By Victoria Clarizio
I sit down in my spot for communal evening prayer and my teardrops fall. In the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, the Greek word for “she washed” is brecho, literally meaning “she rains.” I rain for memories, desires, and fears that I didn’t even know were there. Why is this affecting me so much? I hope no one notices me crying.
It is June 7th, 2015, Corpus Christi Sunday, and I am a novice, in preparation to profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Later on I will look back on today as a turning point in my discernment of a call to marriage. For now, I am trying to come to terms with what I have experienced and what it is triggering within me.
I went to Mass, carefree and joyful, excited to celebrate God’s intimate presence with us in the Eucharist. I was about to enter a crowded gymnasium turned church, when another sister waved me down with urgent hand signals. When I reached her, she drew me in with her arm, drew me into a sacred secret. “A woman is having a miscarriage. Can you help us pray with her?” We found her curled up on a couch in back of the gym, not an ounce of privacy until we surrounded her with walls of gray polyester. I put my hand onto the small shoulder of a slim, petite, pretty, blonde haired woman. “I’m losing it,” she cried in despair, accompanied by groans of pain. “I can feel it coming out.” We discreetly, but quickly, acted as a guard, surrounding her all the way downstairs to the bathroom. I could see a wet spot forming between her legs. Once we got to the bathroom the two older sisters take over and I was sent back up as Mass is starting, reeling over what had happened.
After Mass, back at the Motherhouse, I tried to make sense of what had happened with a fellow novice, my best friend.
I told her the one thing that kept flashing across my mind like a neon sign: “A person died in my presence. Like, that was really a person.”
My body is a temple, not just for God. My body can actually grow a person inside of it. No amount of flowery language about the “feminine genius” convinced of this like Colleen’s miscarriage did. My body is Sacred. It is a place for life to blossom and flourish, like the empty darkness all of creation exploded from. I am empty so I can be full. I try to fill that empty space with other things, namely pleasure, but they never satisfy. I have discovered anew my purpose as a woman: “to make space for another.” Space, there is space within me. It is expanding, widening. I am no longer tight with fear. I am wonderfully and fearfully made.
I also rain tears of contrition, because the wonderful gift of my sexuality is central to all of this. This part of myself that I have been vaguely ashamed of, that seems like something to be hidden, is the pathway to motherhood, to womanhood. For my whole life, I have been bombarded with lies about who is a “real woman,” and the truth of my goodness had gotten lost in the noise. I had desecrated the sacred temple of my body, by allowing a man to show me what it means to be a woman. I had lowered myself to a mere object used for pleasure, from being a god-like, a bearer of life. I had misused the gift of my sexuality. And I had used another person, another sacred temple, for pleasure.
I can’t stop the tears for days and it feels like my whole world has shifted in the matter of moments. I understand the strength and beauty of woman and mourn more than the loss of that one baby. I mourn the loss of my children. I feel the sacrifice of celibacy, but I also begin to understand that this physical ability does not define me as a woman.
The physical aspects of my feminine body point to a deeper spiritual reality. I have an empty space inside of me, waiting for life. I can make a safe space for this woman having a miscarriage, for this child starving for physical affection, for Jesus to come and make a home in my heart. Yes, never having physical children is a huge sacrifice, but it makes me no lesser woman, as long as I am open to the life that He gives.
But when the call of marriage is too strong to ignore I will remember what a holy priest said to me in confession when I shared this experience with him.
“It sounds like what the Lord is doing here is healing you, especially your sexuality. He is opening your eyes to the beauty of being a woman, of being able to give birth to new life so you can have even more freedom to give this up. He wants you to be free to choose.”