Catholic Exchange: The World Needs the Witness of Celibate Priests

Last week, Fr. Jonathan Morris of Fox News fame announced that he has decided to leave the priesthood and is petitioning for laicization. In response to the very public announcement of his decision, I was immediately struck by how little so many respondents understood the nature of the priesthood. I was also disheartened to see so many Catholics throwing out popular cultural maxims such as “just follow your heart”, “you do you”, and the inevitable calls for an end to the vow of celibacy. 

Our response to a priest leaving the priesthood should lie somewhere in the middle of the extremes of condemnation and “follow your heart.” Neither response does justice to such a complex issue.

Fr. Morris’ decision ultimately rests between him and God, but we also cannot pretend that the choice by a priest to leave the priesthood doesn’t have a deep impact on the faithful and on his brother priests who do stay true to their vows and who remain as the Church continues to be ravaged by scandal. 

A priest leaving the priesthood causes pain, confusion, division, and scandal. The decision may be necessary, but we cannot equate a priest leaving the priesthood to someone simply changing jobs. The priesthood is intimately connected to communion, which means any decision made by a priest impacts others, many others, for good or for ill. In relation to the priesthood, the maxim “follow your heart” is nothing short of destructive and counter to the vows he took at ordination.

Dying to Self

When we are baptized into the Church, we become a new creation. Our old life of sin and death is washed away as we die with Christ and are regenerated in the waters of Baptism. We are then called to become a living sacrifice and to become like Christ in our daily lives. We also become members of the Mystical Body, which is one body united to Christ as the Head. We no longer live for ourselves. This takes on an even deeper meaning within the priesthood as these men, called by Christ, surrender their entire person to Him and His Church at ordination.

The Latin Rite’s requirement of a vow of celibacy for priests is a further call to self-emptying love and spiritual paternity. It is a radical form of dying to self in the image of Christ. By relinquishing a family of their own, Latin Rite priests give themselves completely over to Christ and the Church so that they can become spiritual fathers to Christ’s flock through a complete abandonment of self for the needs of God’s people. They give up a wife and children of their own so that God’s people may become their spiritual children and the Church their Bride in the image of Christ the Bridegroom. The vow of celibacy leads the priest to become an even greater reflection of Christ who abandons Himself completely to the will of the Father.

The celibacy requirement is not simply a “lofty ideal” or “an outdated practice”. It is a sacrifice made by these men that infuses immense grace into the Church through their constant emptying of self in conformity to Christ in service to us. They are witnesses to the higher spiritual goods and a reminder that one day marriage will end and we will all be united as one in heaven. Marriage is a great good, but it is not the ultimate good. 

Our ultimate good is found in loving and serving God. Happiness can only be attained by living in communion with God and in accordance with His will. He is meant to be the very center of our lives. Our culture places an inordinate emphasis on romantic love and sex while largely rejecting God. In many ways, romantic love—which typically is reduced purely to sex—has become the only form of love and happiness.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Charity and Communion: Enduring Versus Trying to Fix Suffering

The nature of suffering and its connection to growing in the virtue of charity is something that I spend a lot of time pondering. This connection has become even more prevalent in my spiritual life in relation to the Cross for a variety of reasons. We have a tendency when we are faced with suffering–especially someone else’s suffering–to try to fix it, offer theological maxims, or practical advice. We do anything we can to keep ourselves at a distance from the suffering person. 

Another’s suffering makes us uncomfortable. It awakens fear within us and powerlessness. It destroys the illusion that we have any power or control. Suffering leaves us completely vulnerable. We don’t think this is the issue at the time when we confront someone who is suffering. We think that we are simply being helpful, but I truly believe that how we respond to suffering has a lot to do with our own lack of self-awareness about our motives and responses, as well as how we view and embrace/avoid suffering. Have we truly embraced the Cross in our lives including the crosses others?

