Saturday, September 10, 2016

How to Suffer Gracefully in the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

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JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Suffering is definitely a word most people want to erase from their consciousness and their vocabulary, especially when describing one's own life or those dear to us. Yet, we all know that life entails suffering and it is inevitable.   People can have all sorts of material possessions, seemingly glamorous lives, or live in beautiful surroundings, but are still unable to escape the reality of being crushed in some way by life's circumstances, by the unexpected.  Suffering finds us all, regardless of wealth, status, genetics, connections, faith, race, nationality, gender, etc.  And  suffering is unique to each individual and comes in a myriad of forms.

Fortunately, Christians have been given a roadmap for how to embrace suffering and behave in such moments. Jesus tells us,  If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"  [Mt 16:24-26] Jesus guarantees suffering in this life, but also promises eternal reward.  St. Peter explains it further in his First Letter, "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." [1 Peter 2:21]

Yet, when push comes to shove, when we find ourselves suffering due to grief and loss, physical and/or emotional pain, mental or physical illness, loneliness, unemployment, dysfunctional relationships, etc. it can be hard to know how to proceed and succeed in our call to carry our Cross. For me, I have had some time these past few months to ponder the true meaning of this call and  believe that the saints who have walked the journey before us, give us the blueprint to suffering gracefully and joyfully. 

I turn to the most recent saint in our Church, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who suffered spiritually, physically, and emotionally for nearly 50 years. She saw such abject poverty and rejection of those dying in the streets. She experienced all of these scourges herself in so many ways in the dark night of her soul, in her own poverty, and the constant need to beg for the needs of her sisters and her patients. Yet, she never gave up and saw suffering as a great gift from God. She tells us, 

Today the passion of Christ is being relived in the lives of those who suffer. To accept that suffering is a gift of God.

Suffering is not a punishment. God does not punish.
Suffering is a gift—--though, like all gifts, it depends on how we receive it. And that is why we need a pure heart---to see the hand of God, to feel the hand of God, to recognize the gift of God in our suffering.

Suffering is not a punishment. Jesus does not punish.
Suffering is a sign—--a sign that we have come so close to Jesus on the cross, that He can kiss us, show that He is in love with us, by giving us an opportunity to share in His passion.
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Christ came to share in our suffering. Christ allows us to share in His suffering. Whatever we suffer He has suffered. He understands our suffering. And our suffering that is shared with the innocent suffering of Christ on the Cross is a gift of God. How is our suffering a gift of God? Suffering becomes a gift when we have the courage to accept whatever God allows, permits, sends or gives with a smile. When we can still smile through our suffering, it means that Christ is still with us. And we do not become frustrated, resentful, angry and/or bitter. That is a gift of God. It is also a blessing because our trust in Christ and our patient endurance of suffering encourage others to face and accept with courage their own suffering with Christ. We need to remember that when we share in Christ’s suffering we also share in His glory. So, we must never allow our suffering to fill us with so much sorrow and bitterness as to make us forget the joy of the risen Christ. Indeed, suffering can become a means to greater love, greater empathy and greater generosity.

She offers more insights into how to suffer illness or desolation: "Those of you who are sick, when things are hard, take refuge in Christ’s heart. There my own heart will find with you strength and love."  

"Suffering will never be completely absent from our lives. So don’t be afraid of suffering. Your suffering is a great means of love, if you make use of it, especially if you offer it for peace in the world. Suffering in and of itself is useless, but suffering that is shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift and a sign of love. Christ’s suffering proved to be a gift, the greatest gift of love, because through his suffering our sins were atoned for. Suffering, pains sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that He can kiss you."

"At the moment of death, we will not be judged by the amount of work we have done but by the weight of love we have put into our work. This love should flow from self—sacrifice and it must be felt to the point of hurting."  

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Surrender is true love. The more we surrender, the more we love God and souls. If we really love souls, we must be ready to take their place, to take their sins upon us and expiate them. We must be living holocausts, for the souls need us as such.
(The Love of Christ: Spiritual Counsels, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 103).              

"The important thing, is not to waste suffering. Join it to the suffering of Christ; offer it up with his suffering. Don't waste suffering ."

To recap the wisdom of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, we must remember the following in the midst of sufferings:

1. Recognize suffering as a gift;
2. Accept whatever God allows or sends to us with a smile;
3. Take refuge in Christ's heart;
4. Do not waste suffering, but surrender to it;
5. Give of self to the point of hurting - take the place of others

May it be so.  St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us! 

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Musings from an Inefficient Bystander

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JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

These days, I am reminded every moment of my dependence upon God, for my very breath, my life, my every step, literally. Since I have extensive nerve damage in my legs from neurological Lyme Disease, when I go out of the house, I usually do so with a wheelchair tucked in the trunk of the car.  Through the kindness of countless family members, friends, and even strangers, I  navigate through the outside world on wheels right now, sitting just a little bit lower than every one else, and depending on the goodness of so many to get me to where I need to go.  In other words, I am not my self-sufficient self. Wow ! What a revelation! What a humbling, glorious experience!  

