by Kelly Lindquist

The week before my husband died, I was sitting with him in his Philadelphia hospital room, gazing out the window at the view of the city’s skyline. I looked at his poor, suffering, scourged body. Over the past year, he had undergone at least ten bone marrow biopsies—all of which he had offered up for the salvation of his children’s souls—and almost as many rounds of chemotherapy, as well as a bone marrow transplant and countless other medical treatments for aggressive acute leukemia. He was so weak from his confinement that he could barely walk, and he needed oxygen support to help him to breathe. He had spent the better part of the thirty-fifth year of his life in isolation from his home, his friends, and his family—including our seven young children, the youngest of whom had been born a few months after he had been diagnosed and begun treatment. His doctors had just told us that, at this point, we had exhausted all possibilities of medical intervention.

Sitting there together in that strange room, in a strange city, I told him that, though I didn’t know why God was asking him to die so young, or to be healed miraculously after an ordeal such as this, it was clear that God was calling him, and that he should meditate on the question of that calling, and on the question of how to respond to it. With his characteristic mixture of simplicity and gravity, of directness and thoughtfulness, my husband replied: “You’re saying that death is a calling.” I hadn’t meant, or hadn’t realized I’d meant, to convey that; the words were so stark, I could hardly bear to hear them. And yet, my husband was right—both in his clarification of my words, and in his own discernment of his calling and his task: Our Lord was calling him to suffer and to die, and his response was to meet his death with courageous hope, loving gratitude, and joyful integrity, united in the graces of God.

My husband’s haunting expression is continually present before me as I try to raise and to care for our seven young children here on this earth, without their strong, loving, handsome father by my side. In the past few months since my husband’s death, I have begged God to take this suffering away from us; I have tried to run away from it, or to convince myself that it isn’t a suffering at all. But this is to refuse to hear God calling me to my own suffering and death; it is to fail to respond to that calling as God would have me respond. That none of us can evade death or suffering is not something one can deny. But that God calls us, in his grace, to our sufferings and death—and that we are to respond to this calling with courage, joy, and love—goes unrecognized all too easily and too often. Although it is not always easy to see exactly how we are meant to act in response to this call, we must heed and attend to our sufferings and death, and try to respond to these as God, Who loves us, would want us to—that is, in a way that is joyful, courageous, and uplifting to our fellow Christians, and to all of those with whom we live on this earth.

A few weeks ago, we learned that the traditional Latin Mass will no longer be permitted at our parish in northeast Washington, D.C. This news is acutely painful for all of those who have embraced our Catholic heritage by way of the old Mass—myself and my family included. From before the beginning of our life as a family, we have received the sacraments of confession, marriage, baptism, and first Holy Communion, always in the Old Rite; my husband’s funeral Mass this past spring, too, was a traditional Mass. Now, as we’re told by the pope and the archbishop, that holy part of our Catholic heritage can no longer be offered in parish settings; we must either accept this decree and alter the essential character of our worship or we must uproot ourselves from our parish community in order to attend the ancient form of the Mass at one of three non-parish churches in the region.

Many people have argued about the justice or injustice of this act on the part of the Church hierarchy. It has been suggested that this ban is a consequence of the actions of “bad” traditionalists who seek to divide the Church along ideological lines; but if that is true, why must all of those called to the beauty, meaning, and history of the Old Rite be made to suffer such consequences? I will leave the question of “justice” to the priests whose parishes are being torn apart by this ban, and to the canon lawyers and other scholars; all I know is that my own parish—one in which the traditional Mass is (or rather has been) offered alongside the New Rite—has always been a place of holy prayer, regardless of the liturgical books used. Like so many others, my family and I are now faced with having to choose between our parish home and community and our strong feeling that we are called to the traditional form of the Mass. I, for one, cannot account for this fact—a fork in the road, an act that could I daresay be called “divisive”—in the name of promoting more unity and greater tolerance within the Church.

And yet, as in my husband’s suffering and death, and in my own and my family’s suffering, what’s “right” or “just” in the highest sense can be hard, if not impossible, to discern this side of Heaven. To recognize that God is calling you isn’t always to understand how it is that you’re called to respond. The calling to be deprived, either of our parish home or of the Mass as we have come to know and love it, isn’t necessarily a calling to submit passively without question, any more than the calling to suffer from a terrible illness means foregoing all possible medical treatments. Many individuals and entire parish communities have gone to great lengths to express the irreplaceable meaning and importance of the traditional form of the liturgy in their lives—not as a form of ideological protest, but as a source of continuity with the history of our Church and with our Catholic heritage, as a form of worship that draws us to it in its beauty and solemnity.

It is beyond me why those of us attached to the traditional Mass have to hear that we can no longer belong to a parish. But what isn’t beyond me is that in this suffering, this deprivation, God is present. My children and I, and many of you, are being called by God to suffer this great loss. And yet, in this suffering—not in spite of it, but in it—God is calling us to respond, to be mortified, as was Christ on the Cross. We, too, must face it with courage and joy, unified in our calling to loss, suffering, death. And this suffering, too, can be uplifting. Let us pray that we might decrease and that God might increase. Let us pray that in being forbidden to pray according to this venerable rite within our own parish walls, God might be more glorified on this earth. Let us pray that our suffering bring about the salvation of our shepherds. One day, we will all be called upon to die; and on that day, let us pray that God make whole that which our sin has fractured.

The Crucifixion is a great mystery and sign of our faith. Christ took our sins upon Himself. He didn’t turn away from the “injustice” of His death, which He faced bravely and joyfully as a calling—one that would redeem us all. We, too, are called to unite our sufferings to Christ for the salvation of the world. Let us not forget this in our time of need; God will supply the graces necessary. The last few weeks before my husband died, I asked him if he was able to pray (as the kids and I, and thousands of others, had been praying ceaselessly for his miraculous healing). He told me that he found himself able to pray only two things: first, that God not abandon him, and second, that every morning upon awakening, he would recollect that there were seven whole days of creation on which God looked at what He had made, and said that it was good. Let us not forget this now: God will not abandon us, and His creation, even—perhaps especially—in the midst of our great suffering, is good.

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