Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Good Shepherd

In my parish, I am fortunate that our pastor hosts an annual retreat for us, so it is easy to attend for someone who cannot otherwise travel very far anymore.  At the outset of my second year of illness, I was in attendance for the talk of a Franciscan priest who spoke following the morning mass.  He said something that deeply impacted me with regard to my condition, about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

I should say before going on, that I had been at peace during that first year of illness with Lyme disease.  It was in fact devastating to my body and my life in many ways, but I had great peace with it, largely because I accepted it as the will of God. 

At the beginning of that second year, however, I was becoming unsettled about it because it had displaced me from a hermitage in which I was discerning a vocation to the religious life.  For women discerning marriage who have the disease, or who are already married and contract the disease, a similar issue of unrest might ensue in learning that a fetus may become infected through the mother. 

For me, I had the sense that suffering the illness was a part of my preparation to enter into a life fully committed to God.  The idea of illness becoming a partial fulfillment of my vocation was very clear in me, realizing that being sick with Lyme disease was in some key ways reminiscent of the design of monastic life, given a defined schedule to which one must adhere, the discipline of maintaining regular exercise, and ascetic diet, for instance… though, the disease has been far stricter than the monastery, and I have always taken this to be meant for the good of my soul.

Yet, there was at the time of my parish retreat, a creeping doubt emerging in me that challenged my hope of ever being able to take vows.  Then there were the words of the Franciscan, which for some hearts may seem disturbing, but to mine were quite soothing.    

He brought to our minds the image of Christ with the lamb laid over His shoulders, the lamb’s legs held by His hands, and the ear of the lamb set in that position very near to the lips of our Lord.  The Franciscan said, sometimes the Lord may Himself be the one to break the legs of the lamb so that the lamb may be brought back into the fold.  I add my own understanding, that He will break the legs and carry her Himself rather than have her be lost to mortal harm. 

This resonated with me, knowing myself and to the degree our Lord has permitted me awareness, the state of my soul.  I could see the need for my “legs to be broken.”  I could see in my case, it being an act of mercy on His part that my legs be held in His hands, and my trust in His plan was restored.  Furthermore, I have experienced that closeness of His lips to my ear throughout.  As you might imagine given the state of life I was discerning, we had been close before, but in truth I must tell you that we have only grown closer and our closeness has penetrated much deeper in and through my experience of this illness. 

For those reading who do not share my perspective, I will add that sometimes a lamb is lost because she is broken.  She does not have the heart or the will to follow Him, and if she does not wish to follow, if she does not want to be with Him, He will not force her, but He remains with her at the distance she maintains.  If and when she is ready, when she calls out for Him, He is waiting to gather her to His heart…

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

God On The Cross

So far, writing about the cross of Christ has been a difficult blessing.  The same may be said for bearing that cross, which it is necessary to distinguish from other crosses that are not of Christ.  There are distinctions to be made among sufferings, and it is necessary to discern the origins of the crosses we find ourselves bearing. 

For instance, there are those given to the bearer by God, entrusted to them by God for a purpose that ultimately serves the fulfillment of His plan for human redemption and salvation.  An example of this could be Padre Pio’s stigmata.  Then there are those we bear that arise as a result of our choices and the decisions made by others that affect us.  Such as, texting while driving and crashing into someone.  If we’re the one texting, we find ourselves bearing the weight of guilt for having paralyzed the pedestrian we ran over, and if we’re the one who’s been run over, we’re bearing the burden of now being paralyzed.

To be clear, the crosses we bring upon ourselves or others, or those others bring upon us, may all become crosses of Christ in and through our manner of bearing them.      

With Lyme disease, we can review our actions and at some point try to take the blame for our affliction by telling ourselves it was our choice to do whatever it is we were doing when we were infected.  Riding the bike too near to the reeds, walking the dog in the woods, mowing the lawn that day… Do we blame the tick?  For about 2 minutes.  Do we at some point blame God?

Did God will that the texter be texting and driving?  Not really.  She was permitted to do this because of her freewill and her actions caused great suffering in guilt to herself and to the one who was paralyzed by her actions.  Did God permit the pedestrian to be struck by her vehicle and paralyzed?  Yes.  Why?

Ultimately, He will permit and employ whatever means we construct by our actions and dispositions to lead us to Him.  Though He is not the cause of our affliction, He will use our affliction to draw us close to Him because He desires nothing more than our union with Him. 

So, back to Lyme, it is unlikely any of us rolled around in the grass with the intention of being infected any more so than the pedestrian crossing the street intended to be hit by a car.  Did we bring this cross upon ourselves?  Probably not.  Did God permit it?  Yes.  Why?  To draw us to Him…

Our response will determine where we stand.  Will we, like the thief who mocked Jesus on the cross, suffer our suffering in derision against Him?  Will we turn away from Him in anger?  Or will we realize our weakness and call out to Him for strength?  Like the good thief who was crucified beside Him, will we in our most desperate agony of mind, heart or body, see ourselves as we are and God there on the cross with us?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Morning Prayer

As we approach Holy Week, the readings of the Liturgy of the Hours are pointedly about the trials that Jesus would endure in His Passion.  Today in Morning Prayer, we read from Isaiah 52:14, “so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals.”

