Monday, August 29, 2011

Atonement and Bodily Oblation

During these past seven days, I’ve been reading from blog to blog several thoughts on Saint Rose of Lima, whose feast day was last Tuesday. From this I gleaned that people have a hard time accepting the penances and mortifications Rose self-inflicted, because of their severity, the very fact of being self-administered, and their leading to greater affliction by weakening her such that she was susceptible to illness and fell ill.

For a person struggling to live with chronic disease by no choosing of her own, it is especially hard to accept that someone would bring this misery upon herself. I know I wouldn’t be able to do it. I knew this even before I got sick, as I distinctly remember at the time of my conversion to the faith, realizing the magnitude of my errors and faults, that I would in no way be able to select appropriate penances for myself, not possessing the constitution of a saint such as Rose for self-affliction. So, I put it in the hands of God, asking that He should choose my penances for me, trusting as well that He would provide the grace by which I might bear them.

The desire to atone for sin is itself, a grace imparted by God. It is upon such grace that a saint like Rose would desire to wear a metal ring with spikes pressing inward upon her skull as Christ bore the crown of thorns, and likewise, that I myself would desire to atone in any manner chosen for me by God. God knows each soul intimately, knowing the purpose for which He has called it to exist, knowing the unique portion of the work of redemption each soul is allotted to complete as a member of the mystical Body of Christ, to complete, as Saint Paul says, “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24) And so, God gives not only the commission but the grace to accomplish the mission.

If anyone clearly demonstrates the relationship between atonement for sin and offering of the body to the cause of atonement and sanctification it is John the Baptist.

Window from St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Roman Catholic Church
Long Island, NY
John is the first Christian penitent, the great model and prototype who portrays for us the heart of one totally devoted to the salvific mission of Christ, one who is set by grace and his own willingness to embrace the task for which he was created for the sake of the salvation of souls. Though not known to have raised a hand against himself or anyone else for any purpose other than blessing and baptizing, we are privy to knowing a couple of John’s bodily mortifications through scriptural accounts, them being the wearing of the camel hair shirt and the diet of locusts. 

John’s martyrdom at the hands of King Herod is his final oblation.  He accepts this as a matter of course, abiding in his mission to “go before the Lord and prepare his way.” (Luke 1:76) John knows, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) In this, he states what is true for all who follow, which is to say that we are all to strive toward the increase of Christ in us. For those of us who have been commissioned to a vocation of illness in some part, we may profit toward accomplishing this end by the manner and disposition in which we embrace our cross.

Although the cases of Rose and John appear to be extraordinary, it is no less true that each of us are called to an extraordinary oblation, for every one of us is given a singular work to fulfill in the project of redemption that no other human being is fashioned to accomplish. For many of you reading this blog, it may be that a portion of your work is to be accomplished in the manner that you accept, embrace, and live the fact of chronic illness. This is not to say that you should strive to maintain a state of disease, but that the portion of affliction you are entrusted by God through His permitting or ordaining will be offered as an oblation for His use in fulfilling the great work He has set about achieving in your soul as well as that of its contribution to the broader work of human salvation.  

On this day in which we honor the martyrdom of John the Baptist, let’s consider where we stand in the project of our own conversion, in light of God’s grace and gifts to us for the sake of our sanctification, and render our willingness to follow where He has led us to achieve this great purpose. Though at times we may find ourselves in a desert alone in the midst of our affliction, take heart that before us John was there, and following him, Christ was there, and truly is there with us.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Rosebud

By Pierre Joseph Redoute (1759-1840)
It is only a tiny rosebud, a flower of His design,
but I cannot unfold the petals
with these clumsy hands of mine.
The secret of unfolding flowers
is not known to such as I; the rose God opens so sweetly
in my hands would fade and die.
If I cannot unfold the rosebud, the flower of His design,
what makes me think I have wisdom
to unfold this life of mine?
So I'll trust Him for His leading
each moment of every day
and I'll look to Him for courage
each step of the pilgrim way.
For the path that lies before me,
my heavenly Father knows;
I'll trust Him to unfold the moments
just as He unfolds the rose.

