The Mystery of Miscarriage

Mary, Joseph, and the Theology of Pre-Natal Life

The deepest truth about the human person is contained in the words “Our Father.” Enfolded in this sublime opening to the Lord’s Prayer is God’s loving provision for and delight in each one of us; our connection to Jesus and to one another as siblings; and the idea that we are in God’s “image” not as a picture resembles an object, but as a child resembles a parent. The purpose of the world, which he created out of pure love, is to teach us about him and draw us back to his loving embrace. From the first moment of our lives, he cares about every detail.

Miscarriage would appear to be the great counterexample.

Though no one likes to think or talk about this heartbreaking phenomenon, it poses a serious challenge to God’s perfect goodness and to the “sanctity of human life from conception.” If every human being is a beloved child of God, why do so many of them — perhaps the majority of them — fail even to survive the trip from the fallopian tube to the uterus? In her dialogue with pro-life philosopher Christopher Kaczor, pro-choice philosopher Kate Greasley implies that miscarriage leads to a reductio ad absurdum of the pro-life position:1

If a human organism is a person in the philosophical sense from the moment of conception, then it would seem to follow that spontaneous miscarriage is the greatest natural threat to the human race — the single biggest killer, outrunning cancer, malnutrition and natural disasters by a huge margin. If zygotes and embryos are persons, therefore, surely more resources should be devoted to preventing natural miscarriage than to anything else. This will strike many as an unacceptable implication, and it is certainly not one that opponents of abortion rights advocate.

A pro-choice friend of mine expressed a similar idea in more personal terms: “When I first saw my baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound, I thought ‘I could never [have an abortion].’ Six miscarriages later I was less sentimental. I saw the callousness with which nature and my body expelled beating hearts over and over.”

Moreover, while zygotes or embryos may feel no physical pain, miscarriage can be a source of acute and prolonged suffering for their parents. As Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, points out in a moving New York Times editorial (25 November 2020):

Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few. In the pain of our loss, my husband and I discovered that in a room of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have suffered from miscarriage. Yet despite the staggering commonality of this pain, the conversation remains taboo, riddled with (unwarranted) shame, and perpetuating a cycle of solitary mourning.

With our comprehension of the redemptive power of suffering, Christians are in a unique position to speak about this crushing loss that touches so many in the human family. Yet I have never heard the topic mentioned from any pulpit, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not even have an entry for “miscarriage.” The closest it comes to addressing the issue is in these hesitant words:

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism. (CCC §1261)

All women I have asked find this to be cold comfort.

Our faith purports to be coherent, comprehensive, and true, illuminating and healing every aspect of the human condition. If Christians cannot offer a satisfying explanation for the death of the newly conceived, then unbelievers are justified in questioning our claim that personhood begins at conception, and perhaps even our moral credibility altogether. I believe the Church can and must offer far more clarity and consolation than she has so far in addressing this ubiquitous source of suffering.

While this essay is not about me, I hope you will glimpse the hand of God in fragments of my story, guiding me toward a theology of pre-natal life that is scripturally sound, pastorally helpful, and doctrinally compelling. Whatever light I have been given has come, as Jesus came, through Mary. Her experiences as an expectant and new mother — including the time between the Annunciation and the Visitation, which is usually ignored or misunderstood — help to reveal the salvific significance of miscarriage, intimately joined to the mystery of the Cross and essential to a correct understanding of the human person.

Creation and Conception

St. Augustine famously said to God, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (Confessions 1.1.1). In all our encounters with created beings, something within us says, “However good this may be, it isn’t quite what I’m looking for.” The sensation is of a truth partially known, within us but lost, like someone’s name that we cannot remember. I suggest that this memory of God exists not merely in our DNA, or the “collective unconscious” of the human race, but in the lived experience of every human being, imprinted on our soul from the moment of its incarnation. The brokenness and sin surrounding our conception cannot mar that memory, any more than thorns mar a rose. For the theophany of life-giving love, the earthly mirror of the Trinity, is conception itself.

