This morning at Mass Father announced that there would be a holy hour for life between three and four. I did my automatic mental schedule check and determined surprisingly this was something I might be able to do. Ben and Sophie have been napping until 4 most days this last week. I wouldn’t be leaving right as they were waking up and thereby leaving them when they most wanted me to be there to cuddle with, and leaving Dom to deal with two cranky toddlers.
So when it came time, I had just pulled my lemon bars out of the oven, there were no signs of stirring. Dom and Theresa were watching some shows on the Food Network. No, my absence wouldn’t be causing too much trouble. I asked Bella if she wanted to come and I asked Dom if he wanted me to pick up burgers on my way home. That’s dinner taken care of.
Bella said she did want to come so I waited while she got her boots and coat and hat and scarf. We were a little late and missed the beginning of the hour. But we took our places and I knelt down. I handed her one of the program booklets that had a beautiful icon of the Good Shepherd on the front. She leaned over and whispered to me, “It’s Jesus the Good Shepherd.” So quiet it was barely a breath. I’m sure the old ladies immediately before and behind us couldn’t even hear. Those were the only words she spoke the whole time except when she joined in the prayer responses and litanies and hymns. She sat and knelt and stood and played with the papers and the ends of her scarf. She’s a fidgety child who can’t sit still; but she was quiet and calm and didn’t cause any disruptions.
Though most people were sitting, I knelt down and immediately Anthony started to move and make his presence known. Not only could I feel him, I could see my abdomen twitch. I thought about the five children who have rested there, grown there. The Psalm the deacon read said: “I give thanks that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And I know how wonderful, how fearful that new life is within me.
I do not know how to pray. Most of the time my thoughts drifted to all sorts of things. But I let my body be my prayer. The fact that I was kneeling there in the quiet church smelling the incense, glancing from time to time at the gleaming monstrance, hearing the words, saying the prayers, chanting the litany, singing the hymns… the fact that I was there and not home napping or tapping on my computer. That itself is a prayer even if my mind wanders.
I think about the life in my womb. That word womb feels wrong when I apply it to myself. It’s a prayer word: Blessed is the fruit of your womb. To me womb feels almost sacred. Mary’s womb was the Ark of the new Covenant. Mine is nothing so holy. But the lives I’ve sheltered there are a sort of miracle. Nothing I could accomplish on my own. Pure gift. Blessing. Three of them such dear sweet children, each unique. One gone and unknown and yet some day will be known. One I’m waiting to meet. Only a month to go. I try to ponder these mysteries. I wonder whether pondering them is a sort of prayer. Whether it does any good. My mind wanders. I’m tired. It’s nap time.
From time to time Bella would draw near to me and rest her head against my chest, her hand on my belly. She’d smile and cuddle for a minute and allow me to put my arm around her, to clasp her hand in mine, to smooth her hair or to kiss her. And then she’d pull away again. Oh what a mystery she was to me during those long months when I was so sick and I tried to imagine what she’d be like. Tried to imagine hands and feet and lips and eyes. Tried to imagine what breastfeeding would be like and holding a baby who was my child.
And now she’s still a mystery to me. What thoughts are in her head? What is she now? What will she be? Fearfully and wonderfully she was made indeed. Who knows what she is or could be. Something marvelous. But I understand too well the fear, the unknowing, the way the unknown could seem not a mystery to be pondered but a threat to flee from. A darkness instead of a light.
During his reflection the deacon talks about the facts. The numbers of babies aborted since the passing of Roe v Wade. The numbers of people at the march for life which will not be reported or noticed by most media in the country. The gruesome facts of the news story about Gosnell, which is hardly being addressed in the mainstream press. He talked about babies murdered, their spinal cords clipped with scissors and I looked at the quiet girl sitting next to me, playing with the fringes of her scarf and wondered if she was listening, if she understood. God, protect her from this horror. She looked up at me with dark eyes and I saw none of the horror in them. But she is deep, this one. She listens when we think she hasn’t been paying attention. She ponders. She remembers.
