When God Tests Us to Prepare Us for a Mission

How does God prepare us for the mission He has in mind for us? One of the ways He does this is by testing us. God allows certain things to happen in our lives to see if we will be faithful and endure what He is asking of us. He uses suffering, temptations, weaknesses, failures, and battles in order to strengthen us and to show us the path He is calling us to walk. The last year of my life has been one of those tests.

While I was in the midst of this period of testing, I didn’t understand what was going on. I experienced the most beautiful consolations coupled with intense spiritual warfare off-and-on for months. The worst of it hit when the scandals began to break last summer. There were times I thought I was going crazy or had somehow found myself in very serious spiritual danger. I had periods of immense fear, but I learned that it was by confronting this fear head on and taking a firm stand that peace and strength would flood into my soul. The more fortitude God gave to me the greater my capacity for charity towards others grew. It was during this testing that I learned tangibly “perfect love casts out all fear.”

I had experiences in Confession that were nothing short of surreal. I could hear God clearly pushing me forward time-and-time-again in Confession. No period of my life has been anything like this past year. Thankfully, God provided me with a much needed spiritual director–one of my parish priests–to help me navigate these very rough and confusing seas.

Even as I struggled to understand what was happening to me, God continued to tell me to endure and persevere. All I could hear very clearly in my prayer was that God was calling me “to love as He loves.” So I pushed on, despite periods of spiritual warfare that brought me to my knees. I focused on learning to love as He loves even though I did not know where He was leading me.

About a month ago, God clearly broke in at a Mass being celebrated in honor of Epiphany at our local Madonna House. I could see Christ very clearly in the priest celebrating the Mass. This has been a common theme of what has been going on with me spiritually, but it has been rather intense at certain times and I’ve not been able to understand what is going on. I’m not very good at pondering–a Marian trait that she is teaching me that I must learn–because I analyze everything. I’m systematic in the way I think and that is useless when faced with God breaking into my life in such profound ways.

Later in the afternoon on the same day, I was cleaning out our family van to prepare it to sell when I picked up a Rosary for Priests that had been tucked away in a pocket on the passenger’s side. I immediately saw the connection between what had happened at Mass and why this pamphlet was now in my hands. I didn’t fully understand, but God was showing me the way and I had finally opened myself up enough to Him for Him to show me what He is asking of me.

That day I began praying the Rosary for priests every single day and some days all 20 mysteries of the Rosary. A couple of weeks later I was talking to my husband about all of my friends having sons and how much I always wanted a son to give to the priesthood, but I now understand that God is not going to answer that prayer. My husband looked at me and said: “I think you are supposed to be a spiritual mother to priests. It seems like what you’ve been going through is because of that. You see priests in a completely different way than most people.” I laughed. In my own ridiculous pride I responded with: “Our priest is 11 years older than I am. How am I supposed to do that? Sisterhood is much easier for me to understand especially since I was in the military.” He shook his head in the way he does when he knows I’m being stubborn and blind.

The next day I happened to be scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when an article caught my attention written by one of my fellow Catholic Exchange contributors, Kathleen Beckman: “Spiritual Battles Beg For Spiritual Responses.” I read it and immediately understood what God is asking of me. I told my husband what I had read and he told me to I order her book right away.

Since I’m a little slow and stubborn, God made sure that I got the message loud and clear when the following day I went to Confession with my regular Confessor. During that Confession he told me that it seems as though I’ve found my secondary vocation to pray and fight for the priesthood. He even referenced St. Therese who he knows I have a devotion to. I had to laugh, as did my husband, since it took me no less than three signs in the same week to finally get what God was trying to tell me.

Why did God finally reveal this secondary vocation to me after everything I’ve been through? It’s because I was finally ready and because I battled through every single test that presented itself. Before I could be ready, I had to make it through the most difficult, especially in times like these, which is the temptation to division. God needed me to understand that I must be willing to engage in this fight for His priests no matter what happens. No matter what I must endure. No matter how much I get hurt. No matter if I get rejected, betrayed, cast off, ridiculed, gossiped about, or endure periods of intense spiritual warfare. This battle is not about me. It’s about His priests and His will.

