Faith Formation Guest Posts Prayer Real And Raw Series

If Only I Hadn’t _________

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series REAL AND RAW – SOUL-STIRRING STORIES, a series focused on taking a candid look at the Faith and life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.

“If only I hadn’t _____.”  

How many of us have said that – days, months, years, decades, after?  Remorse, guilt, shame, self-blame… we push the memory into the darkest recesses of our sub-consciousness, but the effects are still there, silently affecting our self-worth, our relationships, and our faith.  There is another path however. One of God’s unending mercy that heals and transforms us from deep within. It’s a path of self-forgiveness, beauty, and peace. I know it’s there because I was blessed to find it.  I pray you find it, too.

It could have been a chapter in a book from The Series of Unfortunate Events. The week started with a difficult surgery first thing Monday morning. Dreading the ordeal, I attacked the situation with full resolve to offer my pain and discomfort for others in the same situation or worse. I was dead set on saving the world from my bed, until I discovered mid-week this tough girl ain’t so tough sometimes – neither the flesh nor the spirit were up to offering anything for anyone or anything. God was putting me through Acceptance 101, and I was getting the lesson loud and clear. Or so I thought. Thursday I woke up barely able to move from some type of lower back muscle strain. Ok God, I guess class is still in session. Hoping that was the end, I tried to quash the old adage “things happen in threes.” But the Unfortunate Events chapter continued to unravel its newest plot twist on Saturday morning. My greatest lesson was about to begin.

The Gospel of John, Chapter 8 – the infamous story of the woman caught in adultery by the Scribes and Pharisees. As the narrative progresses, you can sense her shame and fear at being discovered. They bring her to Jesus (without the man, as was the law), make her stand in the middle of the crowd, condemn her, and state that under Moses the punishment is stoning. Jesus, after bending down to write something on the ground, responds, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” As she stands there, I can imagine her, head bowed, waiting with held breath for the first strike. I’ve thought about her often, because for the past 35 years, I have been that woman.

No, I wasn’t caught in adultery, brought before a crowd of Jesus’s followers and made to stand there silently waiting for the first stone to hit me. I was young, alone and afraid, sitting in an examining room as a doctor pronounced his sentence with a single nurse as his witness. Shame, guilt, humiliation, self-condemnation, remorse – those were the stones strewn about the room and I felt their sting just as if they had been picked and thrown. The doctor and nurse’s words droned on as I listened in stunned disbelief and silently cursed the boyfriend who had failed to disclose he was a STD carrier. Should he not have been present to be condemned as well?

In the woman’s case, the whole town probably knew her guilt. Even if she was spared, her life was an open book that prevented her from escaping repeated condemnation. In my case, no one knew the guilt I carried. Self-condemnation was tucked deeply within the pages of a closed book I refused to open. Surely her relationships must have suffered the effects of her public sentence; my relationships suffered the silence of a truth I couldn’t bear to voice. Her actions, revealed before many – did she have the courage to seek to be forgiven and accepted? My actions, hidden from all – would I ever have the courage to seek forgiveness and acceptance?

How blessed she was to hear the words of our Lord Himself, “Neither do I condemn you.” How many years had I longed to hear those words, and yet, even if I had heard them, I doubt I would have believed them. I had been tricked by the lies the enemy settles deep into our hearts – you are unworthy, tainted, ugly. Already having made life decisions I knew I could never reconcile with my faith, this only served to push me even further away from the One who would have said those words to me had I but been willing to approach Him. But, as is so often the case, we run from Him like Adam and Eve in the garden, refusing to believe that our Creator could be anything but the Just Judge who sits upon His throne dispensing damnation sentences upon His fallen creatures. She and I had both become victims to our own disordered desires in seeking love, self-worth, attention, etc., within the confining limits of our weakened nature. Did she believe His words that day? Did she heed His words ” Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore?”

Over the years, every time I have had to open that book to disclose my guilt (which was only done under extenuating circumstances such as when I had to face telling the man I knew I would marry or when I had to fill out medical paperwork), I was transported right back to that examining room full of its stones waiting to be thrown. And once again, the lies would be resurrected and the wounds would become deeper. Coming back to my faith as an adult, steeped in its stoic “do’s and don’ts”, shoved that closed book further and further back on the bookshelf lest it jeopardized the image of my life as a Catholic Christian woman neatly practicing her faith in a growing family.

God knocks and waits

Never One to force Himself upon us, He thirsts for us as ardently as the day He thirst upon the cross. A God of unending creativity, His knocking comes in as many ways as you can envision. Two summers ago, a book found its way into my hands, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told by Fr. Gaitley.  It is the story of our fall and God’s unending, almost pleading attempts to bring us back to Him. It challenged everything I had catalogued within my notional knowledge of God. Here was a God who wasn’t glaring down from His Judgment seat, but a God who burned with one desire – that we place our total trust in Him and His Divine Mercy. I had heard the knock…hesitantly, I cracked open the door.

Fr. Gaitley’s book launched me on an almost insatiable quest to know everything I could about Divine Mercy. The Diary of St. Faustina, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told DVD series, St. Therese of Lisieux’s Little Way, and the writings of Pope St. John Paul II, whose entire pontificate embodied the Divine Mercy message. I couldn’t learn enough fast enough and I felt as if my spiritual life had taken flight. I immersed myself in promoting the message however I could. I begged for the grace to live a life of mercy for others and the words, “Jesus, I trust in You” became my mantra. All the while, that closed book remained securely tucked away on the bookshelf.

Like a child who timidly stands at the water’s edge and dips a toe in to check whether it’s “acceptable” to take the plunge, the occasion to “test the water” arose unexpectedly one day in a conversation with a friend. Did I dare to believe the book could be opened without condemnation? I stepped ankle-deep into the waters of that friendship, dusted off the cover of that stowed away book, and cracking it open relayed my story, ending with “So, there it is – the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I waited. The same old stones lay about me. The same lies screamed back at me. Although I had placed the past before the Lord in confession on more than one occasion and knew I had been forgiven, the wounds were just as fresh as that day long ago. My friend’s response was soaked in the waters of mercy, “okay….first….nothing about you is ugly.” The book now lay wide open.

In the days that followed, God worked on my heart like a surgeon trying to repair years of diseased tissue. At the grocery, I spontaneously bought myself flowers and for days they were a visual reminder of the beauty I was beginning to rediscover in myself. As part of a project with a women’s mentoring group, I worked on a collage that was to reflect how I wanted to see myself by the end of the session. The timing of the project was uncanny. The pictures I chose reflected images of my faith and nature, places and things that spoke to my heart or reminded me of someone God had spoken through. My mentor nailed it on the head when she remarked that she felt the collage spoke of the Beauty and Truth I was searching for.  

I flipped through the pages of that open book, searching for the beauty I knew had to be there.  Within the words of those pages, God revealed many truths about myself and my life. I saw a faith that had grown with His grace, forgiveness, and redemption. I worked through a myriad of emotions and felt I had finally come to terms with the past. I closed the book.  There was a peace and a freedom I hadn’t felt before. Was this what it was like to be healed? Is this what the recipients of His healing hands had felt?

A series of Unfortunate Events

Saturday dawned early as the discomfort of surgery and my aching back roused me from my sleep. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. It was then I realized the truth and I was propelled instantly back to that examining room. The stress of the surgery had triggered a relapse. The book was flung open before me, it’s pages screaming my guilt. The stones of condemnation piled up around me, just waiting to be picked up and thrown. Where was the beauty I had seen just weeks ago? Where was the forgiveness? I struggled to keep my emotions together and did the only thing I could think of. I stared long and hard at the image of Divine Mercy. What was I missing? What was I not seeing?

Almost instantly, He revealed it. Not In His face, which looks out on us in love. Not in the rays of blood and water radiating from His Sacred Heart, which wash away our guilt. Not even in His raised hand, which gestures a sign of peace. It was somewhat hidden, found in the almost indiscernible differing colors of blues and greens surrounding His Sacred image, which St. Faustina said represent the colors of the ocean – not just any ocean, but the unending depths of His Ocean of Mercy. There I found the final question that begged for an answer. Could I forgive myself? Could I be merciful to that girl of long ago? I slowly picked up a stone, feeling it’s weight in my hand. I tossed it and watched as it landed in those waters and disappeared into the depths. One by one, I held them and then threw them into the water, captivated by the ripples that traveled in every direction. Finally, I picked up the book, closed its cover and heaved it as far as I could. It entered the water with a resounding splash and sent ripples far beyond the edges of the image. The tears flowed down my face. The battle was finally won. All those years and in the end, all He had wanted me to do was to finally let it go – deep down into that Ocean of His unending Mercy, its ripples going out far and wide as a testimony to the rest of the world proclaiming “Jesus, I trust in You.”

If Only I Hadn't______

For more information about Divine Mercy, click here or here.


Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before this experience?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?


DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}


MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

A FRIEND ASKS – FREE APP (Jason Foundation) – helps provide information, tools, and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be in danger of committing suicide.


