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Soul Sisters: A Story of Joy and Sorrow View Comments
By Colleen Connell Mitchell

AS A YOUNG Catholic wife, when I opened my heart to the Lord’s plan for our family life and the children God had in store for us, I immediately began to imagine the life that lay ahead. I imagined the announcements of pregnancies and the reactions of others.

I imagined my belly swollen with life as I grabbed the hands of active toddlers in parks and playgrounds. I imagined a table full of little ones, heads bowed as we prayed grace before meals.

I thought about all those little bodies bathed and dressed in printed pajamas, snuggled peacefully in bed for the night. I practiced responses to the shocked faces in the grocery store, and I prepared for the challenges those grocery trips would present.

As the Lord began to reveal his plan for our family, I prayed through each pregnancy, grateful for the opportunity to bear another little soul for God’s glory. I offered myself and this growing little one to him without reserve. Never once did I regret my decision to leave the plan for our family in the Lord’s hands through the wisdom of the Catholic Church.

As I became the mother to five little boys in 10 years, that plan played itself out pretty much the way I had imagined. My journey as the mother of a growing Catholic family had brought with it all the joys and challenges I had imagined, as well as many, many others. I grew in my faith more than I would have ever guessed. My marriage had been blessed, and my heart was overwhelmed at God’s generosity over and over again.

When my husband, sons and I found ourselves expecting our sixth son 12 years into our marriage, I was full of joy. I was overwhelmed at God’s surprising and sweet plan for our family. He had written the script for this life I got to live every day, and it was a life that I loved.

In my dreams of our family life, the one thing I had never expected was sorrow. In all my prayers to offer little souls to God, one thing I had never considered was that God might ask me to give one back before I was ready.

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Colleen Connell Mitchell is a freelance writer and the homeschooling mom of five sons. She lives and writes from southern Louisiana where she and her family minister in their local parish. It is her hope that, in sharing her story of loss and her faith journey through it, other Catholic mothers will be encouraged to trust in God’s loving plan for their family even in the most difficult of circumstances.

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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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