In Psalm 131, we read in the ascent of David, 
LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.a
2Rather, I have stilled my soul,
Like a weaned child to its mother,
       weaned is my soul.b 

Indeed. You want to talk about simplifying. This is it. I am seeing the world through different eyes - the eyes of a child because there are so many things I just can't do right now. Just to clarify, this isn't about having a pity party, and this isn't about giving up hope. I have every expectation that I will recover from this or at least have enough healing to not need the use of a wheelchair, God willing. However, for the time being, it is a very new and in some ways liberating experience. You know, the chance I have to realize that not only was I never perfect, but I never will be. The experience that teaches me that I don't need to have every detail of my day planned, or be able to handle whatever comes my way. I can actually surrender and give some control to others, to God maybe even.  To trust Him, His journey for me, and the process.  Hmmm. Lip service is so much easier than the real deal, isn't it? 

Anyway, I just wanted to write some observations and graces that I have received this summer, during this unusual time.  I am still able to drive limited distances which is a great blessing, enabling me to transport my daughter when needed since she is still 15, and to get to Mass.  One morning, as I was getting ready to get on the highway to go those two short exits, I was talking to myself, "Oh no. I forgot to text one of my friends to wait and meet me in the parking lot so that I can get wheeled into church."  I heard a voice within me say, "Candida, don't you know that I am arranging everything for you? Don't worry. Everything you need will be taken care of. Trust me."  Just as Our Lord promised, as soon as I arrived in the parking lot and got situated in the handicapped space, a dear friend was walking right there in front of the car and came over to offer help in getting the chair out of the back and transporting me in. I was truly humbled and amazed. As if this were not enough, after Mass a gentleman I had never seen before came over and asked me, 'What can I do for you today and where do you want to go?' Well, I had been secretly pining to stay after Mass and not only pray the Rosary, but then stay to pray in front of the Tabernacle. I asked this kind ruggedly handsome man if that would inconvenience him. He told me he had nothing else planned for the day, and was happy to wait for me so that I could pray. After my sacred time of prayer, I signaled to him and he got me to my car and on my way. I never saw him again. 
Lesson: God really never disappoints and is always good to His promise and then some. He arranges all things if we let Him. 

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Whirlwheel by Olivia Wise See

I've have some adventures just being on wheels, so to speak. My playful 18 year old son decided that he wanted to have some fun in the airport and ran with me at break-neck speed down all of the ramps in order that we could pick up some speed and maybe break some world records, while barely missing some people and their luggage in the mix. Wow! That was exhilarating and definitely out of my control! My daughter on the other hand, was wheeling me around the mall for some back to school jean shopping a couple of days ago, and came to an uphill ramp. Ugh. She was trying to run up that ramp and keep the momentum going so she could get my 120 pound body up that incline. In the meantime, a woman very slowly walked in front of us with a huge green live parrot on her head. It was odd and very funny! It was hilarious to see these amidst the struggle of my dear daughter, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. I felt very child-like in those moments, amidst the humility of it all. 

And as a side note, children are very curious when you are in a wheel chair. I mean they want to ask questions and know the nitty-gritty of why this has happened and what's wrong with you. Parents - note to self. Let them. It's no secret to the person in the wheel chair and it is better for kids to learn that people with handicaps of all kinds have thoughts, feelings, emotions, and can very often communicate just like they can!
Lesson: Child like fun and simplicity come in moments when our hearts are open and we are able to receive, not when we've necessarily got it all together.  

One last observation, about a woman who lives on the streets and shows up for daily Mass at another church in our area every morning. She looks worn and has all of her possessions in a grocery cart, yet every morning she manages to get to 7AM Mass in order to pray and honor God.  Sometimes her mental illness seems to be flaring up, and she is talking out loud or flailing her arms, walking towards the altar at inappropriate times, or hiding underneath the pew. There have been a few unusual outbursts of behavior, but she is always there and she always approaches the priest in the Communion line for a blessing. The priests and the nuns all expect her, as well as the congregation, and treat her with gentle kindness and love.  One morning in the springtime, I was there and was sitting in the far right side section of the church, behind a grandmother and her grandson. The little boy was full of smiles and just beautiful in every way.  This homeless woman spotted him from her usual front row spot on the left side of the Church, and her face became elated and I saw pure joy. She came over right in the middle of Mass, her face radiant and shining with pure delight, and her smile so genuine. She was absolutely taken with this infant child, and I watched as she became transformed at that moment from someone suffering mental illness into exactly who she was as a person, and her love spilled out of her. I spied something of God that day through this woman, that baby, that grandmother. It was very unexpected, very raw and spontaneous. It was the revelation of His love and His Divine Presence within each person and each circumstance. It was the gift of life and love that connects all peoples to one another, and makes us brothers and sisters. It is how God "writes straight with crooked lines" [Gen 50:20]. How He will write with you and me, in all of our infirmities, inefficiencies, and handicaps. He loves us as we are and meets us where we are at. All we must do is say 'yes' and be ready for the adventure.  
Lesson: God writes straight with crooked lines. 

In closing, don't let the sun go down without praising Our Lord for what He has done for you in your life and continues to do. Things might look and feel messy and broken, but He's got us in the palm of His hand. Let us let go of our self-sufficiency to find out what magnificent plans He really has in mind for our lives. Let us embrace being inefficient by-standers every once in a while.  Amen. 

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