Transforming Illness Into A Moment Of Spirituality

Transforming Illness Into A Moment Of Spirituality May 31, 2024

A moment of pain can become a moment of spirituality | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels
A moment of pain can become a moment of spirituality | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

Two days ago, one of my sons graduated from his Catholic boys-only high school. With great joy, we gathered in the cathedral for the celebration of the Holy Mass and in the evening, in the auditorium for the baccalaureate commencement ceremony where each student would receive his diploma.

Being the end of spring, we have had an unusually cold weather, almost similar to that of winter. Upon arriving at the cathedral, a torrential freezing rain fell inclemently on all the students, as they crossed the street from the high school to the sacred space, and their relatives, who were running wet from the parking lots. In the evening, the same story, walking several blocks from high school to the auditorium. I didn’t like to feel my wet shirt sticking to my chest and my wet jacket leaving the back of the pew moist when I sat down, but the excitement about the event made me forget the discomfort.

I was feeling rather healthy. However, when we returned home, at about 10 PM, I suddenly felt my throat very sore, my nose burning in fire, a full body ache and an overwhelming weakness. It was as if some illness was assaulting me by surprise. I thought that maybe I had caught a bad cold due to the two times my blue suit got soaked that day.

I spent the night feeling sicker and sicker. The only time I got coronavirus, two years ago, the symptoms manifested themselves in the same way. I didn’t want to take any chance, so I took a home test. In just fifteen seconds, it revealed that I had contracted some of the variants of COVID.

So, yesterday I spent the day in bed, sleeping and with high fever. Sometimes, a terrible headache would wake me up.

The never-ending nights of the sick

As always when we get sick, the night was terrible. There wasn’t a spot in my body that didn’t hurt. I felt as if a hammer hit my head rhythmically and non-stop. My throat hurt and I felt like I was choking. Sometimes, I couldn’t breathe. Every time I coughed, I got nauseated. I had a fever and the worst thing is that, having slept all day, I could no longer sleep at night. There was no way to take refuge in sleep to avoid discomfort.

Suddenly, I saw the clock. 11:20 PM. I thought a long and endless night was just beginning. I looked at the clock again and it was 11:41. Barely 11 minutes had passed, and it seemed an eternity already! Later, the clock was marking 1:10. My mind just wanted to get to the daybreak, as if when the sun came out and that terrible night ended, all my discomforts would go away.

I then remembered the words of the repented psalmist, “My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak.” (Ps 130:6). I thought of the sentinels who mounted guard throughout the night, until fatigue made them long for the arrival of the daybreak to be able to rest and be relieved. In the same way, my soul longed for the arrival of the daybreak, hoping to feel better.

Making of illness a moment of prayer

This brief reflection on the psalm led me to want to pray. Surely, prayer would help me relax in the midst of so much pain. I tried one of the forms of prayer that I enjoy the most, the Prayer of the Heart, also known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God… have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God… have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is called the Prayer of the Heart because the rhythm of this prayer is marked by breathing, which eventually synchronizes with our heartbeat. The invocation to the Lord is said while inhaling, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…” The petition is made by letting the air out slowly, “… have mercy on me, a sinner.” A beautiful ancient form of prayer, created by the Desert Fathers.

However, in order to be able to pray, I needed to be able to breathe and congestion prevented me from doing so. The headache, in addition, didn’t let me think clearly. So it was impossible for me to pray despite all my desire to do so.

Our ability to offer up our illness and pain for a good cause

This was not frustrating to me, because there was another way to make this night of pain and discomfort a night of spirituality and encounter with the Lord. When we are baptized, Catholics are anointed in the same rite as priests (and prophets and kings), so we can offer up to God in sacrifice everything we do and what we suffer in our lives.

Thus, I decided to unite my pain with the pain of Christ on the cross and offer up all that nocturnal discomfort in sacrifice. I offered it up for my mother, who suffers from illnesses that are difficult to treat and that also cause her inevitable physical suffering. I offered all my pain for her recovery and asked God to help me not to despair on that endless night.

The daybreak finally arrived. The clock was marking 5:30 in the morning and there was already sunlight coming through the window. The fatigue caused by enduring the pain throughout the night defeated me and I fell into a profound sleep.

It is important to know how to turn every moment in our life into a personal encounter with the Lord. Remembering his words in Scripture and understanding the different ways of praying that are part of our spirituality, help us to achieve it. Thus, our life takes on a different meaning:

One option is to complain, despair and curse our pain when we get sick. The other is to make sense of it by transforming our suffering into a prayer and an offering to God.

Fever is kicking in once more, so it’s time to put the keyboard to rest.

About Mauricio I. Pérez
Mauricio I. Pérez is a Catholic writer, journalist and YouTuber. He has received five national journalism awards by the Catholic Media Association. Mauricio has authored 18 books on Biblical commentary, spirituality and Catholic fiction, six of them bestsellers in Amazon. He has earned a diploma in Sacred Liturgy by the Universidad Pontificia de México and has graduated from several Liturgy programs at the Pontificio Istituto Liturgico in Rome. You can read more about the author here.

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