Two figures who have loomed large for me in the last year are Our Heavenly Mother and St. John; both of whom stood at the foot of the Cross while Our Lord endured His Passion and death. The first reason for their influence in my spiritual life is because of my secondary vocation as a spiritual mother to priests. Our Lady’s example is the prime example of spiritual motherhood of any kind, but especially to the priesthood. My Marian consecration opened up the path to this vocation.

St. John is the priest who endured the Passion when no others would. He is an essential figure and intercessor for priests today in the midst of so much scandal. He is the father of mysticism and one word summarizes all of his writings in Sacred Scripture: agape (divine love). He knew the requirements of charity at a deep level and He embraced those demands alongside Our Heavenly Mother.

Our Lady and St. John’s example at the foot of the Cross is an essential lesson for all of us in learning how to endure and embrace suffering. We have a tendency to try to fix suffering or offer theological or practical advice to the suffering. There are times for this, but by-in-large, when the suffering is greatest, we are called to simply endure the suffering alongside of them. This is the real call of charity in suffering in communion. We can’t fix or take away someone’s suffering. We are called to love them and walk with them. That’s it.

The suffering Christian typically knows–at least at a basic intellectual level–the reasons for suffering or the fact that it is a by-product of the Fall. Part of what makes suffering greater is the knowledge that this is not how it is supposed to be. We are made for communion with God and that was ruptured with the Fall which ushered in sin and death. We know Christ has redeemed us, but that we must also endure our own Passion and death in this life in order to be with Him forever in the next.

There is a point, however, when suffering becomes so heavy and great that the use of reason becomes impossible. This is the moment when theological explanations or “practical” advice are utterly useless. The person who is suffering must simply endure and embrace the intensity of the agony until that moment of agony passes. It will pass and the use of reason will return for a time. 

There are no words of explanation, theological platitudes, or practical advice that are of any use in these moments because the person has hit the point of unbridled pain and agony. They know these answers already, but the pain is so great that all they can do at the time is hurt. Instead, the person looking from the outside uses these explanations as a way of establishing distance and to comfort their own fear rather than enter into the suffering of the other person.

We must all learn how to embrace suffering together. Our Lady and St. John endured the Cross with Our Lord and entered into the mystery of suffering, the place where silence is the only response. I think we all must learn to be comfortable with that place. The only way to overcome this fear within us is through agape. 

St. John’s writings are essential in responding to suffering in love. We have to reach the point when all we can do is look at the suffering person and tell them: “I’m sorry you are hurting so much. I know its heavy.” And then fall silent alongside of them and endure the moment of agony together. This is to love as Christ loves.

I know for myself, with the suffering God asks me to endure, that I reach moments when theological explanations actually frustrate me more, and I’m a theologian. There comes a time when I need someone to simply look at me as I am, to see me in my suffering and find the courage to look me in the eyes and say: “I’m sorry. I know it hurts.” It is an acknowledgment of the pain and to see me as I am rather than as someone to push back because of fear or discomfort. To do this for someone is to look directly at the Cross in all of its horror and glory and to choose to endure it with them in the communion we are called to as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

All of us do this to one another at times: spouses, family, friends, priests, etc. If we allow the divine life to fill us up and embrace our call to love as Christ loves, then He will give us the courage to enter into one another’s suffering with all of its powerlessness and vulnerability. It is there where we will begin to learn the true depths of charity and communion. 

Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John, ora pro nobis.

Catholic Exchange: Find Sainthood in a Life of Hidden Sacrifice

Many of us live hidden lives of sacrifice to God and in service to others. We go about our days completing the tasks that are required of us. Those tasks may be at work, school, church, or within our families. Our accomplishments are only known by God and the few people who are truly close to us. In a world that prides itself on notoriety and recognition, these sacrifices are seen as minor or, to some, as meaningless.

All members of the Mystical Body share in the royal priesthood of Christ by virtue of our Baptism. This means that we are called to offer our lives in sacrifice to Him and for our neighbor. AsLumen Gentium states:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”. The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God, should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.

To live a holy life is to offer everything to God, consecrating each moment of each day to Him. The menial and mundane tasks of our daily lives—from writing emails to sitting in meetings to washing dishes to folding laundry—are aspects of how we offer ourselves to God. 

