Susan Bailey ponders how the spiritual gifts she receives through the sacraments have deepened and grown through suffering.
The Old Testament reading for the first weekday in Advent comes from Isaiah, chapter 11, verses 1 through 10, reminding me of the many spiritual gifts that God gives to us through his Son:
A Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2).
I imagine John the Baptist baptizing Jesus at the Jordan and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, bestowing these gifts of the Spirit. We, too, gain these graces at our Baptism and during Confirmation.
This Scripture, which we read just before Christmas, reminds me of how God has gifted me with spiritual treasures. I have become acutely aware of those gifts in the last nine months and treasure them because they are alive, growing ever deeper over my lifetime. Such growth comes through suffering.
In re-reading some of Saint Faustina’s diary this year, I was struck by her attitude towards suffering. Because she was such a sensitive and open soul, her grief was great. Yet as her knowledge of the Lord grew through her trials, it almost seemed as if she welcomed pain in her life, knowing her spiritual life would mature. That knowledge consoled her, and I never understood that until now.
We have all gone through various trials with this pandemic. When I first started hearing about it on the news, I felt oppressed by all the bad news and the fear. Everything that was once so familiar became foreign to me. I started working from home. I could no longer participate in the choir at church or cantor at Mass. For a long time, I could not even go to Mass, and I longed for the Eucharist. I could not give my daughter a hug and a kiss, nor could I look forward to a visit from our son this year. Then I was let go from my job of 27 years.
In the midst of all of this, my body began to react quite violently. The shaking in my left hand exploded into a whole-body tremor. After a long spring and summer of telehealth visits, testing out various medications, and going to physical therapy, I finally got a diagnosis in the fall when I was able to see my neurologist in person for the first time. What my body was experiencing had a name now — Parkinson's. The good news is that the medication that I am on is working very well and I feel like myself again.
I can now say with certainty that these last nine months have been a gift. My spiritual life growth has been remarkable, opening my mind to the Scriptures like never before and deepening my prayer life. My physical symptoms changed the way I prayed radically. In the beginning, the tremor was so bad that I could not sit still. The only thing that helped was lying flat on my back with my head lifted on a pillow. While waiting for the commotion in my body to subside, I’d listen to the Mass on my phone, pray the Divine Chaplet with Bishop Reed on Catholic TV, meditate on Gregorian chant, or just gaze at my favorite icon of Jesus and drift off to sleep. During that time, God wrote on my heart, nurturing the spiritual gifts he entrusted to me.
There were days when the medication had such terrible side effects that it was all I could do to lie still in bed and grit my teeth until it passed. I now dub such times as “stomach ache” moments when you are helpless in your pain. Through these trials, I received such intimate love and consolation from God both directly and indirectly through my family and friends. Now I can read St. Faustina’s words on suffering and understand what she means.
Those times deepened my understanding and knowledge. I grew in strength because I learned to throw myself on the mercy of God and cling to the cross, giving that pain over to my Savior, sharing in His suffering, and offering prayers for others. I advanced in wisdom, learning to live moment to moment when I could not see in front of me what my future would be.
Parkinson's is something that does not go away; it gets worse. I pray that I will hold on to and keep allowing God to nurture the spiritual gifts that He promises me every Advent for the challenges that are sure to come.
Copyright 2020 Susan Bailey
Images (top to bottom): Masha Raymers (2020), Pexels; others copyright 2020 Susan Bailey, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.