This article was previously published in Sword & Spade Magazine.
Pablo Gonzalez, Fraternus Captain and prolific father, experienced the power of a father’s priestly voice.
Have you ever walked away from a serious car accident? You are bumped and bruised, nothing serious, but your car is totaled. You look around confused and disoriented, make sure all parties are fine, are dismayed at the condition of your car, your heart sinks, but you are grateful to be in one piece. All you can do is thank God for protecting you. As days pass, the shock wears off and you replay many scenes from the accident in your head — “ah, yes, my light was green and I heard screeching, I honked, felt the impact, my car spun off the road…” Eventually, as days become weeks and months, it just becomes another experience, an important event in your life you survived.
My wife Elena’s and my eighth child, Jacinta Terezia, was born on October 17, 2021. It was a spiritual car crash. In fact, her time on earth, from conception to birth, was exhausting. Our seventh, Alfonso, is almost 3 years old. In between them, Elena lost 3 pregnancies. Somewhere in the range of 6 to 9 weeks along, and always painful, both physically and emotionally. We really thought God was telling us that we would have no more children. You would think with six handsome boys and one beautiful girl it would be easy to accept, yet there was a real sadness of loss, of something left unfulfilled. After the last miscarriage, I woke up one day somber and told my wife “I am so confused as to God’s will. I had a dream I was holding a little girl.”
Then, we got pregnant with Jacinta, and I firmly believe the evil one was after her from the day of conception. My wife immediately had complications. We interviewed several midwives, no one seemed like a great fit. From our fallen away family or non-Catholic acquaintances we got those looks and comments. “Again?!” “Don’t they understand God has already given them enough?” And of course, the idiotic “funny” comments, “well, well, you know how that happens, huh?” “You’ve got great swimmers man!” and my all-time favorite, “is it possibly time for ‘snip snip’ Pablo?” complete with the scissors gesture. The positive flip side to it was that many, many people offered to help — prayer warriors from our church, family, friends, even colleagues, prayed incessantly for my wife. People made meals and some even gave us gift cards for groceries, it truly was touching to see.
Physically, it was very difficult for Elena, so we decided on bed rest, and for the first 9 weeks she rarely left the bed. I worked my job, cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and drove kids to activities and Mass, etc. (You know things are rough when children under 14 say “Oh no, pizza again?!”) And the devil was relentless. The majority of my income is commission-based, and sales took a dive. I was exhausted, temperamental, and distraught at my wife’s suffering. “Jesus, I trust in you” is all we could say after venting our failure to understand God’s will.
Once we made it through the first trimester, things changed considerably. Elena had energy, she felt better physically and emotionally. With the last 3 losses, we had never made it that far, so things felt as if we were headed in the right direction. The next 23 weeks or so were hard but not impossible. We met a truly loving and caring midwife team, who were very charitable, but every so often Elena would have a setback (as she suffers from Colitis and Chron’s). Almost always, within a couple of days, she bounced back on her feet. When we went to our 35-week appointment, we were told the baby was fine but very low. We really needed to make it to 37 weeks to have this baby at home, to use the midwives we had chosen and also have another beautiful home-birth experience. We chose to have Elena go on bedrest again. Prayer warriors sharpened their weapons and went off to battle for us once more. When we hit the 37-week mark, which meant no hospital intervention, we felt an incredible relief. “Get away from me Satan,” was all I could think, we made it!
Five days before the due date, Elena’s water broke, so we prepared: I started inflated the birthing tub, we called the midwives, and got everything ready. After hours of laboring, the baby was ready to arrive in the wee hours of the night. The midwives showed up, one started filming every so often and working with Elena. My amazing wife was a champ, praying and focused.
When baby arrived, the midwife assistant gave the baby to Elena, with excitement, “it’s a girl, it’s a girl!” Myself, I was in shock. In fact, you can see my face in the video, which cuts off about 10 seconds after — it was a face of horror. The midwife filming dropped the phone and said, “Give me the baby!” and took her from Elena. Jacinta’s body was gray, appeared lifeless, her limbs moving like a doll.
Immediately the two ladies went to work, and my wife started praying loudly, asking God for help. My father-in-law had taken the older three boys to Mass, and my mother-in-law had stayed with the four little ones downstairs. I ran down the stairs and told her in Spanish “Ninnette, get the kids out of the house! Go next door, take them in the car, go anywhere, just go!” All I could think of was an ambulance and a dead baby’s body being taken out in front of them. I ran back upstairs, and Elena said, “Holy water, give me the Holy water!” which I did, and she baptized her. The midwives were amazing, working hard to revive her. At first, one put her mouth over the baby’s nose and mouth, sucking and spitting out fluids. The other was doing compressions and listening carefully for the heartbeat. Elena was praying Memorares out loud, asking Our Lord and Our Lady to intervene. She asked me to get more Holy water, and in true Cuban-American male fashion, I poured the whole gallon over Jacinta’s head, which caused her to flinch. And still the ladies were working on her, one calling out that she got a heartbeat, and counting — 110, 120, 130, and she was coming back little by little.
