Monday, January 14, 2013

When faith is the only thing we have going for us.

I must say that I have been very blessed with good health – at least for the most of my life.  I do try to eat well, exercise right, and I generally take a long-term view that this is an investment.  Instead of looking after my flock, if I am sickly, it will be the flock that will have to look after me.  God has blessed be with good health and I am tremendously grateful for that.

But things took a turn for the worse two days before Christmas last year.  Chills and fevers started coming over me, and I was in a foreign land with hardly any idea of how to get help.  I was in New York, and I was alone.  I had to cut short my stay there and quickly returned to DC to get proper medical care.  It was not pretty.  Altogether I made one visit to the doctor, and two visits to the Hospital ER department.  It was confirmed that I have Bronchitis, and it is sapping so much energy from me.  I haven’t had undisturbed, restful sleep for three weeks, and my mental pictures of my healthy days seem to be only a figment of my imagination, and just climbing three floors to the dining room is a struggle and a chore.  To think that I have completed two marathons in my life.

I had to miss the first day of the semester, and I forced myself to class on the second day.  It was no party.  Truth be told, I have never been forced to look at my own mortality with such a strong reality check.  I know that I have to eat to get nourishment into my body but what if one has no appetite whatsoever?  My prayers for a healing have been coming from a place that seems desperate and sadly, hollow at times. 

The absence of last week’s blog entry caused some concerned readers to try to contact me to see if everything was all right.  It wasn’t, and it isn’t.  I didn’t want to make a big deal out of my illness, but it does appear that feigning that all is fine by putting up a usual blog post would be akin to putting on a mask.  I have been forced to look squarely in the eye of my humanity, and it hasn’t been something that I would have wished for. 

But is there any good that comes from an experience such as this painful and debilitating one?  Frustrations and anxiety abound in spades when one has a thesis to write and every waking moment is filled with the awareness that breathing is a chore.  My thesis director had been so kind as to give me an extension to submit my corrected first chapter.  The end looks so long indeed.    But apart from those ‘material’ inconveniences, there is something strangely spiritually beneficial about this unpleasant episode that doesn’t seem to end in the near future. 

As a priest, I have had many opportunities to visit and bless the infirm either at home or in the hospital, and I had always made it a point to give them a sacramental encounter with Christ who heals and makes whole.  I would make sure I said the ‘right’ things, and it was most important that a visit and a prayer would give them hope. 

But when the minister has only seen the healthiest of times and has only been in the pink of health, somehow the words of encouragement and hope can end up being pallid, especially when on essential element is evidently missing – that of real empathy. 

Of course, empathy is a grace.  It allows one to enter as much into the dark, tight and narrow confines of a fellow human being’s heart as possible.  It has very much to do with how St Thomas would define love – willing the good of the other as other.  Some caregivers are naturally predisposed with this grace.  But I think the majority of others don’t really think much about it, and perhaps may even think that it is a burden than a blessing – isn’t life hard for oneself as it is?  You mean I have to now enter into another’s suffering?  When it is seen as anything close to a “have to”, it will be seen as a burden and an unnecessary chore.  But it is when “have to” becomes a “want to” that an internal attitudinal change begins to take place.  One becomes transformed to become more than what one is.  Grace helps one to become larger as a person.  One becomes living truly as a child of God.

I know I don’t have to ask for your prayers, dear readers.  I know that many of you are already praying, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Knowing that I am so far from home and loved ones, and that this doesn’t cause me to be ‘dropped’ from your radar of care and prayer is such a blessing.  It makes the ‘body of Christ’ so real and beautiful indeed.

It is in dark (and cold) times that faith seems to be the only rope one can hold on to.  When the medications have ended, when one cannot imagine yet another doctor or ER visit, and when even eating is a chore.  But it is not a rope of hopelessness.  It causes one to reflect over and over again how strong is one’s faith in the love, the power and the healing of God, and of course, that everything happens under the permissive will of God.  


  1. Fr Luke,

    You are always in our prayers.. no matter what ..

    In Christ

    IHM parishioner

  2. Dear Fr Luke,You are not alone,we are with you,through Christ's ardent Love for you."May the good Lord harmonize your body,mind and soul and shield you with His Divine Light."
    God Loves us all!!!:)

  3. Dear Fr. Luke,

    Sorry to hear of your recent illness. I certainly hope that you're well on your way to a full recovery. It's funny how things can happen all of a sudden without the slightest warning.
    In times of stress, illness or worry, I have to constantly remind myself of Who is really in control – and it's surely not me. And that leads me to believe that if we don't have faith, then really, we don't have anything (worth having) at all.
    May God bless and keep you, always.

  4. Thank you Fr Luke for being a priest. Get well soon. We miss you!


  5. As I read the Scripture reading of today’s Vespers (1 Pet 1:6-9) I was reminded of what you said in your post about Faith being ‘’the only rope one can hold on to.......................but it is not a rope of hopelessness...... ‘’. Illness, especially a prolonged one, can truly take its toll -not only physically but also bring about an altered and depressive state of the mind.

    I remembered how it was, when I was really sick at one time and couldn’t really pray - for - just trying to ignore an incessant and excruciating pain and alternating between throwing up and worrying about what will show up on the next blood test relegated all ‘’holy’’ thoughts to the background, what more ‘’redemptive suffering’’ – at least in the large part !

    However, amidst all this distress and fretfulness there is a kind of prayer .......of a different kind– an awareness of the Presence and a longing to recede into reticence and passivity, cushioned in a ’strange embrace’ of an intimacy of communion and intensity of being. It seems like a mute offering of my helplessness – if that could be called a prayer !
    Perhaps, there was ‘’a rope of faith’’, albeit a very slender one.

    Get well soon, Fr.
    God bless you.

  6. I would like to thank my readers and friends who have expressed concern for my wellbeing. The worst can be said to be over, and I am on the slow road to recovery. The doctor has put me on a steroid to clear the lung infection, and I have finished the course. Right now, it leaves me to nurse myself back to health, and to get proper nutrition. Please continue to pray for my climb back to health. Thank you and God bless each of you.

    Fr Luke