Scriptural support for this idea comes from the beginning of the world and the beginning of Jesus’s life. The imagery at the opening of Genesis resembles the hieros gamos (“holy mating”) between Father Sky and Mother Earth that we find in ancient Indo-European religions, but without the competitive and often violent aftermath:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light (Gen 1:1–3).2

When the Spirit, literally “breath,” of God moves over the “face” of the waters and he speaks his first words, it is as if his kiss impregnates the world with light. The creation of humankind confirms that life-giving love belongs to the very essence of God:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it . . .” (Gen 1:27-28).

As St. John Paul II so beautifully explains in his copious writings on the theology of the body, the image of the triune God is not male or female, but male and female, a community of love in fruitful union. The creation of each human being recapitulates the dawn of Creation itself.

The prologue of John’s Gospel, the New Creation, is similarly rich in the imagery of conception. John stunningly equates “life” and “light,” making the connection with Genesis signaled by his opening words even clearer:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men (Jn 1:1–4).

John’s further reflection on the Logos as the light of life, ēn to phōs to alēthinon ho phōtizei panta anthrōpon erchomenon eis ton kosmon (1:9), has been received in three different ways:

NIV: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

KJV: That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

NASB: This was the true Light that, coming into the world, enlightens every person.

The KJV, which also corresponds to the Latin Vulgate, is the version heard at the end of Mass by Anglicans and Catholics for hundreds of years; the NASB is probably the most accurate rendering of the Greek.3 But however we translate these words, the present participle erchomenon links the process of “coming into the world” — whether of the Logos or of every person — with God’s generation of light at the dawn of Creation. Like the fiat of God, whose Spirit was moving over the face of the waters, the fiat of Mary causes the Spirit to overshadow his creature and beget light (Lk 1:35-38). The mind of the Creator presents no discrepancy between thought and action: like the Logos become flesh, each human being is God’s idea fully realized, regardless of age inside or outside the womb (cf. Jer 1:5).

“Mary’s fiat is the key to everything.” As I was driving to work on April 16, 2018,4 these words popped into my head with the clarity and certainty of a direct communication from God. The idea itself was not new to me. At a Baptist-Catholic panel at Baylor some months before, I had argued as much in my “Reflections on the Immaculate Conception”:

Love is the gift of self. If Mary had been, like Ivory soap, only 99.44% pure, the remaining .56% would have prevented her from offering that gift without reservation. But by God’s prevenient grace, through no merit of her own, she too was created a perfect human being even from the moment of her own conception, and remained so throughout her life, so that her fiat held nothing back. To be a Christian is to try, however imperfectly, to echo that fiat, so that Christ can begin to grow within us — the substance of things hoped for. And all our woe, all the bitter fruit of the threefold concupiscence that Freud and Marx and Nietzsche tell us is the whole of Man, stems from our failure to understand and our fear to reenact that moment.

What confirmed for me that the message of April 16 was divinely inspired was a lecture given later that day by Jacob Imam, a distinguished Baylor alumnus and Catholic convert. His thesis (which I knew nothing about in advance) was that a defining difference between Christianity and Islam, which affirms the virginal conception of Jesus, is that the Qur’an edits Mary’s fiat out of the Annunciation.

The Christian understanding of Mary’s fiat, as the creaturely complement to God’s primordial creative love, accords with the enigmatic truth revealed to St. Bernadette in 1858 by Mary herself: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It is easy enough to understand what it means that Mary was immaculately conceived, preserved from all sin so that her will was intimately united with God’s from the first moment of her life. But what on earth could it mean that she is the Immaculate Conception? It was nearly a century before St. Maximilian Kolbe, on the very day he was arrested by the Nazis (February 17, 1941), was given the solution to that riddle, which had been tormenting him for years: “The Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception.” In the section of his book on Kolbe’s Marian teachings beautifully entitled “The Holy Spirit: A Divine Maternity of Love,” Father H. M. Manteau-Bonamy explains, “In God, in the very depths of the divine being, there exists a certain motherhood of love, the Holy Spirit, who links Father and Son with each other in joy and peace.”5 Mary, the created Immaculate Conception, is the human image of the maternal heart of God.

