Posted by letterstopriests | Filed under Uncategorized
“Fight not with bitterness but with faith, hope and love.”
In thankfulness to the priests who guide me through the narrow gate.
Theresa of Phoenix, AZ
Union with Christ. My ultimate goal. I wouldn’t have quite understood the significance of this goal until after about 25 years of searching for happiness and satisfaction.
I was searching for fulfillment and satisfaction and I thought I found it when, having just settled in a new house in Talladega, Alabama, I was enjoying life with a good husband, a son and a new baby daughter. All seemed well until Isabella was a month old and was diagnosed with a liver disease that sent us back and forth to the hospital for surgeries. My world crashed. Why did this have to happen to me? Being used to the benefits of spiritual counseling in my teenage years, I sought direction from Fr. Henry, our parish priest, who guided me during those days of initial trials.
I was getting used to Isabella’s routine lab tests. If any infection would begin, I was trained to do an intra-venous antibiotic push into a port near her heart. So far, Isabella was stable. We were then expecting our third child when, one evening, my husband came home late that night from work (he used to work as a physician) seemingly more disturbed than usual. For the past week, he had been telling me about a patient who had threatened to sue him. I dismissed it when it surfaced that this patient was chronically trying to sue physicians for the money. That night though, I felt Jess needed help. His voice, words and actions were quite disturbing that I knew something was wrong. I was bracing myself for another shock. We were still managing the health problems of Isabella. Will I have to manage this problem too? And now? A time I am supposed to be happily anticipating the birth of another baby? I couldn’t handle this! It was around midnight but, angry and confused. Why was God allowing this to happen? I needed answers! I dragged my husband over to the rectory and shamelessly rang the doorbell. Fr. Henry was very accommodating and patient even in the middle of the night, with “not a real emergency,” just a disturbed couple. He consoled us and sent us to get help with some people he trusted. We went through an ordeal. We ended up moving from Alabama to Myrtle Beach, SC, a place, we felt, was more entertaining and would relieve Jess off of some of the stress of work and Isabella’s illness. All throughout the decision making process and the move, I received guidance from Fr. Henry. One thing I clearly remember was asking him a question that really bothered me, “Why did Jesus have to suffer on the cross to save us?” Why didn’t Jesus just flick His fingers to get us all to heaven? Fr. Henry seemed to hesitate to answer and then left me to answer that question for myself.
Jess’ was employed as a staff physician with a private practice. We had our wonderful baby boy, Francis. I was able to begin a retail business. Then, things turned sour again. The private practice had financial problems and Jess had to find another job. At the same time, our business was losing money. I closed the business and got my real estate license making some good income to repay a portion of our debts. But, to top it all, Jess had began showing symptoms of a genetic disease called x-linked parkinsonism dystonia, a disease his younger brother (now deceased) was also suffering from. At that time, Monsignor Duffy and Sister Isabel were “assigned” to Tess ~ me. I unloaded my burdens during confessions. Monsignor Duffy encouraged me on my faith and assured me that Jesus did love me. Love of God and for God was still a rote feeling at that time. I just knew He loved me. It did not feel like He did. Sister Isabel was very sensitive to my needs. . Her words and that of Monsignor Duffy encouraged me to continue doing what my faith told me was right. They also helped me look at how the situation I was in encourage others around me. I took advantage of the 24 hour Eucharistic adoration at St. Michael’s. I spent an hour with Jesus every Thursday night. One very difficult evening, I came home with a heavy heart and in tears, fell weary on my bed. My last cry was “Jesus! I’ve done all I can and can do no more. If You will, let the worst happen. With You, I can go through it because I trust You. I put everything in Your hands.” That evening was a turning point in my life. A night I will never forget! A certain feeling of peace came over me.
Jess lost his job as a result of his illness. For a moment it felt like we lost everything. A saving grace was the much needed benefits coming from his government job. God’s hand moved us from SC to California where his family lived. California was also closer to Arizona, where Jess’ neurologist practiced. . We stayed in CA for 2 years, a period within which Jess got his deep brain stimulator (lead wires attached to his brain and connected to 2 batteries implanted in his chest. I was enjoying my work as a realtor’s assistant but when trips to AZ for doctor’s visits became too frequent and the housing market did not improve to our advantage in CA, we decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona.
It had been a long tiring journey, moving from AL all the way to AZ. It was physically, mentally and emotionally draining ~ orchestrating the move, getting the family settled and beginning a career over and over, plus taking charge of the medical needs of my husband and serving the emotional, educational, spiritual and physical needs of the children. Without realizing it, my needs ~ took a back seat during those past 3 years. After getting the family settled in AZ, I began to set up, with the help of my sister -in-law, a clinical trial clinic. Though having some difficulty, Jess was stable, the kids were happy and the business seemed just to take off!
