Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"The God of all Comfort"

I went today to attend mass in the small chapel of a local shrine where I was scheduled to meet with the priest after lunch.  Taking my seat near the front, the place filled to capacity as usual and I was surrounded by sniffles and coughs and throats thickly coated with phlegm. 

For the first three years of my illness with Lyme disease, I ignored my doctor’s orders about this situation, remaining firmly planted in the congregation despite all manner of sneezing and wheezing and hacking, contracting every airborne infection in the vicinity due to the compromised state of my immune system, taking months to recover while a healthy person would be sick for a week or two.  I’ve also been through priests’ fingers accidentally touching my tongue in the reception of communion whereby I would promptly succumb to whatever germ was on the fingers and in the mouth he touched before mine.     

The issue is not only the misery of bearing a cold for a few months, but the strain put upon the immune system, and the crippling in fighting capacity with regard to Lyme infection.  It becomes a real setback. 

So today, I left.  A year ago I would’ve stayed, praying not to get sick, unwilling to accept the fact that my particular frailty would bar me from being present at the table of my Lord and from communion with Him. 

In addition to that, there is the sense that no one understands why I am leaving when mass is about to begin, and I am looked upon as though something is wrong with me, rightly so.  The priest passes me on his way to the chapel as I am walking from it.  “You’re leaving?” he asks puzzled. 

I ascended to the rock where the statue of Our Lady is perched and I prayed, distracted by the fluster in my heart.  Eventually I opened the book I brought to read between mass and my meeting, opening to where I had left it yesterday.  I read:  “Janine shivered and wrapped her thick black coat tightly around her.  For over an hour, she peered through the glass door of the auditorium, eager to catch a glimpse of her children as they performed in the school Christmas concert.  Lord, I feel like a leper.  Must I always be on the outside looking in? 

I was there with her.    

The author, Judy Gann, went on to explain that Janine suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity, which would cause her to become violently ill in contact with the fumes of fragrances worn by the audience.  She then reminded me of what I needed to remember, when I needed to remember it, writing:

“In a culture that loathes blemishes, there is little room for those who aren’t ‘perfect.’  The value of those who suffer from illness is often perceived as less, yet that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In the eyes of God, we are precious jewels.  God delights in us.  He purchased us with the sacrificial blood of his own Son.  His love for us is unconditional – not based on our abilities and achievements – or our health.  When our worth is measured according to worldly standards, we may feel like outcasts – peering into the windows of the lives of others who can do more.  But looking through the eyes of God, regardless of our state of health, we are cherished treasures.” 

Truly, ours is ‘the God of all comfort,’ so called by the title of Ms. Gann’s book.   

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