I needed to learn that in a time when the priesthood is under immense demonic attack and when the lures of the world are a great temptation for them as much as for us, when horrors are coming out about the evils committed by some priests and bishops, when the weaknesses, apathy, and corruption of some are creating deep wounds within the Mystical Body and within the priesthood itself, God needed me to clearly understand what I was undertaking. He needed me to be willing to say: “Be it done to me according to thy word.” For me to be willing to do whatever He asks of me and to endure and persevere regardless of what gets thrown my way and regardless of what the Enemy tries to do to me.

The fight for the priesthood is a spiritual one and it is the front lines of the spiritual war today. I’ve been in the abortion fight for years and the spiritual warfare I experienced in that battle is nothing compared to what I endure fighting for priests in prayer, sacrifice, and in supporting them. The Enemy will use any and all means to prevent this mission because he hates the priesthood.

When God calls us to a mission, He tests our mettle to make sure we can handle what is asked of us. More than anything, it is a test to show us that we must rely solely on Him. In this fight, it is also essential to be thoroughly immersed in the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She crushes the head of the serpent and she battles for her sons in the priesthood. She is our guide in this war and she will lead us ever more deeply into the Sacred Heart of Her Son.

Like all missions, I had a choice that I had to make. God wasn’t going to force me to make it. He simply showed me the way and then I had to make the choice. After the trials, temptations, moments of anger, frustration, confusion–even consolations can be very confusing!–suffering, and pain, it was only then that I could see that the battle is worth it. That’s often how things work. We don’t think it’s worth the pain in the moment. We want to walk away or flee. It’s much easier to write off something as too difficult, but God purifies us through suffering. It is only through willingly enduring everything God asks of us that we grow in deeper charity, faith, and hope.

When I stepped back and looked over the past year or more, I realized that I’ve already been living this vocation, but I’ve not understood it as God’s call for me. Even so, the battle has only just begun. I must rely on Christ and Our Lady to show me what is being asked of me and learn to do it in humble obedience and charity. A vocation is always a dying to self. It is where we learn to place others before ourselves. I’ve already learned this lesson once in this new vocation, but it is an essential aspect of all vocations that God gives to us. We cannot accept a mission from Him if we are not willing to learn to die to self.

This secondary vocation is directly tied to my primary vocation of wife and mother. By sacrificing and praying throughout my day for the priesthood and any specific priests God assigns to me throughout my lifetime, I also offer up my husband and my daughter. The suffering we endure because of my husband’s illness and the pain of my miscarriages and lost hopes of a son for the priesthood can now be united to the Church’s need for holy priests and the very real needs of priests themselves. These two vocations bring peace and joy since they are so intertwined. I’m thankful that God has entrusted so great a mission to me and to countless others.

Chronic Illness: The Cross, Trust, and the Corporal Works of Mercy

Our family lives in the shadow of a dangerous chronic illness. Regular readers already know that nearly two years ago my husband started coughing up large amounts of blood early one morning and our lives changed forever. Two months later he was diagnosed with Wegener’s Granulomatosis. A rare auto-immune disease that affects the blood vessels in his lungs, but that can also spread to his kidneys and sinuses at any point. He’s only sustained lung damage to date, but with each new flare up we hold our breath to see if it has entered the kidneys. From what we can tell that’s when things start to get much worse, even though the irrevocable damage to his lungs is a big deal.

His disease has been relatively quiet the last few months after he spent nearly a year in and out of the hospital and underwent major surgery for a lung biopsy, suffered a collapsed lung, and lost 1/4 of his right lung in a matter of 2-3 weeks. That’s how rapid this disease can take off. And it’s a silent disease. He has no idea when new lesions and nodules are forming in his lungs until he starts coughing up blood. A combination of prednisone and immune infusion therapy have kept the symptoms at bay, until midnight Thursday.

