As I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible, my will submits with good grace, although nature seems greatly distressed, for God has not given me such strength as to bear, without repugnance, the constant struggle against illness while performing many different duties. May He, Who has helped me in other more difficult matters, aid me with His grace in this, for I trust in His mercy.
– Saint Teresa of Avila, from the Preface to The Interior Castle.
A reflection by Penny.
If you type the words ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ into a stock images website, chances are it will bring up pictures that look like this:
When in fact, it looks more like this:
(note compression sleeves on my arms to help keep my blood circulating – reduces risk of fainting)
(light intolerance is one of the symptoms of CFS, so I spend most of my time in the dark)
(photo taken by my mother last month, after I lost 13 pounds in a week because I was too sick to feed myself and made an emergency trip home to stay with her.)
This is ‘moderate’ CFS – meaning that I’m still able, sometimes, to leave my bed for work, grocery shopping, or Mass. (Severe CFS involves paralysis, tube-feeding, and sometimes death. This is the disease still derisively labelled ‘yuppie flu’ by the media, and which many doctors, including two that I’ve encountered personally, diagnose as a form of hysteria solely because most sufferers are women. I could rant for days about sexism in medicine, but I’ll limit myself to one observation: in basically every case I’ve heard of, including my own, this condition starts with a viral infection that gets worse instead of better over time. It’s an illness. It exists.)
On good days I can get up and do a couple of things, provided I pace myself. Mostly, though, I’m in bed, listening to podcasts at minimum volume in the dark and occasionally trying to sit up for a few minutes at a time. If you’re wondering why the blog’s been low on activity this year, that’s why! Theresa has done yeoman’s work keeping our social media active and answering emails without the usual level of support from me, and I want to express my admiration for the extra effort that she’s been putting in to do so. If you’d like to submit content for the blog, PLEASE DO – we still need your generous contributions to keep the website interactive and would love to hear from you! Please just be aware that it may take me a while to respond, and that the delay doesn’t mean lack of appreciation!
So, why am I writing all of this?
At Easter this year, too unwell to go out to the Vigil, I stayed home and watched an old black-and-white film called The Miracle of Saint Thérèse. In one scene that particularly struck me, Thérèse is struggling to climb up a flight of stairs in her Carmel, gasping with the effort and pulling herself slowly hand-over-hand up the bannister. I felt that viscerally, because it’s exactly what I have to do when confronted with a staircase these days. (Before I got sick two years ago, by contrast, I was a martial arts student who did high-intensity training several times a week.)
It got me thinking again about illness, and its role in spiritual life. So many saints, especially women, became seriously ill in their teens or twenties and lived through years of disability and suffering: of those whose lives I’ve been listening to on audiobook recently, Saint Bernadette died at thirty-five, Saint Faustina at thirty-three, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity at twenty-six, and Saint Thérèse herself at twenty-four. Little Nellie of Holy God, to whose biography I’m currently listening, made it – spoiler alert! – to the grand old age of four.
I’m not a saint who can bear illness the way they could – if they’d had blogs in the nineteenth century, I can’t imagine Saint Thérèse getting on one to vent about sexist doctors, for example – but I can still take them as my examples and learn important lessons from the way they carried themselves in suffering.
1) Don’t assume you’re being punished by God. Same as when you have to leave religious life, or any other dream falls apart: it’s not a personal failure on your part, or a sign that He has rejected you. As a consequence of the Fall, we live in a world where we’re surrounded by viruses, toxins, dangerous people and animals, sheer drops and large, fast-moving objects, and eventually something’s going to smack into the just and the unjust alike. Illness is impersonal; don’t take it personally. As I know from experience, blaming yourself for drawing down God’s punishment by your actions is the very best way to learn to fear and resent Him. He’s with you while you’re struggling, helping you to live through it.