If every human conception is a mirror of the Trinity, whose very being is life-giving love, original sin quickly clouds and distorts that mirror after we are born. Mary alone of (mere) humans reflects the love that is God in its purest form throughout her life. Her experience of wifehood and motherhood will shed light on the way grief yielding to joy belongs to the core of her identity — and thus, “through a glass darkly,” to ours.

The Redeemer in the Womb6

When we call Mary the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit,” an idea central to the spirituality of St. Francis and his followers,7 the metaphor connotes a complete intimacy of which earthly marriage is a dim reflection. What is less commonly recognized is how the early days of Mary’s marriage to Joseph, right after the Annunciation, foreshadow the climactic conclusion to her earthly motherhood of Jesus. It is helpful to remember that Mary and Joseph are not merely symbols or characters in a story, but living people who do things — who have been acting in our lives from the very beginning, whether or not we are aware of them, and whose delight is to bring us closer to their son (especially when we ask them to!). Their relationship with one another, shaped by their relationship with the incarnate Word, offers insight into the theology of pre-natal life and solace for all who are facing the trauma of loss. Hidden within the first few days of Jesus’s time on earth lies a human drama of astonishing power, showing the profound connection between expectant mother and unborn child and pointing already toward the Crucifixion followed by Resurrection that is the essence of the Christian faith.

The personhood of Jesus in utero is guaranteed by the Visitation, when Mary, who has recently conceived, goes “with haste” to see her cousin Elizabeth, who is in her sixth month of pregnancy (Lk 1:39-56). The scene has a special resonance for me. In the fall of my senior year of college, a few months after my conversion to Christianity, a friend mentioned that a girl he knew from high school had gotten pregnant. I asked, “Why doesn’t she just have an abortion?” (As an assignment for my high school AP US History class, I had written an eloquent letter to my Congressman about why abortion should remain legal. I got an A.) Another friend — one of the few pro-life people I knew — pointed out that John the Baptist, leaping for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, was the first to recognize Jesus as the Lord: one unborn child responding to another. From that point on, it became clear to me that I could not be a serious Christian, seeing the Bible as the inspired word of God, and treat pre-natal human beings as less than full human persons.

Decades later, consecrated to Jesus first through Mary and then through Joseph, I am just beginning to appreciate the theological richness of the days before the Visitation. Unlike the Gospel narratives of Jesus’s public ministry, which redact the testimony of multiple witnesses and show considerable overlap, the accounts of Jesus’s early days must have come solely from Mary herself. The relatively small amount of biblical real estate devoted to this part of Jesus’s story should not deceive us into thinking it is unimportant, since we can be confident that she treasured the details in her heart for decades and shared with the Evangelists precisely what the Holy Spirit prompted her to tell. The Church, in turn, treasures the words of Scripture in her heart, allowing their meaning to unfold over the centuries, through the minds of the faithful under the guidance of the same Spirit.

In this Year of Saint Joseph, it is finally time for us to correct a widespread misunderstanding about the motivations of Jesus’s earthly father. Here is the sequence of events that makes the best sense scripturally, psychologically, and theologically, with my speculations in brackets filling in the narrative gaps:

Lk 1:38 (RSV): And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be (fiat) to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. [At her fiat, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she knew she had conceived the Savior. She immediately told her beloved husband.] Mt 1:19-20 (NRSV-CE): Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. [The prospect of losing Joseph as her life companion pierced Mary’s heart.] But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. [When Joseph told Mary that they would not be separated after all, her heart overflowed with joy.] Lk 1:39 (RSV): In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah.

As I shall explain below, the emotions of Mary as the mother of an unborn child are a foretaste of her experience at the Crucifixion and Resurrection, a fact of importance for all mothers of newly-conceived children.

It is essential to realize, first of all, that Joseph’s reaction to the Lord in Mary’s womb is one of many scriptural signals that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant. Father Donald Calloway gently but forcefully demonstrates that it is theologically untenable to suppose that Joseph, the just man, suspected his sinless wife of infidelity and sought to divorce her (Mt 1:19)! While the verb apoluo can mean “divorce,” it can also mean “send away” in various other senses. As many saints, mystics, and theologians have recognized since ancient times, Joseph exhibits humility and reverential awe before God’s overwhelming holiness, like Peter (Lk 5:8), the Centurion (Mt 8:8), and most importantly, David (2 Sam 6:10–11), who is unwilling to take the Ark into his house and sends it away for three months — not coincidentally, the length of time Mary spends with Elizabeth.8 That the angel addresses him as “Joseph, son of David” (Mt 1:19) provides another clue that Joseph’s experience recalls that of his ancestor.