My daughter and I awoke to hear him have a terrible coughing attack. It was loud and forceful. We both knew what it meant without seeing the actual blood. After coughing up blood for about 30 minutes off-and-on he silently walked into our bedroom and began to get dressed. I asked him what he was doing. He told me that he needed to go to the ER to get checked out. “How much blood?” was all I asked. “The same amount as when this all started.” We both knew that meant new lesions, just not how many.

He drove himself to the ER while I stayed home with our daughter. We have been at this long enough now that we try to maintain as much normalcy for her as possible until we know how serious the flare up is when it arises. I laid in bed praying the Rosary before dozing off briefly in between wakings to check my phone for updates. At 5:30 am he texted to tell me that he was being admitted. They found one new lesion in the middle lobe of his right lung above where his bottom lung is completely dead. They needed to monitor him for an infection.

I got up and started the practical work of getting our daughter ready for school, emailing her teacher to give her a heads up about what was going on, and contacted our priests so that my husband could be Anointed again and receive the other Sacraments. Once new lung damage begins it’s time for him to receive Anointing of the Sick again.

I’ve gotten better at responding when all of this happens. I don’t fear for the worst anymore even though I know the day could come when we get told my husband is dying. I take each new flare up as it comes and I work hard to keep it together for our daughter. I’m not always perfect at it, but I’m getting better as I adjust to this way of life. She’s already been through the intense period of when we thought his death was imminent. Now we want her to settle into knowing that he will have flare ups and they don’t mean he is dying since new drugs have kept people alive for decades with this disease.

It used to have an automatic 3 year or less death sentence before the advent of prednisone and immuno-therapy drugs. My own father’s life has been prolonged well past what doctors expected with how severe his Rheumatoid Arthritis is, and even though he had to go on disability in his early fifties, he’s still with us.

There is a lot that living in the shadow of a disease like my husband’s has already taught me about the spiritual life and about human nature. A path like the one we have been asked to walk is completely based on trust. Trust in God’s plan. Trust that Phil will get the treatments he needs. Trust that God will give us the strength to endure and persevere. Trust that grace is given to us for each new situation. Trust that God will provide the strength I need should he die. Trust that God will give the strength my daughter needs should he die. Trusting completely in Him. That’s the whole point.

One of the hardest lessons that I’ve learned thus far is an existential one. Even with our friends’ prayers and our priests’ pastoral and sacramental care, this is a path we walk alone, not only as a family, but as individuals. I cannot enter into my husband’s existential experience of this disease. That is impossible. I can only look at his suffering from the outside, even as I unite my own to his. I do not know what it is like to have a disease that could kill me at any moment. I don’t know what it’s like to deal with chest tubes and side effects from his medications. I can’t feel the nerve pain that flares up all over his body or the pain in his hands or the debilitating fatigue that hits him out of nowhere.

On the flip side, he cannot know what it is like to be his wife who watches helplessly as he suffers. He doesn’t see what I deal with to keep our daughter calm and wipe away her fearful, confused tears before taking her to school in the morning while I hold back my own tears. The single hardest part about all of this is watching our daughter suffer at such a young age. I feel helpless. Even as I tell her to trust in Christ, I feel completely helpless.

I know that she has to walk this Cross in her own way while trusting that Christ will break in when she needs Him most. She’s only 7-years-old, so redemptive suffering isn’t an easy concept for her. She’s also suffered a lot for someone so young. I didn’t realize how sick my own father was until I was a lot older. She’s experienced a dangerously sick father and four lost brothers and sisters to miscarriage. Understandably, she gets angry and is confused when she doesn’t see other families carrying burdens like these, but I tell her to focus on Christ and our own family. Comparisons and focusing on the “why” will drive all of us crazy.