2) Don’t overthink things and start denying your own experience. I’m not really that sick – I don’t need to rest. (Yes, you probably do.) Maybe I’m subconsciously making myself sick because I’m afraid of life. (You’ve read too much pop psychology.) I need to restrict myself to healthy foods, and if I eat that slice of pizza I deserve to stay sick. I need to try all the medicines/supplements/treatment programs/etc I read about on the Internet, or I’m not really trying to get well again. Maybe I’m just milking my illness to get out of things. Maybe I’m being lazy. Maybe I’m just being dramatic about the effect this is having on me.
The saints didn’t do that. They were honest about the fact that they were suffering terribly – think of Saint Thérèse warning her sisters never to leave a full medicine bottle within the reach of someone in pain, or Saint Bernadette wondering aloud how she hadn’t died yet – and they did what they could each day. Some days Thérèse could write, and on those days, she wrote. Other days, she couldn’t, and she offered up to God the frustrations that came with that. Some days you’ll be able to do things. Other days, you won’t. That’s okay, and you’re okay.
3) DO figure out ways to make your life easier. My go-to meal is a double handful of mung beans and ripped-up bean shoots dumped straight from their containers into a bowl, with low-FODMAP chicken or beef stock in hot water poured over the top to make a healthy soup. Preparation time: about thirty seconds. If you have days where your arms aren’t strong enough to use a spoon, try pre-puréed fruits and soups in sachets; cut off the corners and suck them. Keep a bag of nuts beside your bed so that you have something to ease your hunger if you can’t get up. Cook lots of chopped potatoes and mincemeat on a good day, and store individual portions in the freezer to heat when you need them (they go well in the mung-bean soup to bulk it up).
4) DO figure out how to adapt your prayer life to your energy level as well. If you say the Rosary, there are plenty of versions on YouTube that you can listen to and follow along with while you’re lying still in bed. This one’s my favourite: a basic, no-frills version without music (I love music, but now it often hurts my ears), and it doesn’t name the Mysteries so you can use the same recording every day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjDZeB7DfCo
If you pray the Office, you can download the Laudate app, open up whichever Hour you want to say, and have a screen-reader read it aloud while you listen. (I use the free @Voice Aloud Reader from Google Play, which has a bunch of different voices from which to choose. I like the sophisticated English lady. You can also adjust pitch and reading speed to suit your own preference.) Also, when you get tired of computer voices, there’s an app with a recording of Dominican friars singing Night Prayer in English for each night of the year: just type ‘Dominican Compline’ into Google Play and it will come up.
Basically any prayer you can think of, from the Holy Cloak Novena to Saint Joseph to the Divine Mercy Chaplet to the Golden Arrow Prayer, is available in spoken form on YouTube. Or, on a good day, you can record it yourself and then save it to play back in the future on not-so-good days. On days when the exhaustion and brain fog are so severe that you can’t even remember the words of the Hail Mary (trust me, I’ve been there), this is a gentle, no-pressure way to pray.
Audiobooks on YouTube are a great resource for filling the long, long hours alone in bed – my spiritual life has deepened immensely from the things I’ve learnt on days when I was too sick to read or watch a movie, and they’re basically now my primary way of staying close to God. Even if you’re not unwell but just want something to listen to on the commute to work, these are good resources. Here are some of my favourite channels:
The Priory Librarian: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxMQn7rjBwqRGkf2gV1jP5A
(A friar, almost certainly a Dominican based on the number of OP books in his library, who reads edifying books aloud in his soft, slightly gravelly voice. You’ve got books by Louis de Montfort, Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton, and some of the mediaeval mystics, among others.)
Sensus Fidelium: https://www.youtube.com/user/onearmsteve4192
(Orthodox Catholic talks on numerous topics, from lives of Saints to end-times prophecies and the state of the Church. You’re asked to say three Hail Marys for the priest who delivers each talk you listen to.)
Classic Catholic Audiobooks: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfXTzdNin8U8aEQVMIXiRog/videos
(From Julian of Norwich to Saint Francis de Sales, there are numerous books available, read aloud by volunteers from around the world. Some volunteers are much better readers than others, but it’s a great resource overall.)
