“O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair. All is not yet lost. Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy...My child, listen to the voice of your merciful Father.” (Jesus’s words to St. Faustina)
The message and image of Divine Mercy has played a pivotal and intricate role in my life for the past three years. The summer before conceiving our stillborn daughter, Teresa, I had read Father Michael Gaitley’s book, 33 DAYS TO MERCIFUL LOVE, which follows the theology of St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Offering to Merciful Love” and is a consecration to Divine Mercy.
(Disclaimer: This book, based on a simple saint’s prayer, will change your life. It is a must read!)
Father Gaitley says, “Her Offering to Merciful Love is based on her profound insight into the love of the Heart of Jesus. She recognized that Jesus’s Heart is full of mercy, and that He longs to pour out His Merciful Love. Rejection of this love causes Jesus great suffering. She asked the Lord to pour into her little soul all of the rejected mercy, and He did and filled her with Merciful Love.”
St. Therese said, “Because I was little and weak, He lowered himself to me, and He instructed me secretly in things of His love. I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way that is straight, short, and new...I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus.” St. Therese described herself as a little bird with the heart of an eagle.
I was in the process of completing the Offering while away on a silent retreat that broke me open and brought much needed healing into my relationship with God the Father. This mending, in return, ushered in a beautiful and necessary healing into my marriage, as well. In the middle of that summer, I completed the Offering and prayed the Prayer of Consecration after morning mass in our parish church, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on June 29, 2016 (Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul).
Each day following, I would reflect on the Divine Mercy image before the Blessed Sacrament, and I would pray: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Little did I know what that prayer would come to mean for me and the amount of trust I would be asked to extend following the consecration (especially when I had a positive pregnancy test a few months later on October 1, 2016 - the feast of St. Therese).
I prayed with the image throughout my pregnancy, as well as read through Father Gaitley’s first book, CONSOLING THE HEART OF JESUS (combining the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with the teachings of Saints Therese of Lisieux, Faustina Kowalska, and Louis de Montfort) and developed a greater devotion to the practice of praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
At 9 pm on May 21, 2017, I was praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, when I felt our daughter’s last movements. Only, I would not realize this until the next morning.
Three days later, we would plan a funeral mass and choose a burial site. We were experiencing the unthinkable, and as I reflect on it now, it seems impossible that we had the strength (especially since I was three days postpartum) and the ability to move forward with reality and make those decisions. It surely was a supernatural grace, which propelled us to function in each moment.
Teresa’s final resting place is behind Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on St. Paul Walk, right next to an enormous engraved image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the blur of that day, I didn’t realize the date in which I had completed the consecration and that she would rest on “St. Paul Walk.” I did know I wanted her next to that image. Perhaps I’m growing in awareness that devotion to the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy are inseparable: “O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in you.” Our Lord told St. Faustina, "My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy, graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled" (Diary, 1777).
Grief distorted life, and I completely forgot about the consecration. I stopped saying the consecration prayer daily, because I had stopped praying formally. My definition of prayer had changed, and it didn’t look the same anymore. I was barely functioning, was attempting to survive, and I was trying to complete the daily tasks of life as a grieving and working mother who was raising four living children. I was also angry, filled with questions, and felt like I was being punished. Why did God take my baby? The idea of a merciful Father did not resonate with me at all, and I pushed God the Father away.
A few months later, we discovered I was pregnant again. My pregnancy for this baby, whom we named after Doubting Thomas, was riddled with unbridled anxiety, fear, and despair. I could not convince myself to believe that we would bring home a living baby after the loss we had just endured. Blinded by my doubts, I failed to witness God’s hand at work: a Mother’s Day due date, the hope of holding a baby on Teresa’s anniversary, generosity and compassion from my doctor (who had delivered Teresa and attended her funeral mass), and countless confirmations that our baby boy was healthy and growing well. It is also important to add that while pregnant for Teresa, and unaware of the gender, the boy name God gave to me in prayer was “Thomas.” In fact, when we had Teresa I felt confused, because I was convinced I was waiting for him. It made so much sense when we discovered we were in fact expecting a boy after her death.
With an intense contraction just before the 3 AMhour on April 17, 2018, I went into labor unexpectedly at 36 weeks and 3 days pregnant and delivered a healthy baby boy, Thomas Michael, born just before noon. Thomas meaning, “twin.” Michael meaning, “Who is like God?” He has been the epitome of life itself.
On the Sunday prior, we had gone to the hospital again to be monitored, because I had felt reduced fetal movement. After Thomas was born, our first chid and son, who was 12 at the time, told me he had prayed on that Sunday that it would just all end. The pregnancy had become unbearable for everyone, and I honestly didn’t know if I would make it much longer. On our way to the hospital that beautiful Tuesday spring morning, my husband said to me, “I think God is being merciful upon you.” Mercy? It was hard for me to imagine. But truly, the experience of Thomas’s birth was completely beautiful and grace filled. Every fear had dissipated, and I felt excitement, an incomprehensible love, and a radiating joy inside and out. I also felt Teresa’s presence in such a complete and all consuming tangible way...even more so than on the day she was delivered. It was an unbelievable gift.
Thomas spent five days in the NICU, and we brought him home on April 22, 2018 on Teresa’s 11 month anniversary. It was hard to believe that it had not even been a full year, yet…our babies were “Irish twins,” as people would say. How different the picture looked on that day to see me smiling so genuinely in front of our home with him verses my demeanor 11 months prior.
It didn’t take long, however, for me to spiral into an unfathomable darkness. Postpartum depression, lack of sleep, tending to a preemie, and the approaching anniversary of Teresa’s death propelled me into a despair and isolation I could not escape. I was in a complete fog when Divine Mercy Sunday arrived that year.
This year, however, I was thankfully in a different space. My grief had not gone away, but it had changed. I was excited for Divine Mercy Sunday again. During mass I realized that every year on Divine Mercy Sunday, the gospel is the story of Doubting Thomas...our baby’s namesake! Thomas the Apostle could not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he touched the wounds of Christ. “Help my unbelief,” he prayed. He could not believe that God would do what he promised. He could not believe that life could come from death. Joy from sorrow. Healing from suffering. He could not believe in the power of redemption.
I have been the same...unbelieving, doubtful, confused. I have even perhaps isolated myself from the healing God has desired to offer. I have turned my head the other way out of fear of being hurt again and losing again. I have withheld my love, because it’s felt too risky.
But not God. He has longed to pour out His love. He has continued to press into the wound. In fact, just like He chose to go to Thomas (John 20:24-29), He has chosen to come into my most vulnerable space and my deepest and darkest hurt. He has desired to find me in my doubts. He has met me in my suffering, and He has not given up on me. He has extended DIVINE MERCY.
And still, in spite of all that has happened, when I sit before the Blessed Sacrament and gaze upon Him in the gift of the Eucharist, I feel Love and Mercy to the depths of my core. I feel an overwhelming gratitude. I feel unworthy to be called to such a love. I feel incapable of accepting such mercy. I feel humbled to have been given such a cross. I also reflect on and remember all He has asked of me, and although it is still feels so confusing and so unbelievably hard, I still have the choice to say: “Jesus, I trust in You,"and the choice to extend the same mercy to my children and husband who are still grieving, too.
Closing Prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet:
“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”