My excitement over the Year of Faith came to a sudden pause Wednesday, just hours before the bells were to ring to herald the launch.
The change in momentum resulted from an email message that came with a foreboding subject line. “It is with great sadness that I must let you know…”
No…no… I thought as I read the words my heart did not want to grasp. A baby for whom I’ve been praying had passed on earlier that morning in the arms of his parents.
Back in December, this little darling had captured my heart through a photo his mother had sent me of him swaddled in red cloth with large, white cardboard snowflakes behind him.
I was so taken with little Francis that I made the photo my computer wallpaper. It served both to introduce him to my kids and prompt me to pray for improvement of his health issues that had come with his diagnosis of Down syndrome.
I’d been praying for him well before that, too, from the time his mommy, Cathy, had announced her pregnancy. How joyful I was when I learned he’d entered our world! I welcomed updates on the family and loved knowing how they’d opened their arms to this youngest child of seven.
When Cathy reached out through email Tuesday afternoon asking for prayers, I immediately sent out some urgent petitions. Francis was struggling and had stopped nursing. Disconcerting as this was, I truly believed I’d hear back in a few days that things had improved. Instead, little Francis was called to his eternal home.
I can’t begin to imagine what this dear family is going through. It is, for them, a time of deep grieving, and I can’t ignore that I am connected, even though we’ve never met in real life.
So rather than be dishonest and offer a post on my exuberance over the Year of Faith, I feel I must be real: this is hard. And yet…I know that it is through faith that we find hope, even in the darkest situation.
Thursday morning, while checking emails before work, I saw that my “Read the Catechism in a Year” email from Flocknote had arrived. I searched the words, looking for something that could encourage. And there it was in the prologue:
“So that this call should resound throughout the world, Christ sent forth the apostles he had chosen, commissioning them to proclaim the gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Strengthened by this mission, the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.”
I am with you always…while the Lord worked with them…
God is with us. Even in this! This is our hope. Even in the death of a precious child, the Lord will work with us. He will not abandon us in our greatest hour of need, in this moment of grief. Somehow, in some way we can not yet imagine, God will turn this into something good.
Later, at an opening Mass for the Year of Faith at our cathedral here in Fargo, N.D., Monsignor Goering reminded us that faith is, first and foremost, a gift, and as such, our faith is to become our response back to God for that gift.
Francis was a gift, too, and our response to his life, even his passing, is a call out to God, a cry of the heart. More than ever, we need Him. We need the light that He offers. The world needs it. Little Francis’ family needs it.
Monsignor also reminded us, as did the Holy Father, that this Year of Faith should not be just about studying facts, but getting to know the person who is Jesus — to deepen that relationship with Him.
How can I turn my sadness at the loss of baby Francis into a conversation with God — a dialogue of hope?
Dear Lord, I know that the sadness we feel over Francis is because of love. Thank you for your faith that helps ensure us that you love him beyond measure, and will take good care of him. Let this be one more reminder of how desperately we need you, how great our need to accept your gift of faith to us is. Thank you, God, for Francis, and thank you for the Year of Faith.