Again, we are given to consider the state of the human soul in sin through a corporeal image; that of Christ’s body marred beyond recognition in appearance as a man, having taken the burden of all of human sin upon His body.  Not only is the torture to which He was subjected by humanity an expression of human sin, but the very marks, punctures and gouges themselves etch the story of human sin upon His flesh for all to see.  Furthermore, His death is a result of this very thing, which His suffering also makes clear for us.  That is, that sin leads to suffering and death.

Now, what else occurred during Christ’s suffering and dying?  Pain.  Pain, we must imagine, beyond all pain, for indeed His suffering and death was meant to atone for the sins of all humankind for all time.  And for that magnitude of atonement and expiation, the pain, to accomplish its purifying work, must be exceedingly excruciating, and encompass all manner of human suffering.          

As we are each touched in our own way by suffering, and with Lyme disease it is that we suffer in every manner of human suffering, not only in the body but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually as well, we find in Jesus one who has known our affliction.  In His trials we are given to see some element of our own, and in our own, if we seek Him, we shall find Christ in the midst of them with us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Holy Card Heaven

It is with joy, O my God, that I carry the cross!

With much gratitude and prayer for many blessings to the apostolate of Holy Card Heaven, I post this card from their collection.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Prayer for Daniel

When I was first diagnosed, within a window of four weeks I had between identifying the infection and being incapacitated by it, I attended a public health hearing devoted solely to the discussion of Lyme disease.  Patients were invited to speak before a panel convened by the county health commissioner about their cases and experiences.  I was there mainly to listen, and to support a friend who was going to give testimony.

After listening to a woman offer yards of data obtained from the coroner’s office on Lyme-related death and further data on the number of Lyme-related suicides, my friend approached the podium to tell his story.  The man who had at that time been struggling for some 25 years with humiliation, debilitation, pain and increasing poverty, who groped for words in our own conversations due to the cognitive impairment or ‘brain fog’ that often follows from infection, stood before the panel and spoke coherently, temperately and compellingly of his case.  As I watched and listened, knowing him otherwise, it was clear to me that God in His mercy had rested His hand upon this man, conferring at this time the grace to speak. 

As if that was not enough, He then proceeded to steal the show in the following speaker’s presentation. 

A young man of 21 approached the rostrum, leaned forward a bit and asked, “Can my mother come up here with me?”  Then, with his mother there beside him, he told his story.  Infected at age 11, given one month of oral antibiotic.  Infected again at age 13, given one month of oral antibiotic.  At age 15 he began hallucinating.  Subsequently he was diagnosed with psychiatric illness and admitted to hospital where he remained for several years, not improving but getting worse.  Eventually, someone thought to test him for Lyme disease and he tested positive.  With antibiotic therapy the hallucinations ceased. 

He told this story slowly and carefully as his cognitive ability was still significantly compromised by the infection.  His meekness reminded me of Jesus, yet the God-like thing about his testimony was not only that, nor simply that he wanted his mother there, but that with her there, as she stood listening to him tell the story, her face taut with grief, he said to the panel and emphasized, “It’s not the doctors’ fault.  They didn’t know.”  As Christ nailed to the cross before His mother stood and said, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”   

Today, once more, I would like to offer a prayer for Daniel who revealed the presence of Christ in this disease before me and all who were there that day.  The following from Psalm 123 comes to mind:

“To you have I lifted up my eyes, you who dwell in the heavens: my eyes, like the eyes of slaves on the hand of their lords.  Like the eyes of a servant on the hand of her mistress, so our eyes are on the Lord our God till he show us his mercy.  Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.”          

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jesus and the Lepers

This morning on Mother Angelica Classics, Mother spoke of the cleansing of the ten lepers as told in the Gospel according to Luke 17:11-19.  Her focus was on the gratitude of the one, a Samaritan leper, who returned to thank Jesus for his healing.  Yet I would like to elaborate on something else she emphasized in her commentary, that being that Jesus told the lepers to go and show themselves to the priests before they had been healed. 

While they were still lepers, they were to make the journey to the temple and upon arriving there show to the priests that they had been cleansed of their disease.  This means they would have had to proceed in faith that they would be healed by the time they arrived at the house of the Lord.  Such faith would imply trust in Jesus’ power to cleanse them should they follow His will in obedience, undertaking for their part the labor of making the journey.  

In Scripture, the case of the leper is often used to depict a corporeal image of the human soul.  The decaying body of the leper is a visual representation of the soul’s affliction in sin and a manifestation of it.  This does not mean that everyone who was or is afflicted with leprosy was or is guilty of committing grave sin and has contracted the disease as a result, but it is, as with any human disease, an effect of sin generally and globally if not specifically, that is the condition into which humankind is born.  

As such, the healing of the leper is representative of the healing of the human soul.  The cleansing of the leper is representative of the purification of the soul.  Indeed, as body and soul are united in humanity, through the body the soul may be degraded or restored. 

When Jesus Christ took upon Himself the body, suffering and death, He in rising to new life passing through affliction, made the way for us to follow and do likewise.  As we now suffer in the body, the labor of our journey may bear out for us, degradation of both body and soul, or ultimately, the restoration of such.  It is a matter of the disposition of the heart and mind, a matter of faith and trust in Jesus’ power to cleanse us in and through our afflictions as we make our way to the house of the Lord that will bear out our end.

Our journey can be one of hope and joy in embracing the will of the Lord for us, in passing through this time of affliction in the trust that He is healing and preparing us to stand before God fully cleansed.