To Father Calloway’s compelling argument I would make a small modification that adds an additional layer of meaning to Joseph’s action. Joseph was obviously afraid of something on Mary’s behalf, because the angel exhorts him in a dream not to be afraid to receive (paralabein) her (Mt 1:20) — the same verb that appears in John’s prologue (1:11), “his own people received him not” (hoi idioi auton ou parelabon). Our understanding of Joseph’s motivation rests on the interpretation of the mysterious phrase autēn deigmatisai. Here, the NRSV-CE’s “expose her to public disgrace” and Father Ignace de la Potterie’s “unveil (her mystery)” both contain elements of truth. The basic meaning of deigmatizo is “to make an example (deigma) of”; the word’s only other appearance in the New Testament has manifestly negative connotations, as Paul tells us that the Cross disarmed, triumphed over, and “made a public example of” (edeigmatisen en parrhēsiāi) the principalities and powers of this world (Col 2:15). I suggest that what Joseph feared was for the woman under his protection to become a miracle misunderstood, a “sign that is spoken against” (sēmeion antilegomenon, Lk 2:34), like the Cross itself. An English translation that captures the nuances of deigmatizo is “stigmatize”: while the word has come to mean “to characterize or brand as disgraceful or ignominious” (American Heritage Dictionary), with God’s signature irony, to be marked with the stigmata is in fact a grace reserved for the holiest of saints. Even in the womb, Jesus is joined to his mother in a mystery of suffering beyond the world’s understanding.

If we pause to consider the emotions Mary and Joseph must have experienced at the prospect of separation, it becomes apparent that this episode from the beginning of Jesus’s earthly life also foreshadows its end in another profound way. We have to suppose that the couple chosen to be the earthly parents of the Messiah — and the model for husbands and wives, fathers and mothers everywhere — were supremely loveable and in love. Father Calloway rightly compares Joseph’s intended separation from his bride to Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac.9 Though Matthew does not tell us about Mary’s reaction, we can readily imagine her agony at the prospect of losing such a life companion. This expectation of the loss of her earthly bridegroom should surely be considered the first of Mary’s sorrows, prefiguring the loss of her heavenly Bridegroom on Calvary. As in the sacrifice of Isaac, however, the Old Testament’s most powerful antetype of the Crucifixion, human willingness to surrender to God what is most precious is quickly followed by joyful restoration.

Some details in Luke’s account further strengthen this connection between the beginning and the end of Mary’s earthly motherhood. He implies that the Visitation happened soon after the Annunciation, but not immediately: “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah” (Lk 1:39). The Greek for “arose,” anastasa, is placed emphatically at the beginning of the sentence (anastasa de Mariam en tais hēmerais tautais eporeuthē, “having arisen, Mary in these days journeyed”), and several theologians have commented upon its spiritual significance. Edward Sri quotes from an address by John Paul II:10

Considering that this verb is used in the Gospels to indicate Jesus’s resurrection (Mk 8:31, 9:9, 31; Lk 24:7, 46) or physical actions that imply a spiritual effort (Lk 5:27-28; 15:18, 20), we can suppose that Luke wished to stress with this expression the vigorous zeal which led Mary, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to give the world its Savior.

Though correct as far as it goes, this interpretation does not explain what it is that Mary is arising from. In every other New Testament usage, anastasis follows a state of physical or spiritual torpor or death — hardly an apt description of the woman whose fiat has just brought about the marriage of heaven and earth! It would be appropriate, however, for the emotions of one who had told her husband about her miraculous pregnancy (say, on a Friday afternoon), experienced the agonizing prospect of losing him, and then unexpectedly received him back after angelic reassurance (say, on a Sunday morning).11 “To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need.”12 The exuberance of the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1–10), the Magnificat’s precursor, springs from the years of barren desolation preceding Hannah’s pregnancy. We may hear in Mary’s song, too, the outpouring of a heart that has just lived the kind of ecstatic reversal it proclaims.