Later, As we walk through the frosty parking lot, she asks again. (Is it the tenth time yet?) why we’ve come to the church on this frigid afternoon. We already came to Mass this morning, what is this about? I skirted the truth. To pray. To spend time with Jesus. To gaze upon Him in the Blessed Sacrament. To be with Him. Truths all. But only partial truths. Only what I think she needs to hear.
After we’ve recited the Divine Praises. After the deacon has lifted the bright golden monstrance, careful not to touch it with his bare hands. After he has raised it and blessed us. After he has removed Our Lord from the monstrance and replaced the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity which looks like a little piece of bread in the golden tabernacle that locks with a little golden key. After we’ve finished singing Holy God We Praise Thy Name, Bella joining in because it’s one she knows. After all this people stand and put on coats and hats and chat with each other.
Half a dozen people come to praise Bella. How good she is! They pat her head, hands resting on the bright red knit cap. She seems puzzled by the attention but tolerates it. I try to smile and be pleasant and converse though I never know how to answer strangers. Father stops to say hi and thank us for coming and takes her hand in his. Then he finds a hat in the pew in front of us and moves on to find its owner. More people come to praise Bella. I hear two women chatting who are visiting from another parish. One has never been here before and is listening to the other tell about the stations of the cross on the walls. Finally, we make our way through the people who have stopped to talk. A pause and we leave the quiet prayer behind us and I hold her hand as the wind grabs at us. We go to get some burgers.
What does Bella think of it all? I told one little lady that Bella likes being at church. That certainly seems to be true. One old lady called her a little saint. I’d like for that to be true. I want her to know Christ and I want her to feel this place is home. I want her soul to yearn for prayer. I want to do my best for her. She clutches the picture of the Good Shepherd and when we get home she puts it in a safe place on the shelf near her bed. Treasure it, Bella. Treasure Him, my treasure. What have I taught her? I’m not sure what lesson she might have learned. But I am glad for her company.
An hour. What does it accomplish? A prayer? Did I pray? Was it valid? I feel I hardly know how to pray. Feeble little efforts as pathetic as Ben trying to wipe up the yogurt he spilled at breakfast, the paper towel smearing a mess all over the table. And yet he’s so eager to help. So proudly independent. I want to do it but I don’t know how. i know it’s probably a mess. But better a mess than to ignore the spill, right?
R/: Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy, R/
Christ, have mercy, R/
Lord, have mercy, R/
Christ, through whom all things were made, R/
Spirit of life and truth, R/
On each child just conceived, R/
For their safety and health, R/
For nine months of growth, R/
That an angel might protect them, R/
For peace and hope, R/
On all new fathers, R/
On fathers who are alone, R/
On father unemployed, R/
On fathers who are suffering, R/
On young fathers who are in pain, R/
On all new mothers, R/
On mothers who are alone, R/
On mothers unemployed, R/
On mothers who are suffering, R/
On young mothers who are afraid, R/
On mother who are in pain, R/
On those who defend life, R/
On those who love the child in the womb, R/
On those who pray for the unborn child, R/
On all who work to change unjust laws, R/
On all who live the Gospel of Life, R/
On all legislators who work for life, R/
On all national and state officials, R/
On all who are too little to vote or persuade, R/
On all people who work for life, R/
On doctors who gaze on life’s mysteries, R/
On physicians who see into the womb, R/
On surgeons who heal the unborn child, R/
On nurses and nursing students, R/
On those who first hear the heartbeat, R/
On nurses who cradle the newborn, R/
On all who protect defenseless life, R/
On the unborn child whose life rests in the hands of others, R/
On all victims of abortion, R/
On all who seek mercy, R/
On all who seek peace, R/
On all who seek justice, R/
On all who seek healing, mercy, and perfect peace, R/
God, our loving father, grant wisdom to those who govern us, compassion and courage to those who work to defend human life, and safety and care to every human being, for You alone who formed us in our mothers’ wombs, and call us home to heaven, are God forever and ever. Amen.
Blessed be God.
Blessed be His Holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
Blessed be the name of Jesus.
Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
Blessed be God in His angels and in His Saints.