Friday, July 6, 2012

Ten Days of Blogging for Blaise Part 6 -- On Suffering, Prayer, and the Risk of Love

Dear Coffee Talkers,

Thank you so much for joining me in this little journey with Blaise Voita (2004-2012). As I mentioned before, my girls and I never had the pleasure of meeting Blaise in person, but we came to know her in a few ways: through updates and pictures from her mom, through correspondence (the girls sent a few sweet pieces of correspondence and little gifts to one another), and most importantly through prayer. I say that the prayer is the most important because that is what actually drew us into the life and experience of Blaise in a profound and life-changing way. Let me explain.

While living in Ohio, I was part of a Catholic mom's group where it was a common practice for us to share prayer requests. One of the other mom's would sometimes mention a little girl named Blaise, a friend of her family's, who was frequently in and out of the hospital with a rare medical condition for which treatment was extremely difficult. I did not know much about her situation, but I did pray for her by name from time to time. When some tragic circumstances in my own family took me and my girls away from Ohio and the mom's group I continued to receive prayer requests for a time, and in summer 2010 something important happened. This is from a note I wrote to Lisa, Blaise's mom in 2011:

Life is much better now for us, thanks be to God, but I wanted to make something good come of all that suffering, and so I asked God if he would accept my sufferings on behalf of others families in crisis. I asked that he would help take me out of some of my unhealthy introspection and selfish misery in those darkest moments, and use my little offering on behalf of other people in need.

It did not take God long to make me aware of other suffering families, and your family (especially Blaise) have become a part of our story since that time.

In the summer of 2010 I decided to make some pilgrimages to many of the local shrines in the Philadelphia area on behalf of those other families in need. I took your Blaise as one of my main intentions to all of the shrines (St. Gianna Molla, St. Katharine Drexel, Miraculous Medal Shrine, Our Lady of Czestachowa), but there was one particular visit I made just for her. I checked my e-mail one day to see a message from Kate [the mutual friend from my mom's group] asking all of to please pray for Blaise -- she was dying. You and your family were saying your goodbyes to her. I looked at the clock, and saw that there should be just enough time (barring the interference of my poor sense of direction) to make it to evening Mass at the shrine of St. John Neumann in Philly. I prayed so hard for Blaise, and for your family. I waited for the next e-mail update. It came. Blaise was alive! And she would be going home soon!

Since then, Blaise has really been a special part of our lives. My girls loved getting the pretty little thank you card and picture from her, and they were so happy to send that rosary to her. (And the story of the rosary -- thank you again. Isn't it amazing when God gives you a little glimpse of what he can do with even our smallest acts of love and kindness?) When we pray, my girls often throw in one of their favorites -- "I pray for Blaise with all my heart!" -- and Patricia Rose (who has quite an astute memory for a 4 1/2 year-old) insists that Blaise came to visit us one day and play with her and Faustina. (Who knows? With God, all things are possible!)

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you so much for letting us be a little part of your lives. You & your Blaise have been a real inspiration to me on a lot of tough days, and even though we've all never met, I feel that through prayer you all have a very real presence in my heart. And it is a presence that has built my strength and trust in the Lord, my gratitude, my willingness to enter in more fully to the mystery of redemptive suffering, even in those moments that seem unbearably dark.
Blaise's life was one that called out for a profound response of love and prayer, and of the very deepest kind, since her life was so obviously fragile from the time before her birth until her death in January. The depth of the prayer and love that she drew from people was so profound because it really required a great deal of risk -- yes, in the good times, it seemed that everyone's love and prayers had sustained Blaise in being, but what about the day that Blaise's earthly life ended? What can we make of prayer then, in the face of such unthinkable tragedy?

Blaise's funeral Mass, which my girls and I were honored to attend, was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. In addition to her brother Damien's letter, Fr. Anthony Sortino, LC (a priest from Blaise's family) helped to make sense of the tremendous suffering of love and risk of prayer that everyone had invested in Blaise's life, and helped everyone to move forward in a new kind of love and prayer. During Blaise's earthly life, Fr. Anthony wisely suggested that it was not only Blaise who needed our love and prayers, but we who needed to be able to love and to pray for her. (To me, Blaise was a very clear example of a child who had literally been loved into being by her family, most especially her mother and her father and brothers who sacrificed everything for her.) We needed to enter into Blaise's story, to become a part of her suffering, so that we might constantly intercede for her that God might ease her burden. And when God finally did ease Blaise's burden by taking her into eternal rest, Fr. Anthony suggested that there might be one thing left that we could do for Blaise from this side of heaven -- we could let Blaise go. We could, in our own hearts and minds, turn Blaise over to her heavenly Father, and let her enter into the fullness of peace. We could see more clearly now the mutual gift of Blaise's life to us and our lives to Blaise, and could now even ask Blaise to intercede for us and our sufferings.

In her short but profoundly beautiful life, Blaise showed us that the way to peace is an acceptance with joy of all that God gives us even in the midst of unthinkable pain and seemingly unbearable suffering. And Blaise showed us that the risk of prayer and of love are ultimately necessary risks of a life worth living. Through this type of prayer and love, we are drawn more deeply into the communion of saints, and I hope that Blaise's prayers will continue to take us all there day by day.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

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