Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
I meditated on the Joyful mysteries to the thump of my feet on the treadmill in the early silence of Holy Saturday morning. Hail Mary, full of grace... The almost wail-like tone of the chanting of the end of the Passion of St. John echoed in my head from the liturgy of Good Friday. It brought me back to another Saturday morning run on the treadmill when my heart was full of hope after I learned I was newly pregnant last Fall. The hope only lasted a few weeks as our baby passed away too soon. While I prayed the rosary my heart ached for our Blessed Mother as I contemplated how her search for the child Jesus in the Temple was a precursor to the laying of her dead son in the Tomb. With all of her sorrow she had to trust in God’s plan and walk away from the body of her son.
That brought my mind to the November afternoon that I rode in our minivan with my tiny miscarried baby wrapped in a blanket on my lap to the cemetery to be buried. I had passed her to my husband to hold as well, for I knew what it meant to have that moment with our child. My heart asked again, what hope is there for my three miscarried babies? For the Church tells us that while we can hope, there is still no certainty. The depth of the pain of loss, of the death of a child, of the not knowing what the future will bring are all experiences of Holy Saturday that we have on this earth.
On Good Friday four years ago we learned of the death of another of our babies. An ultrasound had shown no heartbeat, and a blood test confirmed it. That Holy Saturday lead into an Easter of sorrowful waiting as I carried my dead child in the tomb of my womb until he passed out over a week later. I held him on my lap on the way to the cemetery on a chilly April afternoon.
With Easter upon us, I find that the trials I faced in Lent have not passed me by. I still have the chronic condition that caused these miscarriages. I still am facing medical treatments and the long waiting of seeing what works. But I am praying, striving, fighting for the glimmer of hope.
I am not the only one suffering this Eastertide. Friends and family share their intentions with me. I hear about the trials of those close to me and those I do not know through groups on social media. We are still here and still suffering, but if we only dwell in the suffering we forget that Jesus has given meaning to suffering. His death has redeemed our suffering. His Resurrection can bring us joy even as we face the trials of our lives.
On Holy Saturday I prayed along with the Tenebrae Matins at my parish church. I soaked in the chant tones of the Gregorian chant choir, reading along in English as they prayed in Latin. After each Psalm one of the 15 candles was extinguished until we were left in the dark with one candle lit. I was struck to the heart by a lesson from Lamentations:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
New every morning. His mercies are new every morning. Every morning is a reminder of his grace. While we all bear our share of suffering, we are also overwhelmed with blessings if we only take a moment to notice and thank God. All of the people we love in our lives, all of the ways we are provided for materially, and the sheer amount of grace we have been given to live this life of faith are a mercy that we do no deserve.
The Lord is my portion...I will hope in him. There is life beyond this valley of tears, but there is also life to live now. And how good it is!
This is not to say our sufferings are not important. The Lord wants us to bring them to him, to bear them at his side during his Passion. This is why we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary twice a week. This is why we pray the Stations of the Cross again and again. This is why we have Good Friday every year and all of the little Fridays of penance throughout the year. We are meant to live our lives in complete union with Christ’s life, suffering and Resurrection. He should permeate every moment we live, and he will bring us hope and joy.
The last Psalm prayed at the Holy Saturday Tenebrae when there was only one lit candle flickering brightly in the darkness reminded me of this:
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. —Psalm 51:12
On Holy Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, I again stood in the dark church with one candle lit, surrounded by all of my children beside my dear husband. The church was filled with people, seeking the hope of the Resurrection. My almost 3-year-old son gazed down the aisle as the Easter candle was brought in the light of it reflecting throughout the dark, quiet of the church building. “That’s a BIG candle, mommy!” he whispered loudly to me. His delight at being in the dark, awaiting the light of the world spilled over into the ache I had been carrying all day. He watched with eagerness as the light of the Easter candle was spread from person to person. Finally his was lit. I smiled at the light reflecting off his beaming cheeks as he held his candle in excitement as the joy and hope of the chanting of the Exultet filled the church.
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
(from the Exultet)