I hate being sick. But who doesn’t, right? Perhaps a saint, a very holy person, would be one who would embrace the suffering with joy. There would be no complaining, no muttering, only a silent offering of their pain to the Lord. I used to read about those saints whose only desire was for martyrdom. They would be rejoicing as their captors led them to the guillotine to chop off their heads. A saint I am not, not even close!
This past week I had some sort of hellish infection that kept me in bed for nearly a solid week. To say I am a terrible patient is an understatement. I moan, I cry, and make some sort of sound with every breath I take. To give myself a little bit of slack, I must mention that I had fever and chills for days, my glands were painfully swollen, my throat was on fire and I had a headache that would not relent. Did I mention I had a horrible headache? My body does not tolerate narcotic pain meds and so I could only rely on ibuprophen and the mercy of God. Both were slow to respond.
All my Catholic life, I had been taught to “offer it up.” If you’re Catholic, you know what I mean. If you’re not, it simply means that all suffering has redemptive purposes, if not for yourself, then for someone else who needs the graces. Somehow it really does feel comforting to know that whatever you’re enduring is not in vain. The other phrase I hear is to “unite your suffering to the suffering of Christ”. I honestly did not understand how to do this. As I lay in bed feeling very ill and discouraged that I was not getting better, I asked the Holy Spirit to show me.
Before I knew it, my thoughts transported me to a sort of field outside Jerusalem at the base of the hill of Calvary. In a way I felt like I was in a movie but there I was, modern day Elyse, in a large crowd of yelling and jeering people. It was startling but I allowed my thoughts to continue to lead me. We were all there waiting for Jesus to emerge from the narrow street into this more open area. I felt such fear because I knew no one and most of the crowd was an angry mob. There was a terrible sense of dread. And then He appeared. I was far away and could barely see him carrying the cross. He moved slowly and deliberately. The noise was deafening and I was trying to move closer but I was being crushed. Finally, when He was directly across from me, I screamed His Name as loud as I could. To my utter amazement, He stopped, turned and looked right at me. At that point, time stood still and everything was silent. It seemed as if that gaze lasted a lifetime but it was only a few seconds. In that short time I sensed that He knew that I loved Him. And I knew that He loved me so deeply that no words could ever express it. Only His action of willingly going to the cross for my sins would let me know the depth of this love. The soldier then prodded Him and He bowed His head and once again moved ever so slowly.
I will never forget that look. Even though my illness is nearly gone, that image is now engrained in my head for all eternity. Jesus noticed me. In all the noise he heard me call His Name. He was on His way to die a most brutal death but Jesus looked at me and acknowledged my presence. I wept over my sinfulness and my many weaknesses but somehow I felt consoled in the midst of my own pain.
The interior vision went on for a seemingly long time. It felt so real. Could it have been the fever? Or did the Holy Spirit come to help me to understand what it means to share in Christ’s suffering? St. Ignatius encourages us to enter into the Holy Scriptures and to see ourselves within the Word of God. And that is exactly what happened. And now, when I hear the words of the hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I feel that I can say, Yes. Yes, I was there.”