Infertility, infant loss Mass brings comfort

First slide
First slide
Previous Next

The comfort of solidarity amid pain and the peace of encountering Christ's grace were the focus of the first Arlington diocesan Mass for families suffering from infertility, infant loss and miscarriage Dec. 12 at St. Timothy Church in Chantilly.

"We remember in our pain that Jesus walks every day of our lives with us, in our hope and in our joy, but also in our anxiety, worry and grief," said Father Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, in his homily. Concelebrating the morning Mass were Fathers Phillip M. Cozzi and William B. Schierer, St. Timothy parochial vicars.

In one pew sat a woman whose baby lived for just 20 minutes; in another, a family who'd lost child number five in utero. Sprinkled throughout the church were childless couples, some holding hands as they prayed.

The Mass was celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and concluded a novena to the "patroness of the unborn" led by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on recorded audio files. More than 500 people participated in the nine-day prayer by downloading the files through the website of the Office for Family Life, which sponsored the Mass and novena.

Drawing on the day's Gospel description of the Visitation, Father Ferguson said he'd always seen the familiar story of Mary's visit to St. Elizabeth as a manifestation of charity, "where we see love in action" as the Mother of God puts the needs of her cousin ahead of her own.

"But over the past few years, I've started to think of this story in a new light," said Father Ferguson. Pope Francis often refers to the idea of "encounter," both with God and with each other, and Father Ferguson said he now also sees the Visitation within that context.

The story contains two encounters, he said, the first between John and Jesus - "when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant (John) leaped in her womb" - and the second between the two mothers.

Looking into each other's eyes, "the mothers must have been filled with signs of joy and hope," said Father Ferguson. But they also may have known their children would be "a source of worry at times … or even grief." Both John and Jesus would face anxiety, fear, rejection, misunderstanding and death, he said.

And all those "are part of the human experience," said Father Ferguson. "Like all followers of Christ, we know great joy as well as suffering.

"But as we look around and see each other, … we can be consoled and encouraged by not only the solidarity, but the encounter, the grace, that we share as we gather as one people becoming what we receive - the body of Christ."

Michele Healy, who lost a baby through miscarriage last summer, said she loved how Father Ferguson linked the joy and hope of Mary and Elizabeth with their human "trials as parents and the trials that their sons had to endure."

The Mass "was beautiful," said Healy, wiping away tears. "The tears are not just for me, but for the many women I know who have suffered from infertility and have lost babies," she said, adding that "a lot of women don't talk about it."

"That's why I'm so thankful to the bishop not only for acknowledging it, but also offering us something spiritually helpful."

The novena and Mass were not just for mothers; infertility and the loss of a baby affect the whole family, said Barbara Healy, Michele's mother-in-law. "People expect that women grieve about it more than men, but it's also men's loss, a family's loss, and it's good to see things like this geared toward them all," she said.

To know her prayers were joined with others - the kind of solidarity Father Ferguson spoke of - "was deeply appreciated," said Anna Tremel, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale who has lost three babies to miscarriage.

The Mass and novena don't take away the pain, she said, "but they are a part of an ongoing process of grief … and I'm very grateful."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015