We largely walk these Crosses alone, together, but also alone. This hit me as I stood in our bedroom on Friday afternoon before I took our daughter up to the hospital to visit my husband. I felt completely and totally alone. I had countless people praying for us. My phone had been buzzing all day. I’d spoken to my own parents. Our priest had been to the hospital to administer the Sacraments. In that moment, I sensed how truly alone I am in all of this. It is that moment of deep existential awareness and often we shrink back in horror or we do what the Christian is meant to do and we cling to the Cross. As the dread and darkness washed over me, I knew that the Cross is the only answer. Thankfully, I’ve held pieces of the True Cross in my hands many times and so I thought of holding fast to those and Christ. I doubled down on my prayer, but I still ached. It’s not supposed to be this way and we know it at the deepest level of our being.

It is the rare friend who can enter into this type of suffering alongside of someone. This is something I’ve come to accept and it’s made me more patient with others. This is meant to be honest, not in anger: Most people respond to us from a distance. The text messages, Facebook messages, etc. are a wonderful blessing, but very few people come visit my husband when he’s in the hospital. He would never say anything because he doesn’t want to burden others, but there is a reason visiting the sick is a corporal work of mercy. It helps in a small way to lessen the burden on the sick person and their family to have people enter into that Cross with them.

We shy away from the burden. It reminds us of our own mortality. We tell ourselves that we will be an imposition while they are in the hospital but this is a lie we tell ourselves to assuage our own guilt. How many people can sit with another person in their agony? How many people can hold someone close as they sob from a place deep within that has been cut open? How many of us can simply be with someone who is suffering? It’s our own fear of pain. We can’t fix another person’s suffering, but we can sit with them and be a loving presence to them.

People who are seriously ill and their family members do not expect you or I to take that suffering away. We only seek human connection in those moments of profound pain. To be united to others. Being sick isolates us and cuts us off from the community. That is an immense aspect of the Cross for people who suffer in this way. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a duty in charity to draw those who have been separated physically due to illness into the fold. To walk with them for a little while and offer some respite. If anything, a visit helps to take their mind off of what is going on and to laugh.

My husband and I survive these periods through prayer, the Sacraments, and laughter. There is no stoic seriousness to the way we approach his illness. We make macabre jokes about him dying and we tease the medical staff about things. There is no way we could make it through these times without simply laughing about it all. We can’t control it and being angry or serious about it only makes us feel worse. We have those moments. Exhaustion hit me pretty hard Friday night and its those times when I need to come home and go to bed, so that I can get back up and go again.

The Mystical Body is one, which means that we are meant to walk together in the joys and the sorrows of this life. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s not about us. It’s about the person who is suffering. It’s not about whether or not we do everything the right way or we might be a burden to them. Those excuses tend to come from our own selfishness. When I walk into hospital rooms to bring Holy Communion, I can’t focus on myself. I have to focus on the other person. I’m there as the priest’s representative to minister to them through giving them the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, but also to draw them into the community. I’m there to check on them and see what they need, to pray for them, and to listen if they simply need to bend someone’s ear. It’s not about me. Visiting the sick is about them.

Serious chronic illness is an immense Cross. My husband, daughter, and I are all sanctified in different ways through this illness. We are taught to trust more fully in God and to know that He provides no matter what may come. He shows us that we all must endure our own Golgotha existentially alone, but that we are still united to others who help ease that burden even though they cannot remove it or experience it. Each of us has a path to walk to sainthood, this is the one He’s given to us. Lord willing, by His grace, we will be victorious.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

Scandals Always Begin With “Small” Sins

Recently one of my closest friends came to me to confide a very devastating situation that she had been made aware of regarding someone else. She was stunned and understandably shocked. Like most of us, she wanted to know how people could fall into such deep dark places with little or no remorse. It’s the same question the vast majority of Catholics are asking themselves in the wake of the never-ending revelations of sexual abuse of minors and adults by some priests and bishops. As I’ve said in other posts, the scandals are devastating, maddening, shocking, and horrifying. It’s even more so within the priesthood because the diabolical elements of it mean that sacrilege also takes place which deepens the wounds within the Mystical Body.

