Quite recently, a family lost a beloved son, a robust college student who suffered a tragic accident. There are no words to describe the anguish, and every time the story is shared, more hearts become clouded with sorrow. Even strangers can weep at this inestimable loss, because such stories are only the fleshly illustrations of every parent’s fear—the realization from the earliest moments that all sorts of things can go monstrously wrong. Where previously there was no life and attendant anxiety, the intense love embedded in parenthood carries us on a precarious journey oscillating between angst and trust, piercing joy and utter horror.
As Christians, we try to remember regularly that all children are gifts from a Triune God, who invites us into the very heart of the divine mystery, wherein two generous persons give, and receive in return love for love, life for life. One plus one equals three—and so much more! There is a beautiful story widely told of a young father returning home from the hospital where his son had just been born. All things radiated anew, and he noticed parts of the town previously unseen: the schools, the parks, the sidewalks. It was in this place that his family’s love would unfold—this corner of the sacramental universe providing the setting for their every joy and sorrow. God has entered in, and will not depart.
The love of father and mother collaborate in joy over their shared mission, but remain substantially different. The fathers initiate life and are called to be its guardians, protecting that which is entrusted to their care. We recently celebrated Saint Joseph, foster-father of Jesus and patron of the Universal Church. Attentive to the will of God, that quiet man navigated the arduous challenges of his day, as do all good fathers. These sturdy souls must do all that they can, while knowing that we are but frail pilgrims on a hazardous journey. The greatest task for any father, then, is to prepare his children through word and example for eternity—that for which we were all made.
Motherhood requires a different gift, beginning with the knitting together of the new soul within. Romano Guardini wrote eloquently of that which mothers provide for their children: “not some thing, but rather oneself—to give oneself with all one’s being; not only the spirit, not only one’s fidelity, but body and soul, flesh and blood, everything. This indeed is the ultimate love: to want to feed others with the very substance of one’s own self.” She does this best—in the greatest security—with the embrace of her spouse to shield her when possible, and between his seed and her sanctuary, together they can say, “[We] have brought forth a child with the help of the Lord” (Gn 4:1).
And yet, what is to be done when the precious gift is gone—snatched at an inopportune time, leaving a shocked and bewildered family, indeed with parish and wider community sharing in their stunned grief? We turn in faith to the Giver, who grieves as well, who understands in particular the loss of a child. The family still echoes Triune love, but has now been invited more deeply into the sacrificial gift offered through the pierced heart of God himself. His infinite solicitude was transformed into the Eucharist we share, as his flesh and spirit were poured out for all mankind. We weep, but trust fully that every loss can be swept into the Holy Sacrifice of God—the perfect oblation that breathes into creation a more magnificent sort of life.
These shabby words cannot mend anything, only time and grace can do that, but let us surround all those who suffer, those in our midst reeling from all kinds of losses—remembering that nothing borne of love is lost forever. The love of the Father and the consolation of his Bride the Church create the surest shelter for battered souls. To their care we entrust in a special way all our cherished children, and may “choirs of angels sing them to their rest”—here and in the hereafter.