Grieving… it’s part of the human condition, the everyday business of living our lives. Grief is associated with mourning the loss of someone we love. We could say, however, that grief can accompany the loss of anything that our lives touch, honor, create, possess.
These pandemic lockdown months of uncertainty are filled with such loss. The sharp still-fresh pangs of uncertainty around the possibilities and realities of loss over a long stretch of weeks and months have strangely and helpfully made me super-sensitive to loss. To the losses that unsettle not only my own heart, but the hearts of others who bear wounds so much greater than mine with consequences that will far outlast the pandemic….
To be rejected by a spouse, to lose a child to unexpected illness or death, to see a future so carefully built collapse through the destructiveness or spite of another, to be caught in cycles of abuse or self-hate….
I see these stories on social media and receive their pain in letters. In this new heart-awareness it is as though I can almost reach out and touch their hands in a compassionate I-am-here-for-you, I-feel-with-you. I hear their longing to be seen, protected and understood in music, in news stories, and am touched by the poignancy of their pain represented in art. I am grateful, so very grateful that a deeper sensitivity to others’ sufferings is growing within me.
On this feast of St. Monica and St. Augustine (celebrated this past Thursday and Friday) I imagine how Monica might have felt, and so many who like this faithful and persevering woman live and love in the midst of sometimes horrific sorrows. Giovanni Falbo in Saint Monica the Power of a Mother’s Love describes Monica’s relationship with her husband Patricius. Although she sought to treat him with honor and kindness, Patricius could be arrogant, impetuous, carnal, and violent. It was difficult for Monica to even speak with him. Often she had to wait until his anger blew over before she could present to him her thoughts and opinions. Nevertheless, the way he verbally lashed out at her must have cut deep. She never responded in kind, but instead waited for the right moment to confront. Women at that time had little recourse to improving the conditions in which they lived, but Falbo called Monica “a competent strategist” who led Patricius gradually toward truth and goodness, and eventually to God.
Saint Monica’s advice: three strategies for growing in both sensitivity and in strategy when life is unexpectedly tough
- Pray for eyes to see. Monica knew who she was and who her husband was. She was able to “see” with the deeper eyes of the heart without ignoring or discounting her needs for safety and respect and his needs for the truth and light. She knew that Patricius had a good heart deep down.
- Honor the experience of loss. Don’t run from loss or wish it away, but take into your heart the solitude of your own suffering as well as the suffering of all others who are bearing the same thing.
- Be willing to become someone other than who you’ve been. The choices St. Monica made in relating with her husband made her stronger and gentler, a mentor of other women who struggled in their marriages, and—in the end—the mother of so many tears who won the conversion of her son Augustine. Through the twenty years in which Patricius lived with Monica, he grew to respect her serenity and Christian virtue, He saw in her life a strength and grace that was not of her own doing. Conquered by grace, he entered the catechumenate and was baptized shortly before he died. St. Monica’s courage changed her into a deeper lover for Jesus, and in the end changed her husband and son.
Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, recounts a parallel story of courage and transformation in her new book, Complaints of the Saints. Daphrose Mukansanga Rugamba (1944–1994) was in an arranged marriage to Cyprien Rugamba (1935-1994). Their marriage was very fruitful, and they had ten children, but Cyprien was unfaithful to Daphrose and neglected his family.
He allowed Daphrose to raise the children as Catholics, but he had no patience with religion. Once in her presence he took a crucifix off the wall and smashed it. Eventually they separated.
In 1982 Cyprien was struck by a rapid paralyzing illness and wrote a song about his coming death. This song became the means of tremendous spiritual light and grace in both his life and that of Daphrose. She could have remained a bitter person. He could have carried on through his illness without a thought for God and his wife. Instead both decided to become more godly and to collaborate with God’s plan as he revealed it to them. They reached out to street children, introduced the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rwanda and tried to end the ethnic tensions threatening the society in the early 90s. Both Daphrose and Cyprien were assassinated along with six of their children in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The cause for their canonization was opened in 2015.
Friends, we are in this together.
We are in the same boat of life.
We all suffer in one way or another and have so many reasons
to complain about our lot in life.
May this prolonged “experiment” of living intentionally
the uncertainty and loss of 2020
make us more sensitive to grace and to each other.
Let us take each other by the arm and run together,
our hearts open to love and loving,
into the interweaving of courage and compassion,
believing in the future,
believing in each other,
trusting in the tender heart of Love
who is ever and always
St. Monica and St. Augustine,
Daphrose and Cyprien Rugamba,
pray for us.
Finding solace in the company of the saints in good times as well as in difficult stretches of the journey can help us both complain and praise, lament and love. Here are some of my favorites:
Saint Monica: The Power of a Mother’s Love
Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic
God is All Joy: The Life of St Teresa of the Andes
Bernadette Speaks: A Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words
If you wish to speak with someone about your struggle and get some insight and practical tools to go forward with greater peace, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP