On the Christian Meaning of Suffering

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

BE NOT AFRAID. I decided to return once more to the 1984 Apostolic Letter written by St. JP II titled Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Suffering that addressed the ever present question of suffering: why, what, and how? God transformed even something not part of His original design for humanity (suffering, pain, death, dying, etc.) into a means for transcendence: faith, hope, and charity.

We fear suffering. I can emphatically state in my greatest moments of suffering and the  suffering of my loved ones, I felt closest to heaven- the veil was lifted. Our suffering, united with Christ, can become salvific. “Suffering seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. It is deep as man himself, precisely because in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself (3).”

We fear weakness. Weakness means vulnerability & lack of control. Christ chooses weakness as the vehicle for salvation. “To Suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God . . . In [Christ], God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering . . . and wishes to have his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self (74).”

We fear the acquisition of virtue. Striving is the key word when acquiring virtue. Virtue acquisition takes hard work and doesn’t always “pay-off” in this life. “Suffering contains a special call to virtue . . . and this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintain him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity liked to the awareness of the meaning of life (75).”

We fear purgation. Purgation leads to heaven. God calls you and I to redeem ourselves and the world in our little way. “The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. . . The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structure of sin in which today’s world brings with it, the greater the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself (89).”

We fear true compassion. Our culture & society throws around the term compassion. What is compassion? Compassion comes from the Latin root com (with) and pati (suffer). Together compatior means “to suffer with.” Compassion means “to suffer with” another person. “We could say that suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish gift of one “I” on behalf of other people, especially to those who suffer (92).”

In the Gospels, Jesus repeats dozens of times, “BE NOT AFRAID.” It’s time to let go of the fear associated with suffering, death, & dying. And focus on living. Life is beautiful in all its forms & functions. It’s time to relearn how to suffer with each other. In the words of a man who understood and lived suffering: “In the messianic programme of Christ, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbor, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love (96).” Let us go forth and build a civilization of love . . .

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae: An Encyclical of Hope

 

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July 25, 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the prophetic and controversial Encyclical of Pope Paul VI Humanae Vitae or “On Human Life.”  Most people refer to his beautiful encyclical as the “contraception” encyclical. During a period of social, cultural, and religious turmoil surrounding the purpose and place of family, relationships, and procreation, Pope Paul VI released an reaffirmation of the truth: the Catholic Church would not support the use of artificial birth control or other reproductive technologies that could undermine family life and human dignity. But this was radical for the many influences adamant the Catholic Church would join their Protestant Christian brethren in accepting and normalizing artificial birth control.

What people miss by generalizing this prophetic document are the tenants of what eventually would be known as St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” or “Love and Responsibility.” This document expresses the profound nature of marriage between a man and woman, the marital embrace, and fruits of marital love. Love that is FREE, TOTAL, FAITHFUL, and FRUITFUL. After an exploration into love and marital love, Pope Paul VI warns of the dangers of artificial birth control and the consequences society would reap by accepting it. Towards the end of this document lies a call to action for medical practitioners and researches pleading for medical advancement regarding reproductive medicine, health, wellness. That is where my story with Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae most intimately begins.

Because of Humanae Vitae, we have the Pope Paul VI Institute and Creighton Natural Family Planning Method. We also benefit from NFP spin-offs like the Marquette Method. Because Pope Paul VI had divine inspiration and the guts to swim against the cultural tide, almost fifty years later, I had a fighting chance of health and wellness as a young woman in my mid-twenties. My friends have a fighting chance of healing from infertility. Or my mom from developing reproductive cancer. Or loved ones maintaining a pregnancy after miscarriages. One of the more hidden messages of Humanae Vitae is hope- hope in what seems like impossible odds.

Yes, this encyclical is an encyclical of love, but from that lesson in sometimes a very challenging and difficult school of love bears the fruit of other virtues such as faith and hope. Thinking about the past three years of my Naprotechnology treatment, though riddled with severe physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain, tears flow while I write this in gratitude and joy. I am beautifully broken and my journey of reproductive health and wellness is far from over. Amid the pain, suffering, and uncertainty, I found my dignity instead of loosing it.

Through the lens of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, I’ve experienced a glimpse into the profound nature of my womanhood and femininity and even a deeper insight into masculinity and manhood. My medical treatment is filtered through the lens of Christ viewing me as a good and godly creation. Beautiful in His sight. All because one little man in a white cassock (and a few others) inspired by the Holy Spirit swam against the tide and upheld authentic love instead.