How do people end up committing such scandalous and sinful acts? Part of the problem is, we have largely discounted and ignored the very real spiritual warfare that whirls around us on any given day and in every moment of our lives. Even high ranking members of the hierarchy and theologians have brushed off Satan as a myth or a symbol. The Enemy is quite pleased with this type of thinking because it allows him to have even more free reign within the Church. There’s no point of fighting against a symbol.

This ignores the fact that Satan is very real and seeks our destruction at every turn. He seeks the destruction of the priesthood with voracious hatred since it is through their ministry that Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity is made present to God’s people. It is through them that our sins are forgiven by God and we are given the grace and strength to continue on the path to holiness.

It is disconcerting that the Jesuit superior general, himself a priest, is completely blind to the gravity of the situation. It also reveals a serious lack of understanding among some members of the ministerial priesthood. If they don’t know who they are up against, then they will be even more vulnerable to falling into the snares he sets for them.

Satan is the liar, the seducer, the accuser, the murderer, and the scatterer. It has been this way since he was cast out of heaven by St. Michael. He seeks to drag each one of us away from the glorious Light and Love of God into the deepest pits of hell. We don’t think so because we think we are doing just enough in our daily lives to be “good” people. The problem is, that often it is the appearance of “good” people that masks the evil lurking underneath. This is why the scandals are so shocking. “He was such a good priest.” “I thought they were happily married.” “I never thought he/she could do such a thing.” And perhaps in the beginning they weren’t capable of such evil, but there came a moment in each of their lives when they needed to fight back and they chose to enter into temptation instead.

Scandalous behavior and grave sins do not usually begin right away. There is a slow slide into them as the Enemy preys on our weaknesses and seeks to lead us down dangerous paths. He whispers in our ear and attempts to seduce us so that we will commit certain sins. These sins seem benign to us at the onset, but they are the beginning of the trap he is attempting to set for us.

Many of us are not consciously aware of his tactics because so many people are ignorant of how spiritual warfare works in our daily lives. It’s something we have to learn through prayer, study, and guidance from a spiritual director and Confessor. The more we progress in holiness the more intense the fight becomes. It is often through large temptations that God allows us to be tested in order to strengthen us, lead us further down the path, and grow in perfect charity. The question put to us in these tests is will we choose God or the world? Regardless of how intense that fight may be at times, God is drawing us closer to Him if we let Him.

Our culture in the same vein as the Enemy, tells us that these small sins aren’t really sins. The man or woman lusting after someone running down the local Greenway trail isn’t the same thing as looking at pornography. Right? They’re just being human. Then all of a sudden the man (or woman) finds himself looking at images on the screen and it goes downhill from there. It started “small.”

Our relationships with others are the same way. We always have to be on guard and sure that we are rightly ordering the affections we have for other people. The Enemy will attempt to seduce us if he sees a possible weakness within us. And make no mistake, the demons are watching our every move and observing everything we do in order to prey on our weaknesses. Plus, their intellects are far superior to our own and we are often out-witted. Thanks be to God that our hope is not in ourselves but in Christ Jesus.

All of us have to be on guard and come to understand the ways in which we are weakest. We must constantly ask God to strengthen us in those areas and fall on Him in total dependence and trust. If we try to go it alone, then we will fall into temptation and before we know what we’ve done, we can find ourselves deep into gravely sinful and scandalous situations. It is not that we are never going to be tempted in this life. We will and in ways we never could have expected or foreseen. It’s how we respond to those temptations that matters. Our lives are often shaped in new ways by persevering through temptation.

