Monday, September 9, 2019

In all forms of healing, the law of gradualness applies.

I have remained somewhat silent as far as postings to this blog is concerned, for reasons that I had given in the previous blog entry. I have since returned from my highly enjoyable and thoroughly eye-opening vacation, after which I underwent surgery to get a titanium/ceramic hip to replace my necrotized (dead) left femur which had been slowly dying and crumbling for a prolonged period of over a year.  

I am currently into my second week since the surgical procedure, and am convalescing in a home that is set up for retired elderly priests, as well as for priests such as myself, who need to have a place to recover and heal from serious surgery and medical afflictions.  I share the place with several other priests, all of whom are retired from active ministry, and each time we are at the meal table, the total number of years in priestly ministry among us easily goes into 200 and over, mine being the least contributing number of course.

Each time I emerge from surgery and find myself meandering that slow path toward some semblance of normalcy, it never fails that I also find myself reminding myself not to rush things.  There’s that part of me that feels very guilty in not tending to my ministerial duties in the parish, and I think (erroneously of course), that things will fall apart in my absence.  No such things have happened, and I’m sure things are in good hands because they are really in God’s hands.  This sense of guilt finds me in some way willing myself to quicken the route toward recovery and gaining strength, as if it could, by sheer will, be something that happens.  I had something explained to me by my physiotherapist who kindly tends to me every weekday morning at 9am.  

I shared with him the many stories which I had heard about how quickly many of my friends’ parents and even grandparents had returned to their regular lives after having had their hip replaced, and was a bit concerned that my pace of strength recovery seems to be somewhat moving at a glacial pace. I am certainly not as confident in placing more than toe-pressure when walking using the walking frame, and my turns at corners are extremely ginger and even a tad robotic, always sensing that the hip is a bit fragile and tender.  I am certainly not as old and fragile as the elderly parents and grandparents of my friends who have had the same operation, but my recovery seems to be so much slower, and the leg muscles so much weaker.  What gives?

He took pains to explain to me that the state of the muscles around the hip at the time before the operation has a lot to do with the rate of recovery of strength.  Many, if not most of the elderly who have had their hip replaced due to either an accidental fall or some similar incident had thigh and leg muscles that were working without much issue before the incident, probably even able to put their entire body weight on one leg with no issue.  Their reasons for needing a hip replaced was not because of necrosis or death of the femur, which is accompanied by the atrophy of the muscles around the dead or dying femur.  So, when the new hip is inserted, the muscles hardly needed much work to awaken them to functioning as they ought.  

But not in my case.  

I had the misfortune to experience my hip’s slow death, and with it, a slow atrophying of its muscles as well.  So it is only natural that even with a new artificial hip that is much stronger than the old decrepit and dead femoral head, its surrounding muscles are in the old atrophied state.  They need time to be toughened up and built up, to regain lost mass, and range of movement.  These do not come overnight because they were not lost overnight.  At that moment I smiled to myself, not because I felt rather silly, but because I could see how the law of gradualness applies to one’s physical returning to normalcy, as much as it applies to one’s soul returning to a state of holiness after a conversion experience.

I have encountered so many penitents who have had those “a-ha” enlightened moments of conversion, usually at some retreat where they are led to look at their lives with some degree of seriousness and to have their moral compass re-calibrated.  They went for those highly recommended “deathbed confessions” where every sin, mortal or venial, was verbally confessed, and emerged post-retreat with a new verve in their quest for holiness.

It’s often not too long after that their old habits come back to haunt them and they find themselves back to their old ways, sinning as before.  These who come back to the sacrament of reconciliation are often kicking themselves, and are rather way more unforgiving of themselves than God is of them.  They, like me, need to remember to apply the law of gradualness to their conversion, because conversion is never a one-off, or one-retreat, affair.  

Like my thigh and hip muscles, their muscles of moral strength and rectitude had probably slid into desuetude.  And like my thigh and hip muscles, they need to be re-built, re-stimulated, re-activated, and re-loaded with weight.  In the spiritual life, this would include, but not limited to, things like a sustained prayer life, a heart that is re-aligned to loving God in a whole new way, frequenting the sacraments of the Church with a new desire and aim, relating to God as never before, and looking at the past sins as something that were a lie that one fully believed in.  These changes don’t come overnight because they are changes on the heart, and one needs to allow the law of gradualness to be one’s teacher, just like my thigh and hip muscles won’t grow and strengthen overnight.  

Would that I gain strength as quickly as my hip as replaced. I would be bouncing back to parish work, and find it so easy to ambulate without aid in the sanctuary at Mass, and be able to once again lift the Book of Gospels aloft with both hands and bring the Word of God to the Ambo and break the Good News to my flock.  Would that I could.  But the reality is that just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will the strength of those atrophied muscles be bulked up within a short span of time.  

Yes, in all things, the law of gradualness applies. Even to hips and thighs.

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