The liturgical calendar from Lent to Lent will forever remind me of my year of grace — the year my husband and I fully came to the Lord.
This past Lent felt like a less-than-stellar penitential season on my part as I was in the throes of pregnancy. But looking back, I see how God, in his perfect way, was at work giving me opportunities to purify my tendency to rely on my own effort and understanding, and instead to lean fully into his abundant grace.
With pregnancy, there’s an ever-present excuse, and often necessity, to do whatever is least taxing. During my first trimester, I failed miserably at making even the smallest voluntary penances. Yet, six solid weeks of constant nausea bore many Rosaries in the fetal position, praying for the conversion of loved ones and ones known only by name, for healing in so many broken families, for holiness within the Church.
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Throwing up as I tried to leave the house for the 45-minute drive to Mass for Ash Wednesday set the tone. Not being a holy day of obligation but one I desperately wanted to observe with the Church, I mortified my ardent desire to receive ashes and watched a papal Mass from Rome instead. The next Sunday, I had to ask for access to the office bathroom across the parking lot so I could wretch before Mass in peace. The next Sunday, worse than the last, I stayed home.
That week my husband got trained as an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister so he could bring Jesus to me after Mass. This he did for another three weeks, and each time I cried at how much Our Lord loves me, that he would make himself available to me in this way.
I got a glimpse of the mercy that is bringing communion to the sick. Kneeling in our living room after my husband kindly got me sweatpants to put on under my oversize t-shirt so as not to receive Our Lord indecently, he read to me from the small black book lent to him by our deacon: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
I encountered the sacrament in a renewed, radically humbled, intensely grateful disposition of heart. This is the goodness and genius of our God: that even if our infirmities keep us from coming to him at the altar, he comes to us in all his glory in a small golden pix.
Together in Christ’s presence
The entire Lenten season marked the passage of another year of grace for our family. I missed Ash Wednesday the year before, too, but found myself in the pew on the First Sunday of Lent after 13 years away from the Church. By the third Sunday, I had convinced Jake to accompany me. By Palm Sunday, we were evangelizing our server in the diner after Mass.
We made our first confession on Holy Thursday by special appointment with the pastor. I had hoped to receive Communion on Easter, not realizing that our marriage outside the Church four years ago kept us in sin even after that grueling, purifying general confession that freed me from all that had dragged my heart away from God.
That Easter, my heart was so consoled that we were together in Christ’s presence, with his people, praising his resurrection, that it didn’t matter that I still couldn’t receive him.
It was Divine Mercy Sunday that rendered my heart, with our deacon reminding us what Our Lord revealed to St. Faustina: “On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day are opened all the divine floodgates through which graces flow. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet” (“Divine Mercy in My Soul,” No. 699).
Unable to receive the fullness of this promise, I cleaved to the mercy I knew Jesus had already extended to me, scarlet as I was. It was the only Sunday I approached the communion rail with my arms crossed, seeking at least the blessing offered, an act of supplication in a state of suspended grace.
Full communion and a prayer for children
The following week, we began our six-month marriage prep, including an annulment for my husband’s previous civil marriage and a confirmation that my previous homosexual marriage needed no such exoneration, there being no question of its invalidity.
When we were fully received into the Church on our wedding day last fall, the decorations and the catering that had occupied my mind during our secular, backyard wedding four years prior were replaced by two things only: the Eucharist, first and foremost, and the prayer that we made to Mary while the cobbled-together quartet played “O Sanctissima”: a prayer for children.
I look back over what God has done for us since that first season of repentance and longing. The depth of emotional healing and spiritual consolation that comes from restoring a relationship with the Holy Trinity is not something I can adequately convey. Those who have experienced prolonged, self-imposed separation from God can understand the profound transformation his presence brings about in a soul turned back toward him.
In outward signs in the year since we returned to the Church, God blessed both my husband and I with graces of devotion. Lent also marked one year of coming to Jesus through Mary in my daily Rosary, an absolute anchor in my prayer life.
My husband and I went from knowing only the wait staff at our favorite diner in our new hometown to being part of a real, loving, connected community at our parish, which has enriched our life in ways we didn’t know we needed.
I was even given the opportunity to share some of my reversion story on EWTN and now pray weekly for conversion of those who’ve reached out as a result.
A prayer answered
Most of all, in the year between the two Lents, the prayer we made to our Blessed Mother as Jake placed my bridal bouquet before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been spectacularly answered.
After four and a half years of thinking we were unable to conceive, God demonstrated his good will by sending us a child just two months after being united by the Church in Holy Matrimony. We conceived somewhere between the Immaculate Conception, when we made our act of total consecration to Jesus through Mary, and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As we approach our one year anniversary of our sacramental marriage, I praise God for renewed receptivity to his grace in my life. Even during my nausea-ridden Lent, he widened my capacity to receive him by causing me to long for Jesus again as I did when my sin kept me from him, and how it gave me, again, the gift of radiant joy upon returning: restored in body, mind and soul.
If you are in a season of waiting, hoping, praying and striving, be encouraged: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).