Ink Slingers Series Stephanie The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

Imagining Ourselves Away from Anxiety and Into the Arms of Christ

Imagining Ourselves Away from Anxiety and into the Arms of Christ
If you spend time around children, you know they tend to have vibrant imaginations. Anxiety does not riddle them. They use their minds to create or immerse themselves in something that they cannot see. They simply imagine a setting, characters, and situations, and they are able to transport themselves into a game or an environment that exists only in their minds. Then, something which previously was not, comes to life. I would often admire my own children’s ability to imagine almost anything and to participate in it fully, and I’d think, I wish I still had such an active imagination.”


Then one day something hit me. It turns out that I have an excellent imagination. As someone who often crosses the border into hypochondria, and always has, there are times when I bring something out of nonexistence and give it life and power over me.
No imagination?
I cannot begin to count the times I had a new or odd physical symptom, and within 10 minutes of letting my imagination run amok, I thought myself to be knocking on death’s door. And I do not limit myself to hypochondria; I can worry about almost anything if I put my mind to it.

The Effects

Over the past couple years, I have recognized the negative effects of this pattern. Using my imagination only for the worst-case scenario takes me out of the present moment. I allow myself to be smothered by fear and hypothetical woes, thus disengaging with the actual gifts before me. This draws me away from my family, and even more so, from God. When I realized that giving into my anxiety through my active imagination is an impediment to holiness, I knew I had to train myself out of it. It’s a work in progress, but progressing I am.

But first, a DISCLAIMER

Before I continue, let me say that I am talking about anxious tendencies rather than a medical diagnosis of anxiety. (I firmly believe in seeking professional or medical advice when it is appropriate.)

Strategies that helped Anxiety

Now, back to my particular experience. I developed a strategy to intentionally reduce my anxiety, and it is simple. First, when I notice myself imagining something rooted in fear, I tell myself to step back and acknowledge reality.
What is my actual reality at this moment?
Is there any action I must take right now with regard to that reality?
If not, then I ask God to help me let it go and I try not to waste any more energy or imagination toward it.
A second strategy helps me in my quest to resist worry. That same over-active imagination which had previously been operating at full strength, though to my detriment, needed an outlet compatible with the desire for holiness. So I resolved to use my imagination not for anxious purposes, but toward getting to know Jesus”, a phrase that has long intimidated me.

Rest leads to prayer

I am no stranger to fatigue. I often feel the need for rest and comfort. So, for prayer time before going to bed, I began imagining myself resting with Him. Maybe He would be seated and I would rest my head on His lap. I could imagine myself letting go of all fear because Jesus was on watch while I slept. Eventually, I would imagine us walking together, looking at beautiful things, or I would speak my heart and let Him be an empathetic friend. This led to wonderful surprises.
I started to feel drawn to His Sacred Heart. Out of the blue, it seems, I would imagine myself approaching His Sacred Heart, becoming completely enveloped in it. The Sacred Heart is now a familiar weapon against fear and one which brings me peace and calm. The other surprise is that after significant time imagining myself with Christ in simple, brief moments, I one day heard Him speak to me. Not an audible voice, but one my heart understood clearly. I’d been doing some housework, silently offering my prayers before Christ as I did so. I remember exactly where I was, walking across my bedroom. I heard Him say, I ask that you desire only Me.” This was such a gift! After all these years of wanting a personal relationship with Christ and wishing I could hear His voice, my imagination was the instrument that made it happen.
I can tell you, I was mighty proud of myself for coming up with this stuff about imagination, Jesus, and anxiety. For a hot second I applauded myself for the discovery, but a face-palm moment quickly followed. After giving this just a little more thought, I recognized that the notion of prayerful imagination is deeply nestled into the heart of the Church.

What the Church encourages

Here are a few instances the Church encourages the use of imagination to attain holiness:
Jesus taught his disciples (and us) through parables. A parable is simply a story. By teaching a lesson in story form, it encouraged the use of the disciples’ imaginations in order to find the meaning in his words. We can imagine these rich stories which illuminate the way to God.
Ignatian Spirituality: St. Ignatius invites us to engage our senses through imagination to deeply reflect on the life of Jesus. We might pick a Gospel passage and imagine ourselves to be a character. What sights, smells, sounds are present in this scene? What is my role in this passage? How would I feel if I experienced this event? This can help us to gain more insight into the life of Christ so we may know him better.
The Holy Rosary: Our Lady gave us these prayers to recite while we meditate on the mysteries of the life of Jesus. By immersing ourselves into the scenes of His life, we can grow our love for the Son and honor His Mother. Our imagination can take us to a new level of intimacy with Jesus and Mary as we seek to increase our faith, hope, and love.
There are countless other ways we can use our imaginations for the good of our souls. If we take time to train ourselves in using our imaginations prayerfully, we can more naturally tend toward the good, the true, and the beautiful, rather than every hypothetical that is decidedly not. 
What are some ways you can think of that uses our imagination for the good of our souls?


DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}


MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

Faith Formation Ink Slingers Prayer Sacramentals Susan

How to Build Your Family on a Rock (and Why!)

Communicate together, Heal together

Recently our family has had to deal with injustice and dishonesty toward our family. It was painful, particularly because the other party does not see any wrong done by them and made it clear we are never to interact with them ever again. We tried to express gratitude for the wonderful opportunities they made possible for us, but the words were not appreciated. Our family has had to walk away from a good thing that went sour. We have talked and discussed all the details within the confine of our home to help each other get past the pain and move onto forgiveness. It was our youth that reminded us that new opportunities will come along, and that is exciting.

When we allowed the topic to come up, further healing came. We listened to each other, corrected each other, and praised the efforts of one another. We acknowledged the difficulties and injustice, but also marveled at how could Christ take all the hatred He was given, the pain? How could he forgive so deeply in the moment of the injustice!? He did it for us to learn from. Sharing the pains together as a family has made us stronger as a family, and gave us firmer footing.


Pray together for those who hurt you

Christ was not joking when he said, “Pray for your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, pray for those who persecute you.” Every day each of us encounters personal hurt. We can be truly hurt by the words of others. And frustration only grows when we cannot patch the issue with more words. There comes a time, rather early on in injustices, that we must pray for those who pained us. We must take Jesus’s words to heart and action; not alone either, but as a family and with Christian friends.

I learned more personally this lesson within the family at daily prayer. Our daughter had encountered a person whose personality clashed with hers. Instead of avoidance and being mad, she asked friends to pray for the other girl, and mentioned the girl in our family night prayers. Within a month, they were getting along so very well and enjoying each others presence. A trust had formed not only between them, but between my husband and I with the girl. Only gratitude for the learning experience and for the girl lingers. And that is Good!


Order Life Around God

I was warned by a relative, whom I look up to as wise, that we had our priorities out of line. He expressed concern and I told him I would think more about it. As the summer progressed I began understanding what he saw that I had not. We were putting our kids’ activities before the first duties to God and family necessities. We were spending money where it was not prudent at this time in our lives. Thankfully, God took direct care of ending those activities by means outside our control, but not without pain, and not without much blessing. But why could I not have been more prudent to begin with? Why do we parents invest so much time and energy into activities that may not be what our kids REALLY need to be doing? It seems like a disease at times!

In our recent situation, the activity was ended by a chain of unfortunate events and we were left with “free time.” I looked out the window one of these days and saw my daughter working on a hobby she has not done in over a year. I said to my husband, “That’s what she should be doing. Exploring her own interests naturally.” What God actually did for our family was cleared out the source of sorrows, stresses, and drama so we could experience freedom to follow Him wherever he leads. As a family we are seeing the blessings of NOT being scheduled around unnecessary activities. We share with you the importance of scheduling our family lives around Sunday mass, monthly confession, daily family Rosary, and a daily sit-down family meal.  These are the daily routines that keep families on the Rock.


Model especially when it is difficult

In the home parents must witness to the family the higher call Christ demands. In the world, each member of the family must model His high ideal, especially in difficult situations. In injustice, we must be just. In suffering, we must strive to be patient and kind. In confrontation, we must behave to gain a clear mind and keep returning to words of forgiveness and gratitude, or if need be end the conversation with grace and walk away.

On a morning my own deep knowledge of injustices done to my family became very raw with sorrow. My dear friend saw me and with compassion listened, then advised me: “We are called to be the ones in the world who model Christ’s higher call, so in every situation, God’s grace can usher into people’s lives.” The words were absolutely true and gave me new insight on the Christian call to holiness. At a later time, with serious words we clarified with our youth that anger needs to stop somewhere. Even the smallest gossip proves we still are angry…it musts stop with us so forgiveness and love may take its place.

As Christians we are expected to stop vice in its tracks so it cannot go any further. As for our family, we choose to stop it here! But we need each other to be strong to live virtue rather than vice. It cannot be done without communication, prayer, and living our lives around God.


Choose your King

So often we do devotions as individuals. The family has the gift to develop devotions in community with one another. Praying the Rosary, reading the Bible, going to Mass and confession, going to Adoration; all of these are main forms of devotion. But what can the family do that takes it a step further? They can have a Home Enthronement.

A decade ago I use to organize Home Enthronements for families in our town through word of mouth. I had to give it up for many years now for health and family reasons. However, a series of events occurred since August that made it clear I should return to this apostolate and offer my services to families again.  I am amazed at the smooth progress being made in getting started again. But what is it? And why do it for your family? Then How?

