically ill and dying. But even in that work, I was very aware that there is a death more detrimental than physical death. It is a spiritual death. I knew the soul needed to be tended to.”

In her role with the archdiocese, Varick ministers “to the most vulnerable,” advocating for pregnant women, mothers with infants, women and men dealing with the aftermaths of abortions, people who are dying, and people who are struggling with addiction and mental illness.

Still, there are people who have questioned her choice to serve the Church.

“When scandal has broken out or there is division among our faithful people, many ask, ‘Why do you believe in the Catholic faith, let alone work for the Catholic Church?’ ” she says.

“Like the Apostles when they heard the challenging teaching of Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist, my response is the same as Peter’s: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God’ ” (Jn 6:68-69).

Varick holds that belief as tightly as the father embraced the prodigal son, as lovingly as her mother embraced her.

“The Catholic Church is the bride of Christ,” she says. “Jesus is present physically in the Eucharist, which is held in tabernacles all over the world. There is nowhere else to go.

“Where Jesus is, that’s where you can find me.” †

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