We are called to fight back. It is by constantly rightly ordering our desires and our relationships that we will come to holy charity. Far too often people fall into grave sin and scandal because they are seduced by the lies of the Enemy and the good they see before them becomes their only focus. They turn away from God and seek the things of this world.

Once the Enemy has control over someone then even more horrible sins can be committed including the horrors that are coming to light in the reports about clergy sex abuse. The priesthood is as such that the Enemy seeks its destruction by also causing great sacrilege to the Sacraments. It’s why so many of this evil is committed in relation to the Sacraments whether it be a Satanic inversion of the Mass or the disgusting abuse during the Sacrament of Confession.

Every single one of us is going to fail and fall in our struggle towards heaven, but we have to constantly be on guard that we do not slide into grave and scandalous sin through the subtle seduction of Satan. We must pray for God to renew us and for our hearts to be converted each day. God will reward us for our efforts and our willingness to persevere. He knows in our Fallen state that we battle imperfectly, but if we rely on Him then He will be the one who keeps us from the type of darkness and sin that is coming to light in the Church, both in the clergy and in families. We may look in horror at these scandals, but it’s important to always keep in mind that those scandals began somewhere subtle and small and gave way to diabolical darkness. Our own small sins can easily lead us into mortal sins if we are not careful. We must look to our own hearts and the areas where we need the healing light of grace.

This is why frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession is imperative in the spiritual life, especially when we are battling serious temptations. The Enemy will try to keep us from the Sacraments by whatever means necessary, but we must answer in a firm “no” and get ourselves to Confession and receive Holy Communion as much as possible. These two Sacraments arm us and strengthen us for the intense battles this life requires of us.

The path to holiness is not easy. It is where we learn to crucify our own will for the will of God. That means saying “no” to lower goods of this life for a bigger “yes” to God. We often think that those lower goods are worth more than God, but that is a lie from the Enemy. The rewards of persevering and rightly ordering our desires and our relationships is far greater than anything we can temporarily attain in this life.

The next time you are tempted remember that the Enemy is offering you–or me–a counterfeit, an empty shell. This applies to any number of temptations, but especially in those situations that lead to widespread scandal and pain. Whatever it is that is being offered, it is a trick, a seduction, and a lie. Instead, God is calling us to turn in greater trust and love of Him, so that He can rightly order our souls.

We cannot truly love others as we are meant to if our souls are not rightly ordered to God first. This is where the Enemy gets the upper-hand at times. He sees this disorder within us and tries to lure us away with false desires and temptations. When this happens turn to Our Lord and to Our Lady. She crushes the head of the serpent and she will come to our aid if we cry out to her. St. Padre Pio is also particularly efficacious in spiritual warfare in my experience.

Scandals like what the Church is facing today began with small slip ups and sins. They occur when we are not discerning the spirits who are working in our lives. Just because something feels good, does not mean we are supposed to give in. Oftentimes the Enemy will move our emotions and convince us that something is a good that is in fact a lesser good or evil. I suspect, but I’m not sure, that this technique is the most common in leading people astray. We rely too heavily on our emotions and so we trust in good feelings, when we should probably be saying: “Be gone, Satan!”

Yes, all scandals are shocking and they reverberate throughout the Mystical Body. So many people are hurt by them. It’s important that we remember, however, that those small sins we are ignoring or waving away are the beginning of bigger sins. That “harmless” flirtation with a co-worker is that moment of choosing to rightly order that relationship or not. The minute we become aware of what we have done we need to ask God to rightly order our soul and our affections towards others. We must always be on guard. I cannot stress this enough.

It always begins small and the spiritual battle begins in that moment, even if it ends up becoming one of the most intense battles we are ever asked to wage. The point is to turn to God and not give in. Far too many priests and bishops in these scandals allowed those small slip ups to turn into very serious sin and they chose the Enemy over Christ. Let us pray for the grace and strength to choose Our Lord regardless of the battles He asks of us that are meant for our sanctification and growth in perfect charity. Pray fervently for our bishops and priests.