When these tasks are done with Christ in mind, as an offering of love to Him and as a sacrifice for others, we enter more fully into our participation in the common priesthood we are called to. We are conformed more closely to Christ the High Priest who offers himself fully to the Father.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Are We Building One Another Up in Social Media?

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed recently and realized that I know very little about the people I’m friends with in social media. I don’t seek out Facebook friends I haven’t known personally, but since I’m a writer and connected to other writers, I will get a few new friend requests a week from fellow Catholics. I don’t mind and I’ve added quite a few of these people, but I’m also selective since I actually share posts about my life, my family, and my daughter.

The original idea behind websites like Facebook or the now defunct MySpace, was the opportunity to connect with other people. To catch up with long lost friends from decades prior. Since I served in the military, I literally know people who live across the globe, so it has been nice to see what people are up to these days decades later.

The problem I now see is that rather than social media being a place to connect with others, it’s devolved into a constant stream of political posts. Our identity and our lives are not predominately political, regardless of what our culture tells us. Politics play an essential role in promoting the common good and we should stay informed and work to overcome injustice, but it in no way makes up the vast majority of our lives unless we actually work in politics.

My Facebook newsfeed is a war of constant opposing political posts. I myself have joined the American Solidarity Party and I rarely post anything political anymore. I use to, all of the time, and I lost friends for it. I understand why now. It’s not so much that we had differing views. It’s the fact that 10 years ago when I worked in politics, it was all I posted. All I would share is my political ideology, and I was an ideologue.

A lot of people who send me friend requests–like me years ago–largely only posts political posts. I must admit I groan a little bit. When a new outrage wagon comes rolling into town, my newsfeed explodes and I usually have to walk away until it’s gone. It makes social media miserable to only see my friends and family posting their competing narratives while those of us who tend to take a more middle-of-the-road approach are attacked from both sides. Regardless of what folks claim, there is no political party in the U.S. that conforms fully to Catholic Social Teaching. That means there’s no Catholic party. People are free to argue conscience and their views, but no one can claim their party is Catholic, even if abortion is the supreme human rights issue of our day.

I enjoy discussing current events and many of my posts are related to what is going on in the Church, but I also post a lot of satire because we need more levity in a polarized digital age. More than anything, I try to share what is going on in my life both in the day-to-day and spiritually. I’m a Catholic writer, so the spiritual life is the most important thing to me other than my family. I share the good and the bad.

Since most of my Facebook friends focus solely on politics or current events, I know absolutely nothing about their lives. All I know is what political party they are affiliated with. It seems to me that this flies in the face of the whole point of connecting with other people. Shared interests are one thing, but complete tunnel vision and focus on one topic makes it very difficult to connect with other people on anything other than a superficial level. Often we use social media to be a reflection of our own political beliefs, rather than using it to learn more about other people or to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I always find it interesting when someone finally posts a personal post, usually a prayer request, and they put in “I rarely do this, but I need prayers.” Since when is requesting prayers from the Mystical Body supposed to be rare? Why do we view prayer as a burden? It’s the most real thing that a person may post. It’s a reminder that there is a living, breathing person made imago Dei behind the posts. Why should relying on one another be rare? Why does social media need to be a constant stream of current affairs and political fights? It’s a tool that can be used for so much good.

When I started sharing my family’s struggles with others and requesting prayers things changed for us. I’m convinced the prayers of my friends in social media, my parish, and elsewhere were the reason my husband was diagnosed quickly and he’s still here. We are the Mystical Body. We are meant to lift one another up.

Why is asking for prayers considered shameful? In our weakness we are made strong according to St. Paul. Showing that we are human and struggling with the afflictions of this life is a witness to the need for Christ and one another. It shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or seen as a burden to others. We can’t go it alone. That’s one of the major lessons of the spiritual life. I’d rather know more about what is going on in someone’s life than read 15 political posts from them.

