A Free Heart
Living with her sister, brother-in-law, and their new baby, Sofia discovers more of what it means to love.
For the last four months, I have lived with my sister and her husband as they welcomed their first child – a beautiful daughter, and my goddaughter. When they shared the news of this much-desired pregnancy back in February, it filled me with wonder and joy, and with awareness of the One who was creating me just as He was creating this new life. At that time, my School of Community was working on Chapter 2 of Generating Traces, in which Fr. Giussani speaks of giving one’s life for the work of another. As I worked on the text, I realized that I wanted to accompany them in this critical time of life by serving them in their home. This desire was implausible; I am a full-time student at a university halfway across the globe from my sister. But I begged God to carry it out if it was His will, and in the end, through unforeseen circumstances, I was able to spend the fall semester remote working from my sister’s home. It was undeniable evidence that my life is His plan, and as I read the latest CL Newsletter, I felt I had a responsibility, born of gratitude, to share a few things with you.
The first is my discovery of the love of a mother. When I arrived in the States and met my sister, she was a new woman: she was dominated by a new love that made her yearn with delight in the coming of her daughter. My niece did nothing to merit the unconditional love of her parents, and to this day, does nothing to reciprocate it. And yet her existence and the continual development of her body, brain, and soul depend daily – hourly – upon that love. Watching my sister, I discovered what Giussani meant when he says “The Mystery as mercy remains the last word even on all the awful possibilities of history,” because her delight in her daughter is only a momentary participation in the infinite and unconditional love of the Father for each of us. I do nothing to merit this love, upon which I depend for my life. So even when I am sleep deprived and numb (which was often throughout the semester) or covered in the dirt of my old and tired sins, I can still cling to Him as His beloved daughter.
The paradox is that this love of a mother, which is the strongest I have ever seen, is a vulnerable love. Throughout pregnancy, my sister gave away her body and energy for her daughter. In labour she endured hours of suffering to bring her child safely into the world. These sacrifices, which will continue throughout her life as a mother, are not always beautiful in human terms. As I watched my sister in pain or difficulty, my heart cried out: Why are these sacrifices worth making? What is the use of giving away your life? The answer that I have found is “Christ.” The sacrifices of my sister are only beautiful because the Word of God dwelled among us with a love so radical that He was not content with anything less than giving us His very Body to consume. Each morning I would go to Mass and hear, “This is my Body, given up for You,” and then return to my sister and brother-in-law’s home, where I would learn again that we, too, are fulfilled by giving our bodies and lives for one another. Our home became a place that filled me with the memory of the sacrifice Christ made for me, and with the desire to not leave Him alone in that sacrifice. I want to accompany Him as did the Virgin Mary, who gave her own body that God might become flesh for our salvation.
The second point is my discovery of the love of a godmother, of my own love for this tiny child. It is a virginal love. Because this baby who fills my heart with tenderness does not belong to me – or even to my sister and her husband! – but to God. I have never known a feeling more sublime than that of holding my sleepy goddaughter and gazing at her smiling face. It is a taste of eternity. And yet in those moments, I was also filled with the overwhelming awareness that her destiny is not me but Christ, not my embrace but the embrace of the Mystery Who is creating both her and me. The task that God asks of me now is to love that destiny more than I love myself by returning to my solitary life in England and leaving her behind.
I go with a heart full of sorrow, but a free heart. These days, I feel that I am living in the moment before the dawn of the Resurrection. It may seem strange to be reflecting on the death of Jesus in the days before His birth at Christmas, but this semester, I have discovered that these mysteries are one. When Our Lord came as an infant, He came with the shadow of death already upon Him; as we prayed at Vespers early in Advent, “In your life on earth, You came to die as a man.” My Saviour came to die as a man and lies dead in the tomb – the tomb of my sin, the tomb of my unbelief, the tomb of my lonely emptiness. But I have seen that as soon as I beg for Christ, the stone begins to roll away from the tomb. As Christ Himself said of the death of Lazarus, “this is not to end in death but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). It is my passion for the glory of God that is enabling me to make the sacrifice of pure love, that is leading me back to England to search for Him there. I long to love every person I pass on the street with the love that I have for this baby. This is my prayer this Christmas: that through this love, Christ will come to me and one day become “all in all.”
Sofia, current student in the UK, originally from South Bend, Indiana