King Antiochus in the Adoration Chapel

King Antiochus in the Adoration Chapel August 5, 2019


It’s been a rough week. There’s plenty of horror going on in the world this weekend, and that provided the backdrop for my state of mind. But there were also far more mundane things going on. I am still having my summer flare, which has me exhausted, anxious and miserable. It’s a hot day in August with no money to spend on the fun activities I don’t have the strength to do anyway– even if there was anything fun to do in Steubenville. It’s the week of the year when I used to go up to the mountains in West Virginia, and I miss the trips terribly. Our eventual move out of town seems farther away than ever. And the person who left the nasty comment I should have ignored the other day found me on Twitter and was tweeting insults at me, not to mention telling me the names of medications I ought to be taking as if I’d never heard of medication and didn’t talk everything over with my internist. As far as I can tell he took out a whole account just to call me names and tell people I don’t have a job but was a swindling grifter. I know I should develop a thicker skin, but it scared me.

Somewhere in the middle of this, I went to Sunday Mass. And when I go to Mass while upset and feeling sick, the prayers of the Mass are more triggering to me than they are when I feel well. I get terribly sick.

I ducked into the Adoration chapel.

That’s how I meet my Sunday obligation lately: standing in the foyer with my eyes closed as long as I can, and then crossing the yard to the Adoration chapel when I panic, and then dipping back in for the rest of Mass, repeat as necessary.

I sat with my eyes closed until the jitters and the urge to cry stopped. Then I did one of those things that pious people do in Adoration: I picked up the nearest Bible and let it flop open at random, so that God could speak to me. Unfortunately, this was the large ornamental Bible that the Adorers rarely use; the bookmark was in the same place it was last week, so my eyes lit on the exact same passage as when I tried that trick last week. It was the bit from Second Maccabees about King Antiochus torturing a man to death by cutting off his hands and feet and tongue and throwing him in a deep fryer, because the man would not turn his back on the God of Israel.

I didn’t find that particularly helpful, not at first.

Then again…

My confirmation saint was Therese of Lisieux, and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with her. She is such a relentlessly ladylike, relentlessly Victorian, relentlessly Western saint, and I’m far more drawn to the Eastern Churches, to unladylike people and to more exotic times in history. I can’t even pronounce her name– our name, the name that’s mine that I never use. I didn’t want her to be my patron. But I was confirmed in the year of her hundredth jubilee, and my mother and the priest who taught my confirmation classes loved her, so we were paired up.

Still, sometimes her words are so very on the nose, so exactly what I need to hear. In the church I went to growing up, there was a statue of her in the foyer decorated with one of her quotes: “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” That quote comes back to haunt me all the time.

Sometimes I think that’s the entirety of the spiritual life, right there: to be willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself. You don’t have to try to displease yourself, of course; you just have to be willing to bear with the displeasure when the time comes. I’ve never met anyone who was entirely pleasing to herself all of the time. If you have healthy self-esteem, I’m happy for you, but one day will come when you don’t like yourself at all.

Let’s say that I was somebody other than myself– somebody interesting, somebody beautiful and powerful and rich, having the time of her life. Let’s say I was a queen, or a movie star, or a famous novelist, or perhaps a wealthy woman with a home in the Squirrel Hill district of Pittsburgh walking distance from Frick Park. And let’s say that King Antiochus appeared to me right now, in this Adoration chapel, with boiling oil and an ax. Let’s say he demanded, “Deny your God, or else I will turn you into a woman named Mary Pezzulo. Mary Pezzulo is fat and poor and boring and she wears frumpy skirts. She was spiritually abused in the Charismatic Renewal, and then she was spiritually abused in Steubenville. She is far too sensitive and cries easily. She hates where she lives, but she doesn’t know if she’ll ever get out. She doesn’t have any friends close by, she doesn’t have a car to visit friends in other places. She suffers from trauma and she has fibromyalgia.  Somebody was mean to her and it’s ruined her weekend. You will have to be Mary Pezzulo for the rest of your life, with no guarantee that things will ever look up for Mary Pezzulo or if she’ll be trapped there, feeling just like that, forever.” 

I hope that I would have the courage to not deny God, even at that cost.

And then, being Mary Pezzulo would be my personal martyrdom– commonplace as it is.

And I suppose that, since I am made in the image and likeness of God, and since Christ became Man in order to become one with me– and with all of us, each individually and all of us– for Mary Pezzulo to deny Mary Pezzulo is to deny Christ.

This particular mundane and banal life suddenly seems terribly important. Not more important than anybody else’s, just terribly important as every life is. Yours is just as important. And if you are willing to bear with yourself for Christ’s sake, to be who you are while struggling to live the Gospel at the same time– that’s your cross, your severed tongue and deep fryer, your martyrdom, your terrible ascent of Mount Carmel, your journey to the Heart of Christ and eternal bliss.

Or so it seems to me.

I went back inside for the Eucharistic prayer, pretending I was somebody important, pretending the insurmountable panic was nothing but a stupid ancient Greek conqueror threatening a grisly execution. It didn’t exactly work, but I felt a little better.

Sometimes, that’s enough.

(image via Pixabay) 


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