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Allison Ink Slingers

Keeping Our Sympathy

And Jesus Wept Statue

During a thirty minute wait in a physician assistant’s office a few weeks ago, I had enough time to read all of the informational pamphlets on a dozen different drugs and conditions. When my provider excused herself to consult with one of the doctors, I learned all about unpronounceable medications and rheumatoligical conditions. There is a drug that inserts itself into DNA and strangles cell replication and another drug that doctors don’t even know how it works for autoimmune diseases, just that it does. And there is a condition so odd that it is called a phenomenon. One of the last-ditch treatments for this Raynaud’s Phenomenon, when blood flow to the hands and feet is severely reduced, is nerve surgery called a sympathectomy. The nearby nerves, named sympathetic, that control the blood vessels in the hands and feet are cut in order to “interrupt their exaggerated response.” I understand that the surgery strips away troublesome nerves around the dangerously constricting blood vessels, but the word “sympathectomy” sounds dreadful. I wonder if some of our personal sympathy is being cut out of us these troublesome days.

The word is defined as “feelings of sorrow for someone else’s misfortune” or “understanding between people.” And it seems that every time I open up a newspaper (Yes, we still receive a real paper in a tube by our driveway; it’s good for the kids to run up there and read the headlines before flipping to the comics and fun page!) or scroll through news websites, there is horror and sorrow: Syria, ISIS, our own cities and campuses. It’s easy to shake my head and keep flipping the paper while in my comfortable kitchen, but I must not. I must not ignore sympathy. I must nurture my uncomfortable feelings of sorrow for others’ misfortune and strive to understand others’ plights. When an ambulance or police car zips past us on the road, we all cross ourselves as a quick prayer; “Help them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I’m trying to do the same when reading news stories.

God has sympathy for us. He became one of us, uniting himself with humanity. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” God, in the person of Jesus, pitched his tent (dwelt) with us like the traveling tabernacle of old. It was the architectural expression of God’s presence with Israel; Jesus is the human expression of God’s presence with us. In the Nicene Creed, written in AD 325 even before the canon of the New Testament was finally accepted, we affirm, “For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” The point of a creed is that it is truth about God. The word credo means “I believe;” I believe this truth, these sacred words, this reality. The reminder of truth is solid grounding in the uncertainties and problems of life. He came down from heaven for us and our salvation; halleluia! Yes, I believe.

And Jesus has sympathy for us. While on the earth, he was moved by people’s suffering. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things (Mark 6:34).” Later on in the chapter is the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He had sorrow for their misfortune; he understood. Even though he knew what was going to happen when his friend Lazarus died (John 11), “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” at the sisters’ weeping and pain. Here is where we find a favorite verse for children to memorize, the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” He actually wept. According to Hebrews 4:15, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

crucifixFrom our catechism, “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony, and his passion, and gave himself up for each one of us. The son of God loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). Jesus’ Sacred Heart, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that… love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings with out exception (#478).

So we can read the news and embrace those feelings of sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. We can draw close to Jesus, who understands and loves all human beings without exception. Let us not cut away our sympathies (except for Raynaud’s Phenomenon).

 

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Allison Ink Slingers

Peace in Pain

You know how Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body; that is, the Church (Colossians 1:24).”?

And you know how the Catechism says, “By his passion and death on the cross, Christ has given a new meaning to suffering; it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive passion #1505).”?

I have to do this, dear Sistas. Don’t worry; my children with cystic fibrosis are fine, no turns for the worse; I’ve not received dreadful diagnosis. But I do have a situation with zero answers. I’ve had many punctures and pictures and proddings and prescriptions the past few months and have been finally told, “We do not know why your knee swells up like a grapefruit every ten days. Everything looks perfect. Sorry no anti-inflammatories work. Do you want to take immunosuppressants and see if they help? By the way, most of them take four to six months to begin working.”

I’ve been bare-knuckling through four-day spans of crippling pain only to begin the process again ten days later, over and over for months (Years, actually, but the pain is new). And now the final test has returned with perfect numbers so this past week was time for me to come to grips with myself. I hate to admit such weakness. I have to offer up this pain and immovability as a prayer. It is real and raw.

I’m trying to make more of a plan, other than hissing through a rosary in the middle of the night because I’m distraught; other than crying to the kids to eat cherios for supper because I can’t get up; other than hyperventilating to my husband that we’ll never go hiking again. I need to regularly pray whether I’m down or not. I need to put food in the freezer when I’m up to cover when I’m down. I need to head to the mountains with everyone when I’m strong and enjoy listening to their stories when they return home after going without me.

I’d like to think I will live on my sofa with a glowing, holy aura about me as I read stories and play board games with the children while offering heavenly advice and encouraging conversation, but I’ll probably struggle with my anger, cry a lot, and skip a few rosaries. I’ll keep my plan before me, though, and take baby steps forward.