Pope Paul VI, please, pray for us! Amen.

 

 

 

Catholic Match Blog Post

Please, read my recently published article on Catholic Match Institute’s Blog, by clicking on the link below.

Bargain Less & Embrace More: How to Navigate Love with Chronic Illness

This article shares my personal experience with navigating the highs and lows of life, love, dating, and relationships with chronic illness. Learn how I’ve changed my dating approach, and how I bargain less and embrace more while being true to who God created me and the unique manner in which God calls me to express love and be loved.

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Feed Your Soul: Morning Prayer

Seeking food for your soul? Establish a morning prayer routine. Identify and designate certain prayers you consistently pray and then expand with petition and thanksgiving. Waking up and praying a Morning Offering helps focus your heart and mind to recognize the most important reality- God and Heaven and your purpose here on this earth. Then I encourage praying prayers of Consecration or devotion to favorite or meaningful saints, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Our Lady.

Below begins my morning prayer routine that kicks start my day:

FaithFaith (1)Faith (2)

 

May God Bless You & Keep You!

Marriage Is . . .

The Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the Americas and Respect Life, prompted me to read the Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. Then I realized in the season of anticipation of a child’s birth what could be a more beautiful reflection on marriage and family that reflects Divine love as instituted by the Divine Creator. May you all have a Blessed & Happy Advent!

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Suffering in Silence: Life with Autoimmune Disease

For those unfamiliar with autoimmune disease either personally or by association, the best description I can give is your immune system, which keeps you healthy, begins attacking healthy cells – your body essentially attacks itself. There are a multitude of autoimmune diseases: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Celiac’s Disease, Scleroderma, Psoriasis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Ploymyalgia rheumatica, Pernicious Anemia, Multiple Sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, Chrohn’s Disease, Vascultitis, etc.

According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA,) over 50 million Americans are affected by autoimmune diseases with over 80 types of known autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune disease can run in families and 75% of those suffering from an autoimmune disease are women. African-American, Hispanic, and Native Americans have an increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease.

As with many diseases, autoimmune disease can have stages from systemic to remission. As a point of clarification, I’m not officially diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. My entire life I have lived with a loved one who has multiple autoimmune diseases. I also have friends with autoimmune diseases, especially conditions that became prevalent after college.

My blog post isn’t just an autoimmune disease awareness post, but an exploration into living with those silently suffering with these diseases.

 

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What Can Aggravate an Autoimmune Disease?

 

  • The Dignity of the Human Person: “A person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.”- St. John Paul II, Love and Responsibility. Tragically, our culture maintains a mostly utilitarian and social Darwinist approach to the dignity of the human person- if you can’t quantify the worth by the socially accepted rubric it ain’t there. I’ve witnessed the very real, painful struggle of a loved one clinging to their intrinsic worth and dignity while the world feeds them lies about how they are a burden on their family, loved ones, community, and society. A person is person regardless of form or function. Even the sickest or most deformed and seemingly inconvenient person is a child of God and reflects some aspect of the divine. Love bears all things and believes all things. Love rejoices in the truth.
  • People vs. Things: As the graphic above depicts, everyday life can be life threatening to a person with an autoimmune disease, especially a person facing a systemic autoimmune disease. Don’t even get me started about the inundation of artificial fragrances and bath/beauty/home products in North America creating a toxic environment. People don’t want to live in bubbles, but when the outside world is toxic, your options can be limited. Our home may be hypoallergenic and fragrance free, but we chose that long before it became a life-threatening need. Sometimes the process is arduous, expensive, and inconvenient or seemingly hopeless. But by choosing the person over a lifestyle and the things that make a lifestyle, we gain more than we “loose” in inconvenience, appearances, and expense. Our lifestyle may not be “sexy” or “glamorous” but it’s worthwhile and authentic.
  • A Person Isn’t a Tool: “You must remember to love people and use things, rather than to love things and use people.”- Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. A person isn’t a utility knife once rusty or broken you either repair or discard. Sometimes you can’t “repair” or “fix” a person, but you can suffer with a person (i.e., compassion.) Life with autoimmune disease or living with a person with an autoimmune disease isn’t easy and can be hard- the best type of hard. The lifestyle requires and demands mental/emotional/spiritual energy, staunch courage, creativity, perseverance in adversity, and loads of divine grace. Having a decent sense of humor and a level of abandonment in Christ helps too. But I found many people who struggle and suffer with an autoimmune disease have an immense capacity for joy and hope.
  • Learning About Yourself/Learning to Adapt: I went to dinner with my friend who is a Licensed Massage therapist and works with patients who have autoimmune diseases. She listened to my story (my family’s story and the difficulties we were facing.) She paused and stated, “You want to be frustrated with a person with an autoimmune disease when you can’t plan anything or commit to anything with certainty, but you can’t be. It isn’t their fault because no-one can predict how and why and what may happen hour by hour. And they are the one’s who suffer with this daily. How frustrating it must be for them.” She captured a rare truth. Living with a person suffering with an autoimmune disease is an exploration into one’s self (a mirror of sorts): your motivation, your priorities, your definition of commitment and relationships, your worldview, your sense of humor, your selfishness and selflessness, your compassion and empathy or the lack-there-of, your faith and the importance faith in your daily life, your humility, your pursuit of virtue versus vice, and whether you have the courage to live in the world but not conform to the world.

