Three Bites for Nothing

We will not know how He uses our graces in this life, but we will be told it in the next.

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“Those three bites were for nothing, Mom!” he said, grumpily, from the couch. I gazed at my 7-year-old son steadily for a few minutes trying to recollect his reference. Then I remembered the night before, sitting at the dinner table watching him fork out a single slippery noodle, gingerly place it in his mouth, and painfully swallow. For he is one of that rare breed of child which detests mac and cheese. When he asked, hopefully, “May I be excused?” I had said, “Three more bites.” “But MOOOOM!! I hate mac and cheese!” “Offer it up for Ireland,” I said, “One for the babies, one for the mamas, and one for the nation.” The next morning when we learned that abortion had been ushered into Ireland, he was horrified — as were we all. All his painful sacrifice for nothing, as he thought. 

What a profound dilemma for a little kid, and what an echo it found in my own heart.

If my son felt so bereft, I thought, what about all those giant souls in Ireland whose hearts bled for their nation after months and months of hard work, prayers, and sacrifices for the babies of their race. 

Of course, no sacrifice is for nothing. “No graces go to waste,” I comforted my son. “Maybe God took your graces, and sent them to someone persecuted in China, and helped them to become a saint!”

He liked that, and went away happy. 

There is a strong bond amongst all those who stand for the rights of babies in the womb. But those of us also united by Baptism in the Mystical Body of Christ share a unique relationship. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” And while “every sin harms this communion,” the Catechism also points out that “the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all.”

When prayers go unanswered, work unfulfilled, we feel as though we've put it all on the line and received nothing in return. There are so many moments in which all we see is the wasteland of sin and the devil's victory. As Tolkien put it, from the mouth of Galadriel, “we have fought the long defeat.” This world seems to have, quite literally, gone to hell, sacrificing babies at the Prince's altar. But just as her present world was not the end of Galadriel's story, neither is this world the end of our story — or the devil's. The loss in Ireland is simply gutting. But it is not an indication that the graces offered through prayer and sacrifice have been wasted. 

I'm reminded of a powerful article written by Cait Marchand at the Catholic Exchange, “The Agony in the Garden and Unanswered Prayers”, concerning the moment when Jesus begged His Father that the cup pass, and the Father said “No.” “Of course, Jesus’ prayer, like all prayers, was really anything but unanswered,” writes Cait, then continues:  “That No resulted in Jesus’ passion and death, his resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven.  That No was our salvation. This is what we too must believe about our own prayers. That the No we receive brings about good surpassing anything we could imagine. No means a heavenly crown, or a conversion of heart, or an inspiration to others.  Confident in this belief we can pray the second part of Jesus’ words: Thy will be done.”

What good can possibly come from babies being murdered? I have no idea. But I know that on Good Friday, the disciples of Jesus were thinking “What good can come from His execution?” The worst day in the history of the universe has already happened. Man killed God on a crucifix, and God's blood ran into the dirt. 

And while that last drop of blood gushing from the God-Man's side appeared to be both the end as well as a defeat, it was anything but. Only the Almighty God can swindle the devil at the devil's own counting house. 

In God's Providence, He allows evil but always promises to bring goodeven greater good than He could have before. Fr. Michael Gaitley discusses this mystery comprehensively in Divine Mercy in the Second Greatest Story Ever Told. In Episode 7, Fr. Gaitley gives this reflection on the apparent victories of evil, beginning with the Garden of Eden:

The devil knew the deep truth of Divine Justice, but his inordinate pride did not allow him to understand the deeper truth of Divine Mercy... It's the power of God's mercy to bring not only good out of evil, but an even greater good out of evil. And that's why Satan hates it so much. It not only cancels out his gains, but it reverses them, making them into losses...

It's the truth that leads the Church to cry out, regarding Adam and Eve's fall, "O happy fault that brought us so great a Redeemer!" It's the truth that should prevent us from ever despairing, because no matter how dark our sins, God can still bring not just good, but an even great good, if we turn away from sin and place our trust in him.

We must turn away from sin, trust in Him, and continue to place our prayers and sacrifices into His hands  knowing that He will use them, and that He already is. St. Paul says, “In my flesh, I complete what is lacking the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24), and Fr. Gaitley, in 33 Days to Merciful Love, explains:

Now, of course, in one sense, there's nothing lacking in Christ suffering. In fact, his suffering and death on the Cross obtained the grace of salvation for everyone who has ever lived, is living, and will live, even to the end of time. In other words, the love that flows from the Lord's pierced Heart is an infinite ocean of mercy. Problem is, not everyone accepts, receives, and draws from such a superabundant source. They close their hearts to Christ's saving love. So really, the 'lack" is on the side of sinful humanity — but we can help make up for that... Through our suffering, lovingly united with Christ, we can obtain for people the grace to accept his gift of salvation.

Therefore, united in Christ, our little contributions are mighty. 

We ourselves have incalculable graces available to us. We've been encouraged emphatically to receive Jesus in the Eucharist not only at every Sunday Mass, but even daily. Pope St. Pius X approved the document, Sacra Tridentina,issued in 1905, which states:

The Holy Council of Trent, having in view the ineffable riches of grace which are offered to the faithful who receive the Most Holy Eucharist, makes the following declaration: 'The Holy Council wishes indeed that at each Mass the faithful who are present should communicate, not only in spiritual desire, but sacramentally, by the actual reception of the Eucharist.' These words declare plainly enough the wish of the Church that all Christians should be daily nourished by this heavenly banquet and should derive therefrom more abundant fruit for their sanctification.

Furthermore, in addition to our ability to receive Jesus daily, we can adore him in the Blessed Sacrament almost everywhere, around the clock, thanks to Pope St. John Paul II. In 1993, at the International Eucharistic Congress in Seville, John Paul the Great called for “the establishment of perpetual Eucharistic adoration in all parishes and Christian communities throughout the world.” And in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia he professed that “The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church" 

Many are the defeats that we see: abortion in this country, abortion in Ireland, the breakdown of the family around the world. Yet many more are the victories that go unseen, such as the countless martyrs in China and in Africa, and martyrs in Mexico so close to home. Indeed, the Lord does allow us to see some great victories. Many alive today walked the earth with St. Padre Pio, and many more can remember when St. Teresa of Calcutta  and Pope St. John Paul the Great were faces in the current news. Mother Angelica, so recently deceased, will almost certainly be another saint of our days. How many more saints there are among us, we cannot know now. I'd wager good money that many will rise from the ranks of those fighting abortion in our country, in Europe, in China, in India, in Ireland, and everywhere it ravages the population. 

We will not know how He uses our graces in this life, but we will be told it in the next. For now, I will find consolation in the vision of a victorious Chinese martyr running up to my little son to wrap grateful arms around him, welcoming him to heaven and leading him to the joy of the Beatific Vision. And I will find fortification in the Eucharist, and with you in the Eucharist if you will join me in Him.