Mark J. Zia is an associate professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He is also a father who lost a son at birth two years ago. Having lost a son myself I can understand the pain he must still feel, and I sincerely hope that no one who reads this has experienced such pain. He has written a beautiful meditation on grace from pain:
If I were to ask a dozen people “what is the worst thing that could happen in life,” I have no doubt that “death of a loved one” would be a common response, and if I were to ask what could be even worse than the death of a loved one, no doubt an even more heart-wrenching response would be “the death of a loved one who was also a child.” Today marks the two-year anniversary of the death of my youngest son, who unexpectedly passed from this life to the next shortly after his birth. I am thankful to Almighty God for the gift of my youngest son, who lived and thrived for many months within our family while still in the womb. When there could just as well not been life, God gifted us with the life of our little boy whom we were able to hold in the hospital and who will always live in our hearts.
In these past two years, I have often reflected on the difficult questions of life, including the meaning of death of the innocent, and yet as I continue to grieve, I also continue to see more than a ray of hope in an otherwise tragic situation. It is an unexpected journey for me, because as a professional theologian, I have always approached these issues from a pastoral and academic perspective, but never through lived experience. Citing the difference, Pope Pius XII said it best: “We get learning from books, but we get wisdom from suffering.”
Fulton J. Sheen once wrote in his masterpiece “The Life of Christ” that “Some things in life are too beautiful to be forgotten, but there can also be something in death that is too beautiful to be forgotten.” Emptiness, sadness, anger, and a feeling of helplessness do exist in the natural sphere when we consider the death of a young loved one; however I would like to reflect briefly on the element of “beauty” concerning the death of a young loved one that we sometimes overlook due to the intensity of our pain.
God granted me the presence of mind to have bottled water on hand for my wife in labor, which I was able to use to baptize my son the moment he was born. At that moment as he straddled time and eternity, he was made a true son of God and heir to heaven, being reborn in water and the Spirit without ever having known personal sin. And moments later he was called home. Continue reading
When July 9 rolls around each year I am always reminded of my personal belief that before our end, perhaps especially for those of us sunk deep in sin, God gives us an opportunity to atone and turn aside from the downward path.
In Sixteenth Century Holland one of the longest wars in history began between Spain and Dutch rebels. The war was waged on both sides with sickening atrocities. Among the most violent were the Sea Beggars, Dutch patriots or pirates depending upon one’s point of view. In June of 1572 the Sea Beggars took the Dutch town of Gorkum, and captured nine Franciscan priests, Nicholas Pieck, Hieronymus of Weert, Theodorus van der Eem, Nicasius Janssen, Willehad of Denmark, Godefried of Mervel, Antonius of Weert, Antonius of Hoornaer, and Franciscus de Roye, of Brussels. Two Franciscan lay brothers were also captured: Petrus of Assche and Cornelius of Wyk.
The Sea Beggars also captured the parish priest of Gorkum, Leonardus Vechel of Boi-le-Duc, and his assistant, Nicolaas Janssen. Also imprisoned were Father Godefried van Duynsen and Joannes Lenartz of Oisterwijk, director of the convent of Augustinian nuns in Gorkum. Later imprisoned was a Domincan priest Joannes van Hoornaer who bravely came to Gorkum to minister to his imprisoned colleagues and joined them in their captivity, Jacobus Lacops of Oudenaar, a priest of Monster, Holland, Adrianus Janssen of Brielle, and last, and no doubt he would say least, the subject of this post, Andreas Wouters of Heynoord.
To be blunt, Andreas Wouters had been a lousy priest. A drunkard and notorious womanizer, he had fathered several children. Suspended from his duties he was living in disgrace when the Sea Beggars captured Gorkum. This was his cue to run as far away as possible, based on his past history. Instead, perhaps understanding that God was giving him maybe his last chance to redeem himself, he volunteered to join the captive priests and brothers. Continue reading