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Lessons in Grief . . . from an Expert


“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” ~ John 16:20

We pick up today’s Gospel (John 16:20-23) with a repeat of yesterday’s closing stanza, the quote which kicks off today’s reflection. This is useful given the magnitude of its message, pertinent in light of the Saint whose Feast Day we celebrate today, Saint Rita of Cascia.

A young widow who became an Augustinian nun and stigmatist known for her practice of strict mortification and the efficacy of her prayers, Saint Rita is the Patron Saint of impossible causes, abused wives, heartbroken women, widows, and those struggling with infertility. A brief overview of her jagged and tumultuous life story sheds some light on why so many seek her intercession during times of grief and despair

Yesterday we reflected upon the importance of perseverance and patience in our efforts to endure the trials and tribulations we will inevitably face on the journey home to the Father's House But what can we learn about the inevitable grief that each and every one of us will ultimately face at one point or another and how it fits into the equation?

On the topic of grieving, author Fyodor Dostoevsky once said “The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer to God.” As Christians, we know full well that the Lord hears the cry of the poor. (Psalm 34). We know too that even Jesus experienced grief in his life, weeping at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus, this despite knowing that he would ultimately go on to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). Jesus experienced this emotion out of his profound love for us, humbling himself to fully share in our humanity.

In his short but touching volume “A Grief Observed,” written on the heels of his wife’s passing, C.S. Lewis observed that “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” Certainly when a spouse or a loved one dies, a multitude of emotions bubble to the surface, fear and uncertainty among them, that only exacerbate the inevitable grief.

The legendary 12th century poet Rumi however suggests that "Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” If one were to take on this mindset, he or she would come to realize that although grief never ends, it does in fact change. As such, it is in actuality a passage, not a place.

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In the case of Saint Rita of Cascia, we see a woman who, quite literally, looked to the cross as a means of coping with and offering up her grief and suffering. As the picture chosen for today’s Reflection suggests, her preferred method of prayer was to gaze lovingly upon the cross of the crucified Jesus, uniting her suffering to his, offering up her suffering as did Jesus, who of course went to the Cross for the sins of all humanity (John 3:16). Saint Rita’s devotion to the crucified Jesus was so deep and unrelenting that she received a partial stigmata, the wound of a lone thorn from the Crown of Thorns mockingly placed upon the head of Jesus during his blood-soaked walk to Calvary.

Saint Rita was also known to turn to Scripture during her deepest and darkest moments of grief and heartbreak. As Saint Isidore of Seville once said, “Reading the Holy Scriptures confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them and it turns man's attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God." When life is viewed through the prism of eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom that awaits those who persevere, we come to understand that there is a certain finality to grief, that it will not linger with us forever. Again, it is a passage, not by any means a destination.

On this the day we remember the Patron Saint of those dealing with infertility, Jesus fittingly enough uses the analogy of child birth in today’s Gospel (John 16:20-23) as a means of explaining the transitory nature of pain, suffering, and grief. “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because the hour has arrived, but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” (16:21).

Let us seek the intercession of Saint Rita of Cascia, imitating her devotion to Jesus as well as her willingness to bravely carry her many crosses along the path that leads to eternal life in the Kingdom that knows no grief.

Bestow on us, we pray, O Lord, the wisdom and strength of the Cross, with which you were you were pleased to endow Saint Rita, so that, suffering in every tribulation with Christ, we may participate even more deeply in his Paschal Mystery, Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.” ~ Amen

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