Sacred Heart Publications: excellent Catholic talks on holiness, as well as audiobooks: https://www.youtube.com/user/MultiBurtons
There are also lots of Catholic books on Google Play quite cheaply (I got a book by Saint Alphonsus Liguori for a couple of dollars) that you can then use the Google Books inbuilt screen-reader to read aloud for you. It’s more annoying than a human voice, but not impossibly so.
Finally, there are television Masses uploaded online every day (you can type ‘Catholic Mass today’ into YouTube if you’re too sick to go out to church), and also live-streamed Perpetual Adoration here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4A6RIOwC2E
Basically, it can be done: there are numerous cheap or free resources out there to help your soul to grow in faith, hope and love in times of illness. I no longer feel as though I’m rotting away in the dark, because I know my heart is hearing and responding to God, and prayer connects me to the world outside my room. In effect, this solitude has become the cloister I once sought in the convent, and the stillness has become a source of contemplation. I would love to be well: to go back to work properly, to resume my studies, to get my brown belt in karate, and to carry on with the life I was living before my illness took all of that away. And yet, being torn out of my ordinary life and compelled to live with God in solitude has given me more graces than I could ever have imagined, and I can share the fruits of those graces with others by my prayers even if I don’t live among them much anymore.
It isn’t easy, but He is here. And for as long as He wills it, so am I.
How to deal with anxiety, from the pen of a paranoid schizophrenic.
By Stephanie Grace Cesare.
Jeremiah 29:11: Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, Yahweh declares: plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Trust has been a major problem in my past, but if we believe in God’s goodness, how can we not trust in Him completely? Every second of our life God knows and allows to happen to us. “There is a spiritual world all around us, can you not see it?” – Jane Eyre.
Because of my condition I am always worried that the worst thing possible is going to happen at any second. The only way I could overcome that was to believe in God’s loving providence: to actually live second to second with a great belief that everything was in some kind of play book for my life. It is when the waves start crashing in on us, when we think we are alone and will drown, that God says, “O you of little faith”. In that moment the Apostle Peter cried, “Lord, we are going to drown, don’t you care?” Whenever we take our eyes away from God, that is when we become anxious, scared, feeling we are on our own and will drown in worries: that is when we need to cry, “LORD!”
This is where suffering must be understood.
Luke 11:11-15 says, “What father among you, if his son asked for a fish, would hand him a snake? Or if he asked for an egg, hand him a scorpion?” Suffering as the saints know it has infinite worth. God allows suffering to come upon us for this reason, that we may fill up what is lacking in the wounds of Christ, and that we may actually participate in God’s salvific mission for the world. God works through us when we accept life’s difficulties
2 Cor 12:7-10: “Wherefore so that I should not get above myself I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to batter me and prevent me from getting above myself about this. I have three times pleaded with the Lord that it might leave me but he has answered me, “My grace is enough for you.” For power is at full strength in weakness. It is then about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me, and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ’s sake, for it is when I am weak that I am strong.”
Some examples in my life… God is in the details. To let go and realize every detail of the day is God’s will, will give you an extreme amount of peace. One day I realized I wasn’t going to be able to have a job because it was so stressful so I gave it up to God. I am a cosmetologist and I am supposed to take the next person on the computer list no matter what they want done, so I said, “Lord, please send me the people that I would be able to handle.” This went really well. Every time I went to the list I had the confidence that the Lord would help me with the next customer. He must really want me to have this job so I trusted.
I was in a religious community when I was having signs of schizophrenia and had decided to leave. I went into an extreme depression that landed me in the hospital several times. I didn’t know how a good God could push me away from him and not want a girl who dreamed all her life since the age of reason to be his spouse; to be incapable of it! How could a good God abandon me like that? “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” – that just wasn’t true – or, “She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” – hmm, what about that one? I was telling God how to make me holy rather than trusting that he knew the best way. Then one day, I read that God sent the man who had asked to be his disciple to go home and be a witness to his family and home town – “How can I do that?” I thought. Well, I have had the chance to help those in the world with me more than I ever had in the convent with my peers, family and customers. I am planning on volunteering at a nursing home so I can talk to the infirm about God while doing their hair. I never had this in the convent…the chance to get close to people and love them. To get to know them, unlike I would ever have in the convent. That’s when I realized I was called to the single life and so be a witness.