The grief of loss followed by the joy of restoration is a defining component of Mary’s experience as wife and mother from the very beginning. The next section will discuss another widely misunderstood episode from Jesus’s infancy that prophesies a similar phenomenon at the end of his earthly life, and that underscores the centrality of Mary’s suffering to the economy of salvation.

And a Sword Will Pierce Your Own Soul Also

In the piece that lays the foundation for the present essay, I argue that “[Mary’s] marital relationship with God and spiritual motherhood of all people, a role sometimes regarded as an extra-scriptural accretion, is in fact the unifying thread that provides the most satisfying ‘solution’ to the biblical mystery.”13 This thesis helps to solve five scriptural puzzles: Jesus’s apparent rudeness to his mother at Cana; the Fourth Gospel’s declaration that “everything had now reached its telosbefore Jesus says that is has; the strangely emphatic insistence that Elizabeth and Zechariah name their son John; the two occasions where Jesus appears to be dismissive of his mother in public; and the apparent break with Hebrew poetic form at the end of Simeon’s prophecy. Here is my brief discussion of the last of these:

I have numbered the prophecy’s four components, the third of which is generally punctuated as parenthetical:

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

“[1] Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,

[2] and for a sign that is spoken against

([3] and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),

[4] that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

In the encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II treats [3] as a separate element (RM §16):

Simeon addresses Mary with the following words: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed”; and he adds with direct reference to her: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (cf. Lk. 2:34-35).

Yet the first part of Simeon’s prophecy (29-32), like most Hebrew poetry, consists of antiphonal verses whose second element supplements or responds to the first. Why would the end break that pattern, with [2] supplementing [1], but [4] augmenting [2] after a parenthetical [3]? Why would the “sign that is spoken against” cause the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed? Finally, why would Simeon, addressing Mary directly in what should be the prophecy’s climactic conclusion, put her shocking destiny in parentheses? These problems disappear if we understand [4] as responding not to [1] or [2], but to [3]. After the sword tears open her soul at the crucifixion, the labor pain of her new motherhood, Jesus will reveal the hearts of her children to her. This helps clarify the referent of “also” in verse 35: the spear that pierces Jesus’s side and the sword that pierces Mary’s soul together will bring to birth the new Church. Consonant with the invariable dynamic of Christianity, extremity of sorrow makes way for extremity of joy.

Since writing that piece, I have come to appreciate how much depends upon the word “also.” The parenthetical treatment of Mary’s soul-piercing sorrow reinforces the sense that it is a sideshow, the “also” of “also-ran.” But rhetoric, genre, and context all point to a closer and more significant tie with the verse before and the verse after. The most natural interpretation is this: “Your child will be a sign that is spoken against, and you will suffer along with him, in order that through this conjoined suffering the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

The theological and anthropological implications of this are enormous. Far from relegating Mary’s suffering to parentheses, the “also” implies that mother and son together will experience both the great sorrow and the revelatory aftermath. For though Christ’s atoning sacrifice is “full, perfect, and sufficient,” the uniting of his agony to Mary’s sheds light upon the meaning of all suffering, ours as well as hers. He grants her, and us, the inestimable privilege of suffering in and with him in a way that somehow makes a difference, as when Paul declares that in his own flesh he “completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). That is part of the reason why, despite their prediction of unimaginable sorrow, Simeon’s words to Mary are characterized as a blessing.

Recognizing Mary’s central importance at the Crucifixion is a key to understanding not only the mystery of miscarriage, but the whole economy of salvation. The suffering of the innocent can only be the gateway to a far greater good: if God is infinitely powerful, loving, and just, anything else is a logical impossibility. In this life, our emotions may never be fully capable of assenting to that logic. Some part of us will always see the Cross of Jesus, and our own crosses, as evidence of God’s cruelty rather than as a manifestation of his love. Nevertheless, it is a foundational truth of our faith that the death of one perfectly innocent man brought about the greatest good of all, the redemption of the world. As in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, in a miscarriage, a wholly innocent person dies because of the guilt of others (our first parents, whose sin brought death into the world). But the pain is borne primarily by the mother.