Thank you for reading and your support!

 

St. Lidwina, patron saint of chronic pain and chronic illness,  pray for us!

 

 

 

Dear Little One,

*Dedicated to Francis, Noel, & Karol*

With the news of your impending arrival, we rejoiced at the gift of your life and anticipated when we would interact with you in our surroundings. We marveled at the thought of another unique human being entering our family. We imagined the soft feel of a newborn paired with that uncanny bonding smell of a newborn. We could almost hear your soft content coo and infant cry. A baby is a gift.

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The joyous shrieks and squeals of your cousins echo in my memory as the soft tears of your grandparents, aunts, and uncles remain etched on my heart. We instantly held you in our hearts. A place you will always remain.

Though we never experienced your uncanny newborn smell, the softness of your skin, or the glow of your unique personality, you are ours. The quality of love shared with my living nieces and nephews cannot be explained or quantified. Years of bonding, connecting, living, breathing, and feeling with them. I may not as acutely feel your death the same way as I would theirs, but that isn’t your fault, Little One. The limits of my human imagination and experience don’t diminish the reality of your existence and personhood.

I do believe you’re watching over us, praying for us, and keeping company with family from above. We grieved your loss. Your parents miss you. We miss your presence. Little One, please, pray for us. And we, in turn, pray and hope for the day in which we shall be reunited with you.

Someday, Little One, I’ll hold you in my arms. For now, I’ll hold you in my heart. Thank you for being a part of our family and for your prayers. Please, take good care of each other.

With All My Love,

Aunt Hannah

 

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# St Francis #lightFr. Robert Spitzer wrote a book entitled “The Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life.” Contained within the chapter exploring prayer, my former university president suggests certain forms of spontaneous prayer. Every moment of every day is an opportunity for prayer. Particular prayers that ring true recently include “Help me, God!” Or “help!” Or “you take care of it!” God understands and hears our pleas. Intent is more eloquent than words.

Sometimes life feels heavy, very heavy. (Que me humming Heavy.) Sometimes there is no answer but Trust in God. Sometimes there aren’t feelings of consolation. Sometimes life just stinks. Life can feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Life can feel like all is too much.

In these moments, like today or the past couple of months, my only advice to myself and others is be honest with God about how you feel and where you’re at. He already knows, but I’m sure He appreciates the honesty. A priest friend posed the question recently of choosing between confessing the sin of anger or another emotion towards God or the sin of being dishonest about how we felt. Oh snap. God deserves respect and Holy fear, but God also deserves honesty and love.

When you feel burdened and crumbling under the weight of life’s challenges, God wants to know how you really feel. And he wants to extend a loving,  reassuring hand to support and guide you or I. When you can’t handle life anymore, God can.

Jesus, I trust in you.  Amen.

An Irresponsibly Responsible Life

During Respect Life Month, hundreds of thousands of people young and old walked for respect for Life from conception to natural death. Saturday January 28, 2017 marked the 2nd Annual Walk for Life Northwest. Around a 1,000 people attended the rally and walk in Downtown Spokane WA one weekend after the March for Woman drew thousands. Sadly, the latter march denied Pro-Life woman a voice. The “Pro-Life” movement isn’t just a religious movement anymore. Research the Secularist for Life or other related organizations. Sadly, the Northwest along with the entire West Coast is a hotbed for pro-death culture.

At the Mass for Life held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, the pews filled while Bishop Daly led Mass for the respect of life from conception to natural death. By some movement of the Holy Spirit, I found myself reading the First Reading from the Book of Hebrews about the many generations that came from a man and woman deemed infertile (Abraham and Sarah.) Never having lectured at the Cathedral, I found myself reading in front of a full Church in my jeans and snow boots.