Part of the reason we are becoming more divided and polarized is because we no longer view social media as a place to connect with others. Instead, it’s becoming our own individual sounding board where we can throw out our political beliefs at high speed. Have any of us changed someone’s mind through all of these posts? I never have. I never did back in the days when that was what I mainly posted.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing them and engaging in debate. My concern is simply that all I see are political posts. I know nothing about most of the people who have requested my friendship on social media. So I guess the question would be: why do you want to be friends with me on social media or anyone else for that matter? I ignore the vast majority of political posts in my newsfeed and I head straight for theology, Church news, the outdoors, or satire. Are we building community or are we simply adding to a list? It’s worth considering. And for the record, I’m happy to pray for you anytime.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

God Is In The Details: My Secondary Vocation to Spiritual Motherhood

It’s amazing how the smallest of details are a part of God’s plan for our lives. We often ignore the minutiae in the busyness of our lives, but God is there working on our salvation in what appears to simply be a day on the calendar. We can see it in the lives of the saints who die on significant feast days or many died at the age of 33. I have come to see in my own spiritual life that certain feast days are filled with greater graces and often I will be asked to do something on one of those days that I wouldn’t do on any other day. Marian feast days and Holy Week are the greatest of these in my own life.

I’m starting to see these small details and how they weave into the very fabric of how Christ is leading me towards Him. I never paid attention before, largely because of my own self-absorption and partly because I didn’t consider how God is always working even when I don’t see it. I was born in Helena, MT and handed guardianship of three holy relics of the True Cross at 33 years of age. The holy relic that was the instrument of Our Lord’s death and our salvation found by *St. Helena* in the 4th century. I only drew the connection nearly 5 years later and it was like being struck by lightning.

On March 23, 2012, a Friday, I had my second miscarriage. A child I firmly believe to have been a son: Caleb Augustine. I have had the deepest longing in my heart to have a son to give to Our Lord in the priesthood. Since I can’t have anymore children, I was confused as to why this longing was so deeply imbedded within me. On March 23, 2018, a Friday, after a significant experience that happened to me during the Mass that dramatically changed my spiritual life, I was handed my secondary vocation of spiritual motherhood to priests. God only revealed the connection between these two dates to me this past weekend as we approach that anniversary this weekend. The realization has been nothing short of mind-blowing for me. God doesn’t miss any details. The same priest was even with me on both days at two different parishes six years apart.

On the painful anniversary of losing my first son–I believe I lost my second son on August 8, 2016 on the feast of St. Dominic when we had already named him for a Dominican as Andrew Thomas (see those small details are actually big ones!)–six years to the day, God handed me the secondary vocation of being a spiritual mother to His priests in a time of crisis, scandal, pain, and confusion. To pray and sacrifice for them in love, as so many others have done before me, including one of my closest friends in the Communion of Saints: St. Therese of Lisieux. God is working in every area of our lives every single day.

I miss my babies, but God has already blessed me a great deal through this secondary vocation. As I told the ladies last weekend at the retreat when I discussed Mary and Spiritual Motherhood, being a spiritual mother comes with great joys and sorrows, just like being a biological/adoptive mother. It requires sacrifice and since it’s a vocation it is also a path to learning how to die to self in love. Spiritual motherhood comes from Our Lady who teaches us how to open our hearts up more expansively, even in the midst of grief. 

When I realized that I would not be able to have more children, I wondered in prayer if I’d ever experience that level of joy again as the day when I first held my daughter. So many of my friends are still being blessed with children and I am not. In my grief, I wasn’t sure. The answer is yes. Spiritual motherhood is yet another path to charity and it comes with incredible joy. In order to be able to open myself up to that joy God had to teach me how to let go of what I wanted, including my desire for more children. When I let go and gave everything back to God, just as Our Heavenly Mother did at the foot of the Cross, Christ was able to break open deeper wellsprings of charity within me that I didn’t even know existed. It’s hard to let go of what we want, but God’s ways are not our own and He is not to be outdone in generosity.

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.