January is a tough month for my family, in both the ecclesial and in the biological sense.
Yesterday was the anniversary of my maternal grandfather's death. My Grandpa was a great grandpa, my confirmation sponsor, and a good pal. He could strike up a conversation with anyone, but he kept it real. He was one of the hardest working people I have ever known. He loved Johnny Cash, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings movies. He used to heckle me about my (first) crush on Legolas (my tastes have matured since then, LOL) and about how that guy never seemed to run out of arrows (he had a fair point). He loved animals, cats and dogs alike. He loved ice cream and walks on the beach. He loved music, and while he wasn't a huge fan of classical music he certainly appreciated it, and he loved to hear me play the pipe organ. Bach's Prelude & Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543, and Durufle's Prelude & Fugue on the name of Alain were the last pieces I played for him. My favorite memories are playing Phantom of the Opera or Rigoletto for him on the piano in the living room, or sipping coffee with him in the early morning at the kitchen table in my grandparents' house. We are different people, but he was salty, and I have gotten far saltier in my old maidenhood, and I think he would enjoy that.
Yesterday was also the Feast of Saint Agnes, Virgin & Martyr. I went to Mass, and afterwards I reflected upon how, at the reception of Holy Communion, our departed loved ones are closest to us, how the veil between this world and the next becomes transparent and our souls are almost touching. And so I prayed for him and for all those in our families who have gone ahead of us. I prayed for their eternal rest and peace, and I asked for their prayers for those of us still fighting the fight here on earth.
And it made me think of those of our family, sometimes in the biological and always in the ecclesial sense, that we never had the chance to meet in this life -- namely the unborn, who are numbered among the Church Triumphant (meaning they are automatically considered saints according to Church teaching). I am talking not only of siblings lost through miscarriage but also the friends, family members, class mates, team mates, (the list is endless really) lost through abortion.
Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and it is a difficult day to mark. But it is also a day of hope. For as we fight for the rights of the unborn of all those who are vulnerable, we remember that the unborn, now numbered among the Church Triumphant, are also fighting for us through intercessory prayer. And so, we greet the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with a unique and strange attitude, for in the words of T.S. Eliot, we "rejoice and mourn at once."
Halfway through Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral, the poet reflects through the voice of Saint Thomas Becket on the extraordinary juxtaposition of Christmas Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen, Martyr. He writes:
"Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men."
May we remember to draw close through prayer to those who are on the other side of the veil: our family, our friends, the holy men and women and children who have gone on ahead of us. And we remember that they, too, are drawing close and praying for us. We do not fight our battles alone.