This is where our Holy Faith meets the road, isn’t it? Do I believe it? Can I rejoice in this and get closer to Christ? I find my answer with Paul in Philippians 4:8.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.”

Jesus is all of these things. I can be at peace.

a.h. photo

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Christine End of life Faith Formation Ink Slingers Offering your suffering Prayer Respect Life

Note to Self: Age with Joy

If I’m going to run the race, I want to finish well.  As soon as the end is in sight, I want to push myself even harder and faster until my feet cross the finish line. Truth be told, I’m no runner. I’m more of a walking, hiking, stroller-pushing, anything but running type.  However, I think “running the race” is such a perfect analogy for our lives here on Earth… to not give in to distractions that will make us lose focus, to give it everything we’ve got, to finish well. The prize that I aim to win is no blue ribbon. It is heaven.

Can I be “for real” with you? All of us are going to die some day. Most of us will grow old. Growing old means our bodies may become less mobile and less obedient to our will. You may find yourself struggling to thrust your body out of bed in the morning or you might have a hard time folding your joints in half when getting in and out of a vehicle.  Games like Twister and Limbo could be deadly and you may actually find yourself purchasing LifeCall, the product notorious for the catchphrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

As we age, we will likely experience more aches and pains, and perhaps even intense physical suffering.  These are not necessarily easy things to embrace. I’m in my late twenties now, so I’m not exactly elderly yet. “Spring chicken” you say? Well, not quite. Sometimes my body doesn’t do what I tell it to do, sometimes I have unexpected aches and pains, and I even found out at my last visit to the eye doctor that I have the beginning signs of macular degeneration (which apparently is something that only people over the age of 50 are supposed to have to worry about- yowza!) Thankfully, as Catholics, we recognize the beauty of suffering and its redemptive quality. Physical pain can be both beneficial for our own souls as well as the souls of others. How beautiful! How beautiful that Christ could turn the torture device of the cross into a means of saving our souls and opening the gates of heaven to us!

There are few things in this world which make my heart ache more than the sight of an elderly person overcome by loneliness and fear, sorrowfully waiting until death arrives.  Likewise, there are few things which propel my soul heavenward more than the sight of an elderly person living life to the full despite, or perhaps because of, their suffering. Can you think of an elderly person in your life who lifts up your spirits? Someone who lives with great joy despite rejection, illness, and other hardships? I don’t know about you, but these are the people, who I think are running “so as to win”. They are living with joy until the very end.  They are giving it all they’ve got until their tired, old feet pound across the finish line. That’s who I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a wrinkly-falling-apart-happy-old-lady, filled with the joy of the Lord and the knowledge that I gave this race all I had.

I’d like to give you two concrete examples of what I’m talking about… one from the public realm and one from my family:

 1) Blessed Pope John Paul II

This holy man showed us by example how to age with peace and joy.  Though he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he continued to love and serve Christ and the Church to the full. If I may borrow Pope Benedict XVI’s words from his homily at the ceremony in which Pope John Paul II was beatified, “Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a “rock”, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Eucharist”.

For a brief overview of the life of John Paul II and how he embraced the will of God with joy and enthusiasm, I highly recommend the movie Pope John Paul II with Jon Voight and Cary Elwes.

Image taken from: http://persecution.in/content/gcic-celebrates-blessed-john-paul-ii-champion-religious-freedom

2)      My grandfather

My Papa cares for his Alzheimer’s stricken wife, my grandmother, with immense joy and love. Alzheimer’s, as many of you may already know, is a progressive degenerative disorder of the brain.  My grandmother is in the final stages of this disease. Comparable to the care required by an infant, she is totally dependent on the care which my grandfather provides. Day in and day out for over fifteen years he has tended to her at home, even finding joy in brushing her hair and occasionally putting a bit of lipstick on her lips.  I have never heard him complain. On the contrary, he often smiles and jokes about how much fun they’re having together.

Less than two weeks ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is still uncertain if it has spread outside of the prostate and what his exact treatment will be. Do you want to venture a guess what his most heartfelt wish is? He doesn’t want to die before my grandmother because he simply wants to be able to care for my grandmother until the end of her life. I wish I could express to you in words the character of this man- both the tremendous strength and the deep tenderness with which he loves.  He has given me a great example to live by in so many ways- faithful, lifelong marriage; embracing life; and aging with grace and joy. Please pray with me that if it is God’s will, he will be able to care for my grandmother until her very last breath.

When I am a shriveled up old lady swaying in my rocking chair reflecting on days past, I hope that I can honestly say that I embraced life, with all of its crosses and victories.  Rather than be self-absorbed in pain and suffering, I want to continue to love and serve the Lord and those around me with all of my heart.  Should I need a reminder of these goals forty years down the road in the midst of my pain, let me write myself a friendly little reminder- “Note to self: Age with joy!”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Henry David Thoreau

Feel free to comment/answer below: Can you think of an elderly person in your life who lifts up your spirits? Someone who lives with great joy despite rejection, illness, and other hardships?