A Call for Clarity and Consolation

Aristotle himself observed that mothers exhibit the greatest ability to share in the joy and sorrow of others (Nicomachean Ethics 1166a). If the order of nature has anything to teach us about the order of grace, it is hard to believe that maternal love would be irrelevant to God’s great rescue operation. The deepening of my own relationship with Christ has correlated strongly with a growing awareness of Mary’s role as the heroine of the biblical love story, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual mother of all people. The Crucifixion, which encompasses all the evil resulting from human sin, would not have been complete without her suffering in her son’s pain, and his suffering in hers.

We have every reason to hope that, like Mary, mothers who have experienced the agony of losing their children, “complet[ing] what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” will also experience the overwhelming joy of their Resurrection. In a recent essay calling for conversation across the pro-life/pro-choice divide, I note that “[t]he hundreds of millions of children sacrificed through abortion are among our greatest intercessors — an army of holy innocents vastly outnumbering that of the visible martyrs.”14 But the same is true of the even larger number who die through miscarriage. Jesus said of children, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). If their guardian angels are so blessed, the children themselves who die before their birth must be continually gazing upon the face of God. Far from consigning them to a shadowy limbo, we should be naming them and reverently seeking their prayers.

While words and doctrines cannot erase the pain of losing a child, there is no reason to compound that pain with the feelings of invisibility, bewilderment, and shame that too often accompany it. Our mother the Church, guided by our mother Mary — who has loved each one of us, infinitely, from the moment we burst into life — should articulate a theology of miscarriage that reflects the maternal heart of God, revealed to us especially in Mary’s experience of love, loss, and restoration. By the logic of the Gospel, which always inverts the world’s values and expectations, the youngest, most vulnerable members of the human family must be uniquely blessed. It is time to bring them into the light and allow them to help heal us.

God does not make mistakes. Throughout salvation history, what seems a glitch in his plan invariably turns out to be part of his self-revelation. As conception is an icon of the God who is irrepressibly fruitful love, so miscarriage is an icon of the Cross, where a mother’s grief at the death of her innocent child participates in the redemption of the world. Mary stands with Christ at the center of these mysteries, just as she did at the beginning and end of his earthly life. Hers is not a parenthetical “also,” but one that imbues with salvific purpose — and burning hope — all the suffering of mothers in their children, born and unborn, since the beginning of the human story.

  1. Christopher Kaczor and Kate Greasley, Abortion Rights: For and Against (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 34.
  2. Biblical quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
  3. See Peder Borgen, “Logos Was the True Light: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,” in Logos Was the True Light and Other Essays on the Gospel of John (Trondheim: Tapir, 1983), 95–110.
  4. Specifically, I was cresting the interchange from Loop 6 onto I-35, which my children used to call “the high high hill.” (Waco is a bit short on mountains.)
  5. H. M. Manteau-Bonamy, Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit: The Marian Teachings of St. Maximilian Kolbe, 3rd edition (Libertyville, IL: Marytown Press, 2008), 22.
  6. This is the title of an excellent book by John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993) to which my understanding of these issues is much indebted.
  7. See Virgo Facta Ecclesia: The Life and Charism of St. Francis of Assisi (New Bedford, MA: Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, 1997).
  8. Donald H. Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father (Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2020), 141–53. On Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, see Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah (New York: Image, 2018), 41–70.
  9. Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph, 162.
  10. John Paul II, General Audience (October 2, 1996), quoted in Edward Sri, Rethinking Mary in the New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2018), 68.
  11. Pace Calloway (n. 8), 175, who states that Joseph “noticed that Mary was pregnant” months after she conceived. A pregnant woman does not wait months for her husband to “notice,” let alone a woman who has just conceived the Messiah.
  12. Emily Dickinson’s lapidary formulation explains much about God’s tardiness in fulfilling our desires.
  13. “The Riddle at Cana: Mary and the Biblical Mystery,” Church Life Journal, 17 November 2020.
  14. “Seeing Beyond Roe,” Public Discourse, 29 October 2020.
Julia Hejduk About Julia Hejduk

Julia D. Hejduk is the Reverend Jacob Beverly Stiteler Professor of Classics and Associate Dean of the Honors College at Baylor University, where she has taught for 18 years, after a decade at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her research specialty is ancient Latin poetry, with a focus on religion, women, intertextuality, and acrostics. She has written numerous articles and several books, most recently The God of Rome: Jupiter in Augustan Poetry (Oxford 2020). She is actively involved in modeling charitable conversations on controversial issues.


