Jan 21, 2019
My house is a spectacular mess. I keep waiting for someone from the government to show up in a Hazmat suit and give me a citation for violations against human health and public safety before hauling me away to pig-pen prison. This is not what I would hope for, of course. It’s just an unusually busy season with many unusual demands – moving parents into assisted living in another state, working, managing a few of my own health issues, scheduling a minor surgery, and the like. Filling out insurance forms has become a part-time job.
Try as I may to keep my head above the mayhem, I am failing, and the only thing God seems to be interested in telling me is this: be grateful and pray without ceasing. He doesn’t seem all that concerned about the cleanliness of my house, whether or not my Christmas cards arrived on time (or at all), or whether or not I’ve cooked dinner from scratch or purchased it at the local supermarket deli. (The clerks there now know me by name.)
Which brings me to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, that rigorous, silent thirty-day retreat praying through the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ in four or five hours of meditation a day. When you do a thirty-day retreat, your usual duties are suspended. They have to be. For example, for the duration of the retreat, a priest is not required to prepare homilies, visit the sick, baptize babies, or hear confessions. He puts down these normal duties in order to enter into the work of the retreat in a more focused kind of way. The retreat becomes his work.
Just so, there can be other natural occasions in life where we put down our usual responsibilities to meet new demands, to take up with greater concentration some other duties as our work, our prayer. The disciples put down their daily tasks – fishing, for example – to travel with Jesus, to be trained up in his ministry. They relied on, among others, some of the women who traveled with them for food and other provisions. Those women who traveled with Jesus were relieved of their normal responsibilities in order to take up this new mission. It became their work.
My point is: illness or caring for someone who is ill and the mayhem that unleashes is a spiritual exercise. It may in fact be the spiritual work that God is calling you to for the time being. But rest assured it is no less effective than if you were to do the Exercises of St. Ignatius. The burden of illness is a training ground for growing in virtue and learning how to pray without ceasing. It is the equivalent of dropping your nets to follow Christ into this experience of illness and discovering how to love him and serve him in a new and deeply fulfilling way.