One night I was crying hysterically over the fact I left the convent when my parents came home from Louisville with a note from a homeless person on the street to me. It said, “I have chosen you to bear fruit.” That was the quote at my clothing in the convent on my card. It made me realize that I have a mission greater than I could ever imagine as long as I did God’s will.
I was chosen, but how and for what? The most anxiety you go through is not knowing your calling in life and the second is not trusting and giving up your will to God. Mother Teresa said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”.
The teenager days are usually the most arrogant. I’m going to be rich, I’m going to change the world, I’m going to be famous. There is nothing wrong with having these goals, as long as we give our will to God, but many do not and go into despair when they do not accomplish what they desire. This has caused many college-age students to commit suicide because their goals are so high. Many people come out of religious life and this can be devastating to live a humble life of a lay person or the married state. In Abandonment to Divine Providence, Fr. Caussade explains that it is not in seeking holy things or circumstances, but seeking holiness in all our circumstances, that makes saints.
We will never have peace unless we trust that doing what is in front of us is God’s will and that doing it well (little detail by little detail) will take away the anxieties of life and will lead to greater, wonderful things. Think, when you offer your life to God in your daily duties, of how much more God in his generosity will give you to accomplish in your life. He is all goodness, so do you not believe he will give you a grand adventure – one that will bring you to heaven?
In living each moment the way God calls (the little details) God will give greater things for you to do. I love St. Therese because she taught the little way to heaven. Doing every little thing because it is most humbling and therefore more meritorious in the eyes of God. Once we realize the great worth of these small details, the more at peace we will be. Believe in PROVIDENCE! Just realize that our daily duties are so important when done with love – how much more at peace. God will always outdo us with love, and the more we offer up these small things, the greater the things he will call us to, and we will be at peace in his love.
Psalm 131, song of quiet trust: “O Lord my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me, but I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child that is quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego: “Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed. Do not fear this sickness of your uncle or any other sickness, nor anything that is sharp or hurtful. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.”
By Maria Jacinta.
HAPPY FEAST OF ST. JOSEPH TO EVERYONE!!!
I hope many graces came from the novena posted about a week ago. I encourage you all to continue praying to St. Joseph. He is an amazing saint! Let’s take some time to reflect on the qualities of St. Joseph, along with events in his life and see how we can apply them to our own life:
- His immediate yes to the angel:
We read in the first chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
What courage it takes to answer God immediately, no questions asked! I am not saying we should make rash decisions, as careful discernment is required at times. But when we are sure that God is calling us to do something, we should not delay fulfilling what He wills.
Think about the HUGE responsibility that St. Joseph had as the spouse of Our Lady and foster father of God Himself! It takes true humility to accept such a role. It can be easy to play what I call the “false humility card” in thinking that we are not good enough to do something. Sometimes, though, God calls us to certain tasks that we think are beyond our power to accomplish. It’s true in that we are not capable of doing anything without God, but thinking we are not worthy does not make for a valid excuse in saying no. As St. Teresa of Avila says, “Humility is truth.” We know our weaknesses and strengths and should not be afraid to use these strengths! After all, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”
- His decision to divorce Our Lady quietly:
After finding out that Mary was pregnant, St. Joseph “unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1: 19)
This decision here proves that he really was a just man. He was obedient to the Law and knew very well that any woman caught in adultery was to be stoned to death. On the other hand, he may have seen something special in Mary that made him wonder how she could ever commit a sin. He knew her goodness and purity and truly loved her, so he did what was best for her. Something we can take from this is to love others for WHO THEY ARE. The more we understand human dignity, the easier this becomes.
Similar to Our Lady, St. Joseph was close to Jesus and so knows him very well. We can go to St. Joseph to better learn how to imitate Christ. St. Joseph, pray for us!!!
A short while ago the Leonie’s Longing blog featured an article called “A Year of Not Me” This article invited the reader to reflect upon his or her interior response to the commencement of the Year of Consecrated Life.