The next project was to begin participating in our new parish. In our parish community, Jess’ disability could not go unnoticed. Our assistant pastor, Fr. Pawel, approached him to find out if he could be of help. He spoke with him a couple of times and then asked me if we could talk. I thought that we would be discussing what Jess’ needs were and what I needed to do about it. However, it turned out to be about me, the caregiver. Within the past 3 years of the onset of Jess’ sickness and caring for the family, it never occurred to me that I needed help. Through Fr. Pawel, I was able to understand and enjoy the grace God has given me, one which I can always use to sustain me in times of difficulties. He also made me understand that I should take time out for myself and to do things I enjoyed. Shopping and painting were out of the question because they cost money. Well, the more practical choice was to go spend an hour with the Blessed Sacrament. I remembered how good I felt after each hour I spent with the Eucharist in Myrtle Beach. I spent an hour almost every weekday at St. Helen’s in Peoria. And that is where “everything” began. I found books about St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and devoured them. I realized the answer to why Jesus had to die a horrible death and suffer to save us. I had question after question on Teresa and John’s writings and lives. Fr. Pawel felt that I might be being led to their spirituality. He urged me to continue reading their teachings and to try it for myself. He referred me to a Carmelite priest, Fr. Boyle, who in turn directed me to the Discalced Carmelite Community. In my first meeting with the community, tears of joy streamed down my face. I was “at home.” Now, I have a deeper understanding of what God wants me to be through the saints’ teachings. Our present spiritual director is Fr. Lorig who has been a gift for me through his experience in St. John of the Cross’ works. Through his homilies, lectures and through my conversations with him, I have a better understanding of my life and the experiences that God made available to me. Through Fr. Lorig’s life, I can see that loving God and having His love is real and possible.
Though life continues to be very challenging and knowing that my life could present more difficult situations, I feel confident that I will be able to withstand the storms with hope and joy. Often times, I get disappointed with myself because I cannot do things expected of me. I feel exhausted, weary and alone. The beauty of what I have learned with the guidance of these priests is the ability to love all things, especially crosses, leading to God, always and that I can always close my eyes, feel and accept the ache in my soul, reach for the “heaven” within, confident that God transforms even my extremely imperfect sacrifice into the most extraordinary Love I am not even worthy of. A Love I will never want to exchange for anything. A Love that can make me chose to live my life over exactly the same way if I had the choice. A Love that can make me allow His will over mine.
Fr. Henry McDaid, Monsignor Thomas Duffy, Fr. Pawel Stawarczyk, Fr. Sylvan Boyle and Fr. Doug Lorig, not to forget the wisdom filled homilies of Fr. Eugene in Pennsylvania, Fr. John Janze in Irvine, Fr. John Coleman and Fr. Mark Harrington here in Phoenix, the lectures of the priests of Opus Dei, the spirituality of St. (Monsignor) Josemaria Escriva, the priests who have made available the adoration of the Eucharist in their parishes, those who have fed my soul with the sacraments and given me the true Body and Blood of Jesus and a priest who gave me a very special confession I had in my home parish in the Philippines. Without them, I would not have survived the trials I have faced and come out still fighting. Fighting not with bitterness and anger but with faith, hope and love.*
Priests are men driven by the Spirit who have given up and who continue to struggle against the comforts of their earthly lives to follow Christ. They know that “death on the cross” which will result in the resurrection. They have given up their will completely to concentrate on fulfilling the kingdom of God in each soul that God places before them, giving each soul Christ Himself through the sacraments especially the Eucharist and penance. They are placed by God in the right place and time to guide us in each particular stage in life. They are shepherds, fishers of men. They find souls who are lost or stunted in growth and prepare them for union with Christ. On our spiritual journey, these beloved priests are our AAA roadside service that come to the rescue when our car breaks down or runs out of gas, our personal GPSs (global positioning system) that get us to the airport, our pilots who bring us safely to where we have to be to become ready for the Ultimate ~ the union with God.
Dear priests of Jesus, I will never stop thanking God for you and I will keep you all in my daily prayers. May God’s people know that you are men who, though human, have a divine mission. May we always respect you for answering that call and assist you through prayers, modesty and sacrifices. God has already reserved “choice portions for you” but I continue to pray that God bless you, give you more strength, courage, fortitude and may He continue to embrace you with the comfort, joy and peace of His awesome Love.
Theresa Villanueva OCDS