Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fire of Love

This being November, the month during which we remember the Holy Souls in a particular way, I have tried to make an effort to pray a little more than usual for their intention.  While I was putting aside a prayer book devoted to seven days of prayer for the dead, I came across a book written by St. Catherine of Genoa.  St. Catherine was a wife, nurse,  hospital administrator and a mystic.  She was given special insight into Purgatory.

When I was caught in the trap of pain a few weeks ago, I thought to myself that perhaps this was given to me as a temporal punishment to shorten my time in Purgatory.  Then I thought better of it and decided my time would be better spent not trying to read God's mind.  Nonetheless, I have been thinking a lot more about Purgatory and I highly recommend this book, Fire of Love.  Here is an excerpt, reprinted courtesy of EWTN.

"The souls in Purgatory are no longer in a state to acquire merit. How these souls look on the charity exercised for them in the world.

If the souls in Purgatory could purge themselves by contrition, they would
pay all their debt in one instant such blazing vehemence would their
contrition have in the clear light shed for them on the grievousness of
being hindered from reaching their end and the love of God.

Know surely that not the least farthing of payment is remitted to those
souls, for thus has it been determined by God's justice. So much for what
God does as for what the souls do, they can no longer choose for
themselves, nor can they see or will, save as God wills, for thus has it
been determined for them.

And if any alms be done them by those who are in the world to lessen the
time of their pain, they cannot turn with affection to contemplate the
deed, saving as it is weighed in the most just scales of the divine will.
They leave all in God's hands who pays Himself as His infinite goodness
pleases. If they could turn to contemplate the alms except as it is within
the divine will, there would be self in what they did and they would lose
sight of God's will, which would make a Hell for them. Therefore they await
immovably all that God gives them, whether pleasure and happiness or pain,
and never more can they turn their eyes back to themselves."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Back Among the Living

Sorry for the extended hiatus, loyal readers.  A pain I ignored for a few months decided it had enough and demanded all my attention, sending me to the ER and landing me in the hospital for a 4-night stay, requiring a trip to the OR as well.  Refractory pain that was unresponsive to an arsenal of powerful IV narcotics had me hallucinating by the time the decision was finally made.  A kidney stone the size of a black olive had lodged itself in a most inconvenient place and refused to budge.  Laser lithotripsy and the placement of a stent were, I thought, the end, but I was mistaken.  Another 10 days of discomfort that required narcotic pain medication to be able to function were ahead.

I thought a lot about St. Therese during the 4 long sleepless vigils I had, and how she said toward the end of her suffering that she could only look at the Virgin Mary and say the name "Jesus".  I'm not naive enough to think my suffering in any way compares to hers, but I developed a new understanding for her observation that she could well see how people who have no faith might be tempted to take their own lives.  I tried to pray the Rosary, but I couldn't.  So I had a holy card of the Immaculate Conception and one of St. Philomena that I taped to the bed rail.  And I continually offered up the pain for whatever intention the Lord saw best to which to apply it.

My roommate was also a very religious Christian woman, though not Catholic.  I tried my best not to disturb her and she did the same, but at times neither of us could suffer in silence.  So we took turns praying for and with one another.  On Sunday, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion came to visit me, while a coterie of friends from my roommate's church came to see her and pray with her. The pastor of my parish, where I feel I can no longer attend Mass, came to visit and offer a blessing.  I was gracious as I felt this was a very kind gesture and decided that while I can't attend the Masses he offers, I could stop complaining about him and the way he does things.

On discharge from the hospital, I was told that I had to follow up sooner rather than later with my primary care physician.  Apparently, the CT scan of the kidney unveiled a host of other issues that might be nothing at all but can't be risked to chance by ignoring them.  I spent an hour in an MRI tunnel last week, freezing from the chill but daring not to complain.  The results were inconclusive so a follow-up CT was ordered 3 months from now.  As I have often said, I am too cantankerous a person for cancer to even think about visiting, so I am not in the least concerned.  Nonetheless, I have kept this from my mother, who would surely give herself a nervous breakdown with worry over what is sure to be nothing.

I decided that God sent me this thorn because perhaps He wasn't happy about my constant grumbling about this situation or that not to my liking.  I decided that the intractable pain was a temporal punishment so that my days in Purgatory might be shortened.  At one point, I even had the audacity to point out to my sweet Jesus that His Passion took course over two days, including His Agony in the Garden and Good Friday.  "OK Lord, we're on day 4 here, what gives?  You know I don't have Your strength to endure as You did."   Somehow, by His Grace, I got through.

I decided some lifestyle changes are in order.  I can't run myself ragged anymore, racing from work to church, etc.  I know that the Eucharist is our greatest treasure on earth, but I have to content myself with going to Mass when I'm able and making the most of the times when I can get there.  I can't work five days a week anymore.  I am reducing my hours slightly and only committing to four days a week.  I can't be responsible for the short-comings of my co-workers or their lack of consideration for others or any of the other myriad of issues that had me running myself ragged there as well.  And I have to be more compliant about getting to the doctor more often and paying closer attention to my health.  There is enough in my life I can't control but no excuse to allow the things that I can change to go on and take their toll.

One of things I thought about most were those people who suffer in silence, ignored and forgotten.  I thought of all the people held hostage and tortured who have no way to relieve their pain.  It didn't ameliorate the agony any but it did help me to be grateful that I was at least in a hospital getting attention.  I thought of soldiers wounded in battle who lie in misery and filth for hours before they can be attended.  

I just learned that one of the friars at the shrine down the street from here had yet another orthopedic procedure to relieve the pain and deformity of rheumatoid arthritis.  Here is a person who has lived nearly his entire life in pain, and he never complains or seeks attention.  He views  his particular suffering in the same way St. Paul regarded his unknown "thorn in the flesh".  He reminds us that His Grace is sufficient for us.  Sometimes, it's easy to forget this.  But as St. Francis deSales noted, we should never let spiritual failure deter or discourage us.  Failure brings about humility.  God knows I need all I can get of that.