It is both easy and tempting to become immersed in questioning one’s own identity before God; our Plan A had involved living the consecrated life and now we’re all “stuck with” Plan B.
At the time I read the article my response was that “A Year of Not Me” was an invitation to go beyond myself, to put aside for a time whatever suffering had arisen upon returning to the world, and to focus on serving others.
The Feast of the Presentation (which has about to be finished for me in Australia, but which is still in progress for those of you on the other side of the International Date Line) is an obvious day of significance, perhaps THE day of significance, in this special year for those living the consecrated life.
Now we know that the feast is often also referred to as Candlemas, and there is a great deal of emphasis on light: Jesus Christ is proclaimed as that light to enlighten the Gentiles in the Nunc Dimittis prayer of Simeon. Well this is going to blow your mind.
Who are the Gentiles?
Well, in the LITERAL sense, they are those outside of the Jewish faith.
Who were the Jewish people?
The chosen people of God, those who had been set apart for Him.
What does it mean to be consecrated?
To be called by God, to be set apart for Him.
So perhaps it isn’t too big a jump to consider that one possible allegorical sense of Simeon’s prayer is that those of us who are not consecrated are the ones to be enlightened here.
This feast is for us, too!!!!
Where does that leave us? In this year of “Not Me” I’m sitting here asking Christ, our Light, to enlighten me, a Gentile, as I meditate upon this special event in His life. One thing that jumps out at me as I ask for light is this: I cannot avoid suffering. Even His much beloved and blessed Mother found her heart on the pointy edge of a sword, even after her “yes,” her obedience, her total life of service and undivided love for Him.
And so I return to where I began: the grief and loss of my former Community? My confusion over who I am before God now that He has called me back out to the world? Those occasional feelings of frustration at the mess of it all, the complication of figuring out what life in His service now means? He shines like a spotlight, focused on His Mother, showing me exactly what to do with that suffering. It is real. It can’t just be dismissed. But in this year of “Not Me” it just doesn’t have to be the focus. My life doesn’t have to be about that. My life is about Him. And He and His Mother are both models of obedience, humility, service and authentic love.
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)
By Maria Jacinta.
“Humility, humility and humility.” This was St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s response to the question of what the three most important virtues are. During Advent I only pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. I love meditating on Our Lady’s humility when she immediately gave her yes to God at the Annunciation and when she humbly responded with her Magnificat during the Visitation. It is beautiful, but it really baffles me as to how someone without sin could be so humble. My point in this post is not to preach about the importance of humility, but to address its vice: vanity.
In the initial days of being home from the convent, vanity was a real struggle for me, among other things. I believe it was triggered from my reaction to being back in the world. In the convent, I had one outfit to wear every day, and I did not need to spend time fixing my hair. Vanity was not too much of an issue. Now being back in the world, I cannot wear the same thing every day. I have to fix my hair. I have to look nice. All this became an obsession for me. Ah!!! What to do?!
Thanks be to God, I came up with two solutions. If any of you have any other ideas, please do not hesitate to post them.
1) In my last post “Guard Your Heart”, I talked about my struggles with dealing with young men. I noticed that when I would go to Mass I would be focused on if any young men were there and if they would see me and how nice I looked. Yeah, I know, pathetic, right? Well, to help deviate my attention from that I got back into the habit of wearing a veil at Mass. This actually helped to lessen my focus on my hair and my looks so that I could be more focused at Mass. It is amazing! It is a very humbling experience to cover your head.
2) This may sound contradictory, but I also find that dressing nice does help. To learn to overcome vanity, it is easy to play the false humility card and dress like you just rolled out of bed. It dawned on me that we were created with dignity as women of God. We should not be ashamed of our beauty. When I began to wear skirts more often and make myself decently presentable, I noticed my self esteem go up. Obviously, I need to be careful, as I do not want to get too inflated. I try to keep the focus that I am dressing for God and God alone. If you are having trouble finding nice modest clothes, I find that Ross and Good Will (or thrift stores) are good. The prices are not too bad either!
May Our Lady clothe us with her humility. Blessings to you all this Advent!