My father lightly cried in the pew while I read unbeknownst to me. What my friend the young priest who recommended me didn’t know when I was asked to proclaim the Word of God, my parents were chastised by doctors for my conception and life. My Dad cussed out a doctor in a Philadelphia hospital. Doctors and family members called my parents “irresponsible.”

The doctors worst fears came true. I was born with the same genetic kidney condition my eldest brother and I share. I have been a “burden” on the healthcare and insurance system. My brother and I both defied the odds. He and I are in our late twenties and mid thirties. We are among the first generation of children to survive our particular condition. We are a medical miracle. We are a medical phenomena. But moreover, we have touched the lives of our family and countless strangers and acquaintances. We work. Practice our faith. My eldest brother is married with three beautiful and healthy children. We support and give back to our community and the environment. We pay taxes and practice responsible citizenship. We provide a little extra illumination to the world.

Yes, those grouches deemed our existence a burden and irresponsible. I wonder if these people just had no imagination or just feared the unknown so much it paralyzed them and squashed their ability to dream.

My parents choose life. For that I’m forever grateful. My parents dared to step into the unknown and dream. They dared to be creative and roll with the many many punches. My parents sacrificed money, education, power, success, and prestige for our lives. They sacrificed daily. I don’t know what the future brings or what extraordinary medical interventions my brother and I may or may not need. For now, we are who we are. People. Living breathing created in the image and likeness of God persons.

But because of our irresponsibly responsible lives, other children sharing ours or a similar condition will have a fighting chance at a healthy and whole life. And a dream. Thank you Mom and Dad for choosing life!

Life & Love with Chronic Illness

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Photo Credit: Isaiah Eyre Photography

As the years of my life unfold, my medical record lengthens and complications arise. My life isn’t over. My ability to love isn’t less. It may be even more. There is something to maturation with age. Young enough at twenty-seven to not accept the status quo, challenge the system, and fight passionately for my goals, dreams, and desires, but I have matured in many ways too. I’m much kinder to myself than I used to be and more at peace with who I am. The real person who I am. Not the person I could be if most realities in my life changed. I bargain less and embrace more.

Learn to recognize what you can change and what you cannot change. Are there days when I wished I woke up minus a few health conditions and the symptoms I experience? Sure. That is an understandable response. But, at the rising or end of the day, I have no real control over my diagnosis. What I do have control of is being as healthy and whole as possible. I eat better. I exercise. I avoid allergens or irritants that may aggravate symptoms. I stress less or at least attempt to. I seek professional help when needed. I relax. I have a clean and healthy living space. I engage in mental and physical activities that are enjoyable. I spend time with family and friends. I work. Take each day by day. Slow down and smell the roses, feel the breeze brushing your cheek, and laugh when snowflakes land on your nose.

Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t live up to your own expectations, others, or the culture’s expectations. If you have one or multiple chronic illnesses like me, you can’t be someone else or wish you were someone else. You are just you. And that is good. Many days, your physical, mental, and emotional health will dictate your day, the activities you engage in, and your daily priorities. Don’t feel inadequate because you stayed home while your friends went out for a drink. Don’t apologize for eating or drinking or doing whatever you need too differently in order to care for yourself. You aren’t less of a person because you have “limitations” and “weaknesses” or “special circumstances.”

Don’t compare yourself to others, “should haves” or “could haves.” This mindset is detrimental to anyone, but a killer to a person with chronic illness. Whether you’re perfectly healthy or not, you are beautiful, lovable, and good. For years after I graduated from college, I beat myself up because I couldn’t be and accomplish how I imagined or in the manner my peers did. My mental aptitude was there but the physical was more elusive. Four years out of college, I learned my worth isn’t tied to my accomplishments. Life is a beautiful and challenging surprise.

You are lovable. Worthy of love and being loved. My love life has been tumultuous. I seethed or cried when men said rude, shallow, shortsighted, and uncompassionate comments regarding my health and worth. It hurt badly. Then I realized it was more about their issues and less about mine. Then I changed my dating approach. I stopped apologizing. I stopped justifying. I stopped tolerating dumb, mean comments. Yes, this thinned out my prospects and good riddance. Yes, a good man did come into my life. A man that loves me even more for what many men fear not less. Again, don’t compare your love life to others. You aren’t less of a couple or less loving because you can’t or shouldn’t appear in a certain manner, go to certain events, etc. Don’t do yourself or the one whom you love this disservice.

Daily Motto: You are beautiful. You are lovable. You are good. You are enough.