Home Enthronement is when a family asks Our Lady to come into their home and prepare them to enthrone Christ as King of their family. In the fewer terms: The family asks to be built on the Rock, and to be sheltered from the storms of life by Christ, their King. They make their home a domestic Church, a “tabernacle” for the neighborhood. In the ceremony, done in the home with a priest, the family consecrates itself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; images of the Two Hearts are blessed and hung in the center of the home; the whole house is blessed; and Brown Scapulars are given and anyone needing enrolled could be at that time. It is beautiful! The requirements of the family then is to pray daily together, renewing often the consecration prayer together; attend Sunday Mass.  Many families wear the scapular, and maybe hang one in the home or on their door. In our town, we give Benedictine medals as a gift to the families to hang above their exit doors. The family home is literally transformed and strengthened.

If you are interested in having your family and home enthroned to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, go to , then go to Shop, then to Home Enthronements. Buy your family the Home Enthronement Kit. It will have everything you need in it, except the Images of the Two Hearts. Read the booklet and ask your parish priest to come do the ceremony with you all. If you have any questions or if you want to know how to offer this in your parish, where to get images to print, etc. you may contact me through my blog at .


Be a Light in Darkness

None of us have to look far to see the world is very dark. People are confused in morality and religion. We do not have to look far to learn – Catholic Christians need to grow brighter! What better why then with Christ’s Light permeating from our homes and from the foundation of our lives being built on the Rock!? Vice and evil need to stop somewhere. Stop it before it leaves our families, so it stops spreading into the world. Build your family on Rock which is Christ and His Church!


Celeste Crafts Domestic Church Ink Slingers

Paint Your Own Sacred Heart

My family has many different religious statues, icons and images in our home but we were lacking one of the Sacred Heart. I’d never specifically gone looking for one, and most of the images we have are a collection that has accumulated over the years simply out of happenstance. Perhaps the Lord has helped to orchestrate it that way? I’m not sure! But I thought that it might be nice to have an image of His Sacred Heart.

What follows are instructions on how to paint your own Sacred Heart that requires little to no artistic ability, and is easy enough for kids as well.


Acrylic paints in the following colors

  • Gold
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Brown
  • Black
  • (Optional Acrylic Clear Coat Spray)

You also need a canvas. I chose a very small one, but you could use any size you like!

Brushes– One wide brush for the background, a round tipped medium size, and a thin tip for the details.

Start by covering your canvas in a layer of black for the background. Make sure that you cover all the white, and you can use a blow dryer to dry between layers. I highly recommend this so that you can do the painting in a very short time frame!

Next, put a nickel-sized puddle of gold paint in the middle of your canvas and using your round brush draw the paint outwards from the middle in even strokes to imitate light shining from within. Again, let the paint dry or dry it with a dryer.

Now you will add in the base for your heart. Using a dime-sized puddle of red paint, gently use your round-tipped brush to form a heart.
You can add more paint to make it thicker and less transparent so that it has an illusion of floating over the gold. Let it dry once again. Next, using some of your brown and black paint you are going to add in the crown of thorns. This is done using the thin brush and making small curved X’s, layering the brown and black to give the illusion of layers of thorns and shadow. At this point, paint in the wound and add drops of blood. I darkened some of the red paint with some brown to use to paint the blood droplets. Next, we’re going to add in the fire from the top of the heart. This is super simple! Collect a droplet of yellow paint on the tip of your thin brush and set it gently at the top of the heart. Clean your brush, and then collect a smaller droplet of red paint and set it on top of the still-wet yellow droplet. See next picture. Then, using the cleaned brush tip, or a pin or other very thinly-tipped tool, drag the red paint gently through the yellow to form flame shapes being careful not to mix them too much. This gives the impression of multi-colored flames of fire. At this point, you can call your painting done if you are happy with how it looks! If you are a bit artsier, you can darken some more red paint and add in some shading to your heart. Or leave it simply the way it is. If you are up to putting a clear coat on your art piece, I would let it dry at least overnight before spraying it and then give it a good 24 hours before framing it in your choice of frame. For my piece, I chose to use some tin and a hole punch to make a frame in the Mexican folk art style, but you could choose a premade frame in as ornate or simple as style as you like.

I hope you enjoy making your own special art piece, and that it blesses your home!

O most holy heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore you, I love you, and with lively sorrow for my sins I offer you this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to your will. Grant, Good Jesus, that I may live in you and for you. Protect me in the midst of danger. Comfort me in my afflictions. Give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, your blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Amen.

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).