  1. Avatar Fr Chad Everts, LC says:

    Thanks for your article. Allow me to suggest my sister-in-law’s book, Nursery of Heaven, which you may have heard about, by Cassie Everts.

  2. Yes, it is time for Clarity and Consolation….As the father of a daughter lost at birth I appreciate the thoughts in this article. The church must do more to clarify the unborn; through miscarriages and stillbirths.

  3. Avatar Frederick Costello says:

    My wife and I look forward to meeting our five children she miscarried. We assume that they, like all other souls in heaven, have been or will be tested before entering heaven and pray that they respond favorably to the test.

  4. Avatar Kurt Assenmacher says:

    Wow! That was beautiful, and makes so much sense. I love how you reiterated that basic premise of our faith that through suffering comes glory. I say the same many times that God does not make a mistake, and I am now Thankful for the gift of knowing my little advocates, who I never met, are supporting us with a direct line to THE KING.

  5. Thank you!
    We have a Holy Spouses Memorial of the Unborn especially for this purpose: . We also have a special devotion called the Holy Spouses Rosary in line with this: and the 4th mystery description in this book similarly covers the Visitation: . Thanks for your wonderful article and ministry.

  6. Avatar Alice Dugan says:

    Thank you . I suffered two miscarriages and very few knew I lost two babies , at the time . As I volunteer a lot in the pro life community, I see how much help is given to moms who aborted but there’s nothing to help those of us who happily welcomed each baby we conceived and never were permitted to grieve the loss of our precious baby girl or boy . There’s no retreat or ministry for us . Thank you for realizing the need for us to recognize our grief and to properly mourn our children who died within our bodies .

    • Avatar Jim Lee says:

      Elizabeth Ministry is an international movement designed to support women and their families during the joys, trials and sorrows of the childbearing years and beyond. Elizabeth Ministry’s mission is to cherish children, encourage families and build community. We offer peer support, mentoring spiritual nourishment, educational and inspirational resources. Mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents can benefit from Elizabeth Ministry in many areas, which include: pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, regretted abortion, infant or child death, crisis or special needs, adoption, and infertility. Every year around Mother’s Day we have a “Mass for Healing the Grief of Child Loss.” If you or your Pastor want to contact me I will share what we do at our Parish. St. Andrew Catholic Church Eagle River, Alaska. The Mass this year was live streamed and can still be viewed at our FaceBook Page. Deacon Jim Lee:

  7. Avatar Leo Mutchler says:

    Our daughter had two miscarriages. I believe they are in heaven. They have names and I ask them daily to intercede for their parents, brother and us.

  8. Thank you for shedding light on this often forgotten pain. We lost a 15-day old son, a 3-1/2-year-old daughter, and then suffered an 11-week miscarriage. While the church provided compassion and the Christian Rite of burial, our parish and diocese had no resources to provide support to our family. My husband and I suffered so much during these seven years facing loss after loss. Our faith was tested, and our marriage was shaken. We stopped going to mass as I suffered from flashbacks of the tiny coffins at the head of our home parish and struggled with the isolation that grief often brings to individuals. It was the darkest time of our marriage.

    Because of the lack of resources in our church, we were forced to find support through secular organizations and resources. While those resources did help to some degree, we never found happiness. We felt more like we had survived child loss but were miserable. We were not thriving in our marriage, and a wedge-formed in between us called “grief.” The happiness we were searching for was actually joy that only God could provide. But because we were not in sanctifying grace, we did not have the strength to carry this heavy cross.

    In 2017, I was sent on a spiritual journey back to my faith. My husband and I made our Cursillo and found healing through the Sacraments of the Catholic Church. However, we knew then that the missing piece to the puzzle was that the resources we were offered did not address the spiritual component and only looked at grief in the mind and body and didn’t include the soul.