-- Anonymous

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Queenship of Mary

“She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her,” writes Caryll Houselander of Mary in The Reed of God.
Not long before I got sick, I was assigned through an academic internship to spend some time with people who had been referred to my care by their doctors. All of them were sick and most of them were dying. They were all grieving in various ways, various issues they had yet to resolve. Some wrestled with leaving young children behind, while others were much older and coping with spousal bereavement on top of the losses and loneliness they were experiencing through their own ill health.
Among them, however, was one who did not seem to struggle as the others did. And, in my opinion, her situation was by far the worst. Of course, to honor my promise of confidentiality I cannot tell you her story, but I will tell you of my own struggle.
It is difficult to see a person nailed to a cross in any case, but in a case where the place that person is nailed is hell, it is all a body can do to hold back from taking that person and their cross, throwing them over your shoulder and making a run for it. Sure, keep the cross, but can’t we move it somewhere nicer?
I would tempt this woman with the better life she could have if only she would relocate. It was just too much, what she was bearing… too much for my heart. At each visit, she would greet me cheerfully with a cup of tea and a chocolate, or a bowl of soup, mingling stories of fond memories with tales of woe she was currently enduring, her Bible always at hand on the table where we sat.
Clinically, she was no masochist. Moreover, she was perfectly lucid and aware of her situation, much more so than any of the others. She was where she was for a reason, a good reason, and at the time, I had difficulty accepting that. I let her be and stay as she was, but ended our sessions feeling as though I had failed in that, because nothing had changed for her. 
Some months later, bent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament on the Marian feast day of the Visitation, I was struck with the insight, the admonition really, that in the person of this woman, I had tried to remove Jesus from the cross. That realization sliced right through me when it came. Boy, did I fail! Thankfully, my own failure to recognize Christ so profoundly present in her did not alter the fulfillment of her mission to be His presence in the midst of that place.
I am sorry now that because I couldn’t get past my desire for her relief from that suffering, I was unable to share more deeply with her that cup which Our Lady shared in full with Our Lord, Jesus. This is but one of the reasons why Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven and we honor her today, because “[s]he would not try to take away His suffering. In this she was more than one with Him.” (The Reed of God)
It is the grief and inner struggle every care giver, friend, mother, father, wife, husband, and child is called by God to engage in loving a person who is long suffering and/or dying slowly, to be with them, simply be with them until it is finished.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Prayer Request

For several years now, my friend Frank has been living with one form of cancer or another, fighting the good fight to overcome the malignant cells, and growing deeper in friendship with our Lord through his struggles. In January of this year, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and told he had a few months left to live. He spent that time preparing to meet Jesus face to face, loving his family and friends, and praying for others. Yet that time has come and gone, and he remains among us.

During the last few weeks, however, Frank's condition has changed. Whether it's in addition to the cancer, or whether it has been a misdiagnosis of cancer, it has been found that he is harboring a rare type of infection which is now causing too great a pressure between his skull and brain, and as I write this, he is being admitted for surgery to relieve that pressure.

His daughter has asked me to ask everyone for prayers, so I am asking for your prayers for my friend Frank and his family.  Thank you all in advance...     

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Happiness of the Saints

A gorgeous exposition of the attitude best suited to living in peace with chronic illness by Jean-Pierre de Caussade in today’s Magnificat meditation:

Shall I never succeed with the help of grace in instilling into your mind and still more into your heart this great principle of faith, so sweet, so consoling, so loving, and so pacifying? We ought often to pray: My God, may all your most holy intentions be accomplished in me and never my own; may they be accomplished because while infinitely just in themselves they are also infinitely advantageous for me. May my own will never be accomplished except when it is in perfect agreement with yours because otherwise it can only be harmful to me. If ever, my God, it should happen through ignorance or passion that I persist in desires contrary to yours, may I be disappointed....

When one is illuminated by heavenly light, one thinks very differently from most men, but what a source of peace, what power one finds in this way of thinking and looking at things! How happy are the saints, how peacefully they live, and what miserable blind fools we are not to be willing to train ourselves to think as they do, preferring to be entombed in the thick darkness of this accursed human wisdom... Let us study how to give all our care and attention to the task of conforming ourselves in all things to the holy will of God in spite of interior revolt. That revolt itself must be accepted in obedience to the will of God which permits it in order to accustom us to remain at all times and in all circumstances before him in a state of sacrifice... with a self-abandonment full of confidence.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Season

My illness, at the beginning, made short work of me. I was rendered utterly unable to fight my own battle. I needed nurses and doctors, IV’s and pills, ports and props. Yet, only some distant part of me knew this—that’s how far gone I was. I would gladly have drifted into oblivion, given the lethal nature of my Rocky Mountain co-infection, but it just wasn’t my time.

After the initial crisis passed, I was left profoundly debilitated by Lyme disease, both mentally and physically. When the light of heaven receded and I drew again closer to myself than I had been while in the throes of acute infection, I was left to fight my portion of the battle. It was the part that only I could fight. The drugs were doing their part, the nurses and the doctors theirs, heaven was doing its part, and I had to do mine.

It was a constant siege for a long time, exhausting in itself, even apart from being ill. There was the fatigue of illness and the fatigue of battle. Physical, emotional, and spiritual warfare carried on without end for days and days which became months and months, which became years and years. To this day the battle continues, with a brief lull here and there, though I can honestly say, I can’t remember the last time there wasn’t an infection of some sort plaguing me, literally one after another, two at a time, sometimes three.

But I am here today to speak of a battle just won. For the first time since the initial infection, I have overcome a bout of spirochete proliferation without the aid of antibiotics, using my very own immune system to do the deadly deed. For about nine days I grew worse and worse and worse, the battle raging in me to destroy the flourish of Lyme bacteria, and then began the labor of clearing the field of the dead, which continues as I write, nine days after the crucial turning point, for a total of eighteen days, today.

In the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Looks as though, I've entered a new season. And for days now, I've had this tune in mind... Enjoy!

Monday, August 8, 2011


Dominican Nun of Corpus Christi Monastery
Bronx, New York

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Prayer & Sorrows

Albrecht Durer
"Hands of the Apostle"; 1508
My little children, your hearts are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun. (Saint John Vianney)