The Reality of Things
I am a revert. I was away from the Faith for over a decade and married in my mid 30’s. I have seen quite a bit of traumatic things in my life, but I have never felt such excruciating pain and impotence as I did when I thought my baby was dying. I was begging God to take me instead. I literally got on top of my bed and took our Crucifix down, got on my knees and prayed. I squeezed it so hard I almost broke it. “Lord please, not this Cross Lord, please!”
And then the most extraordinary experience of my life happened. I heard the Holy Spirit tell me to call her by name. We had not known the sex of the baby but had been thinking about a few girl names —Gemma, Teresa, Jacinta. “Say her name,” I kept hearing, but I was confused and in shock. But it seems beyond clear that I heard, again, “Say her name.” And then after a few seconds, like thunder I heard “SAY…HER… NAME!!” At that moment, I said in a loud, stern voice, not screaming but like you would reprimand a child, “JACINTA!” Immediately, she gave her first cry! I said her name the same way twice, and each time, she cried out.
Eventually she stabilized, and little by little turned bright pink. Then, she started breastfeeding perfectly and did so all night. For those of you who have children, you know about the Apgar score. At birth Jacinta’s was a 1, one hour later a 9.5. Once things settled over the next couple of days, and we spoke to the midwives about the birth, we found out that this spiritual car crash was all of seven minutes.
Everything happens for the good of our soul, and I will say that I have three specific takeaways from this experience. Firstly — life is fragile. Yes, we hear this all the time, especially in the time of COVID, but we don’t believe it, or we simply ignore it. We live as if we are immortal, we eat and drink as if tomorrow will never come, we don’t exercise, follow doctor’s orders, drive with caution, or get up from the couch. Fragile doesn’t even begin to cut it. We are not guaranteed even our next seconds.
Secondly, I know the power of prayer, specifically, communal prayer. How many times did a parishioner, friend, colleague say to me, “We lit a votive candle for Elena and the
We live as if we are immortal…but fragile doesn’t even begin to describe it.
baby,” “I went to Adoration and heard our Blessed Mother say everything will be fine,” “We offered a Mass for Elena,” and countless “Elena and the baby were in the intentions of our nightly Rosary”? Prayers work; ask and you shall receive. Communal prayers work even better, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” I joked that the whole Parish would be the Godparents, as they were the reason she was here.
Lastly, for me, the greatest takeaway from this experience is that, not only is the spiritual battle true and real, but I am the spiritual leader of the house, I am the priest of the house. How many times as Catholic men we hear this and say “yes, that’s right!” and nod to each other in testosterone-y agreement. Yet, we don’t truly believe it. It is mom who says, “time for the Rosary,” or who after Mass says, “stay for a few minutes and give thanks, you have Jesus in you,” or “take it to Our Lord in Adoration.” This does not mean we are not good examples to our children; we are by practicing the Sacraments, being good husbands, praying in front of our kids, etc. However, the reality of what we are as fathers is tough. It seems we don’t fully accept our true leadership position, and sometimes we even joke about it. I had a priest, Father Benjamin, tell me this all the time, especially in Confession. “Pablo, remember you are the spiritual leader of your house,” to which I would reply, in my best Maury Povich DNA test result voice “Pablo, you ARE the spiritual leader!” All kidding aside, we just do not believe it because we do not understand the power of spiritual leadership, the power of taking charge in the supernatural realm. It is the difference between a soldier and a general. They are both courageous fighters, but the latter leads. I may not have consecrated hands nor can administer the Sacraments, but I can defend my family from the evil one.
The day after Jacinta’s birth, when we talked to our priest about the experience, he made an interesting point that the devil is trying to extinguish these perfect lights of God, as he did with Jacinta, these perfect little babies that make it to birth. When I mentioned that I called out “JACINTA!” not in anger but sternly, he said “A father reclaiming his daughter from the devil.” Here, for the first time, I understood that not only is the spiritual battle real, but the only way we are going to win it is if us fathers accept the power that Catholic fatherhood bestows upon us. As Jesus, the perfect priest, calls many in the gospels by name — Martha, Zacchaeus, Mary and even Lazarus — as the priest of my house, I have the power to reclaim my child. By name.
Saint Jacinta and Saint Therese, pray for us!