    After our conversion back to the faith, we felt called to help families like ours, and so we went to our diocese for support. Fr. Halphen directed us to do a little research, and I began. But, unfortunately, our search didn’t provide universal resources or programs that we could offer to our families. So, to provide Catholic support, we began to develop resources and formed a non-profit with a mission and a heart to support child loss families and provide resources to the Church.

    In 2019, I documented my conversion story and released my book “Hiding in the Upper Room – How the Catholic Sacraments Healed Me From the Grief of Child Loss.” 2020, we released our signature programs, a grief group study for individuals and couples of child loss, our couples workshop program, and launched our online community for families of child loss. This month, we just released our Restoring Love book, a 33-day guide for couples of child loss consecrated to the Holy Family. Our goal is to provide the resources and tools so that clergy and the laity do not have to take the time to create Catholic resources; now, together, we can serve hearts.

    You can find more information about Red Bird Ministries by visiting

  9. Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

    Dear Julia,

    The Peace of Christ.

    Thank you for your forthright piece on miscarriage, drawing as it does also on your own life and conversion..

    A prayer for those who have lost a child through miscarriage

    Gordon Nary, editor of Profiles in Catholicism, says: “My mother had two miscarriages which has haunted me all my life. Miscarriage is one of the Pregnancy Challenges that we address in this issue. Faith can provide healing and hope, especially during the darkest times like miscarriage. That baby is a child of God, I also thank Francis Etheredge for possibly the most beautiful prayer that I have ever read titled A prayer for those who have lost a child through miscarriage.” A member of the Neocatechumenal Community, to which I belong, said that this “is probably the best writing of yours that I have read.”
    My wife and I had two miscarriages and, in both cases, my wife named the child; the first is called Hilary and the second is called Jordan as, in both cases, we did not know if the child is a boy or a girl.
    Oh Holy Family, at the heart of heaven, dwelling
    Amidst angels uncountable, we turn to you to welcome
    The innocent child who has come to you today.

    We do not wholly understand the passing of one so
    Innocently lost and we entrust our child,
    Unbaptized and full of the beauty of beginning,
    Plunging into your fountainous love, nestling
    In your gathering, outstretched and embracing arms:

    Named in the mystery of Love’s loving to bless:
    In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

    Like the seed awakening in the soil,
    The dew-bright sparkling existence of the
    Gift of a child transplanted into eternal day
    To dwell amidst the extended family of all
    Utterly at peace, happy and blessed beyond telling.

    Oh Holy Mother of God, Virgin Mother of Jesus,
    Take to your maternal heart the child whose life,
    Given without recall by the Creator-Father of all, and
    Enwrap this child, this mother and father and their loss,
    In the folds of gentle love, tending tenderly their pain.

    Oh Joseph, virgin and spouse, foster-father of Jesus,
    You understood being with your wife and child
    Through all the difficulties of life, as long as you lived,
    Give encouragement, wisdom and most of all an
    Understanding heart to all husbands and fathers.

    Oh Jesus Christ, Redeemer of all, opening what is closed,
    Take all our uncertainty, blame, guilt, recriminations,
    All the fruitless bitterness, belittling, and pain,
    And begin again the blessing of your love-in-us:
    The hope of helping others with your help to us.

    Oh Holy Family, at the heart of heaven, dwelling
    Amidst angels unimaginable, we turn to you to turn
    Our mourning into rejoicing and your presence in our loss:
    Help us to hope on coming, too, to meet with love’s not lost,
    Filling our loss with over-spilling thanksgiving
    As we are reunited, as all are, with the company of the blessed.’

    From the forthcoming: “Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers”, to be published by En Route Books and Media at the end of June, 2021:

    If you, or anyone else, would like to endorse the forthcoming book, see the book’s webpage for the “Contents” and write to me for the text:

    God bless, Francis.


  1. […] as a model for Christian life, should not be underestimated. I argue in a recent article on the theology of prenatal life that the conception of Jesus, “the true light” (Jn 1:9), recapitulates the origin of the world: […]