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Witness to a Medical Miracle
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a transcript of the talk given Tuesday, May 1, 2012, by Sr. Marie Thomas Fabre at the Medicine, Bioethics & Spirituality Conference hosted by Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy and the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
Sister Marie Thomas Fabre (pictured above) witnessed the miracle of healing from Parkinson's disease of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre. That healing served as the miracle needed for John Paul II's beatification.
By Sr. Marie Thomas Fabre
I thank Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, and Marie Romagnano, RN, BSN, CRC, CCM, for having invited us to give talks in front of such an impressive audience as much by the number as by the quality of those in attendance. Despite the language barrier, I feel very close to you as we live intensely this encounter. I express to you in advance my gratitude for your patience on account of the translation.
I discovered the existence of the Congregation of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception and Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy when I met Fr. Kaz and Marie during the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Lagiewnikii-Krakow last October. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who was miraculously healed through the intercession of John Paul II, had just given her testimony, on the 4th of October. Since their invitation to speak at this conference, I have documented and followed the exchanges with Marie to help me understand who you are and what you do. I am so amazed.
This is the first time that I have been invited to speak publicly on the healing of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, within the framework of a conference. It is a joy to share it with you. I was then her Community superior, and it is under this title that I was a privileged witness. Through the recounting of this event and the consequences as I lived it personally, my aim is to invite you to reflect on this question; "How can my witness have an impact on your professional practice?" I am aware that this unexplained healing that touched our whole religious community is a pure merciful grace and that miracles are not daily occurrences. Anyhow, it is good to examine what the context was and our attitudes as we were following one of our sick Sisters. Listening to my testimony, may you find support and encouragement. I sincerely believe that humanly accompanying a patient with mercy in your heart, as you are doing, is already within itself, in our dehumanized society, a miracle of faith, hope, and charity.
Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre's healing was recognized as a miracle on January 14th, 2011, by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. A miracle is an act of revelation of the goodness of God. Facing an act of love, facing an act of goodness, are we obliged to accept such love? The miracle does not impose it. The visible, physical sign can be discovered, the meaning of this sign, what is signified, what God is saying, can be discovered little by little, more or less deeply, but the action of God Himself is not imposed because it is an act of love. This recognition opened the way to the Beatification of Blessed John Paul II on May 1st of the same year.
This date of January 14th — allow me to explain — coincided with the Baptismal Anniversary of our Foundress, Mere Marie Jean Baptiste Lantelme, the first religious who witnessed next to our Founding Father, Monseigneur Emile Guerry, what would one day become the "l"Institut des Petites Soeurs des Maternites Catholiques. It is important to realize that the request for healing has always been part of the mission entrusted to us by the Church. It was primarily so that Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre may continue her nursing work at the maternity that the whole Congregation in one accord prayed for her healing through the intercession of John Paul II, this "Pope of the Family" as he described himself. This was for us a sign from heaven, a marvelous encouragement to see on January 14th a burst of the glory of God.
Such a healing is an inexhaustible source of interrogations. It asks questions of science. It questions the reason for the explosion of the supernatural in daily life, and it asks questions of faith. Are we ready to believe that God acts so directly in our daily lives? The answer belongs to us, I am simply asked to describe in details how this miracle of prayer and faith could have happened.
The title to this Intervention that was proposed to me is the following:
"Witness to a Medical Miracle : Faith and Healing of Parkinson's Disease."
My talk is divided in four chapters:
1. The human and spiritual accompaniment of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre when she had Parkinson's disease.
2. The grace of healing and the diocesan inquiry.
3. The scientific opinion of the doctors and their conclusions.
4. How this testimony can have an impact on your professional practice.
First Chapter: The human and spiritual accompaniment of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre in the trial of her Parkinson's disease.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre witnesses in this way: "I often said: For me, this is a second birth. There is a before, there is an after, I was sick and I am healed in my body, in my whole being, I felt there was a rebirth, there was a change, there was also this inner change, this peace, this serenity, this joy, a strength, something so profound, it is difficult to put it into words."
It is the theme of birth that I wish to bring out, and this would not surprise you that it is a midwife who does so. To understand my attitude with Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre through her years of illness, but even more within a few hours of her healing, you must primarily listen to the midwife in me. This introduction will give sense and strength to my talk.
Drawn by the awesomeness of human life, I had my first professional experience by age 22, with a four-year stay in Africa, precisely in Togo. I worked under difficult conditions in a maternity dispensary deep in the bush. My trust in Jesus guided my work in the most ordinary of ways, and it allowed me to share my knowledge with others. This first experience of deprivation and this exciting work as part of a team deeply marked my human and spiritual life. I voluntarily share with you the two photos that I kept from my stay in Africa.. See this child, he certainly awakened in me what would later on become a religious vocation in the service of human life and the family.
This is the same regard for confidence in life that I had when facing Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, who was then ill. This child was a few weeks old. He was an orphan and was suffering from serious malnutrition. Look at his arms. It seems incredible. How could he have survived if he was not sustained in his breath by a power unknown to him? Look at his face as he bursts out laughing. This child responds uniquely to my look and at my words. This photo was taken by chance as I was telling him, "What will we do with you?" Could this child have perceived my confusion? He answered me by his smile: "But if you love me and take care of me, I shall live!" And we fought together. What a lesson for me! I understood through the years that we are never to lose hope when we face a suffering person. There are no desperate situations; there are only people who lose hope, and even so in a tragic situation, it is always possible to make it acceptable with the added weight of love. We asked the family to find a wet nurse for him. Here they are, two weeks after the treatment.
Coming back from Africa in 1983, I worked as a lay midwife at the Saint Vincent de Paul Clinique at Bourgoin-Jallieu, the Mother House of Les Petites Soeurs des Maternites Catholiques. I had no idea then that I would become a Sister. I met Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre in 1985 in the Care facilities. She was then in religious formation, Petite Soeur novice, full of life, dynamic, very alert. This is the picture I had of her. I was not yet a religious then. In the birthing rooms, some parents would ask me to pray with them, at the moment of birth, to thank God for this life that was entrusted to them. Without saying that I was Catholic, they must have perceived that my work was prayer. It made me enter into deep audible, profound praises when I participated in the birth of a child. Progressively, this work became a ministry. After two years of working with these shining religious women who would share their professional services and their prayers, I discovered that I also was called by God to share this life, this charism, this mission. Aware of the gift of this wonderful vocation in the service of life and family, I entered in 1986 the Institut des Petites Soeurs des Maternites Catholiques. At the moment of my religious commitment in 1989, I underlined that my unique goal in life was to give glory to God by my work in a religious Community, whose vocation was to announce, to serve, and to celebrate Life.
In 1992, we find ourselves, Sister Simon-Pierre and I, in the same Community, and we worked together at the Maternite de l'Etoile near Aix en Provence, the place where later she was to be healed. She practiced as a nurse with premature infants, and myself as a midwife in the birthing rooms. In 1995, I left the Birth Ward to be in charge of the Community, the accompaniment of the Petites Soeurs, and the direction of the Clinic. I gave up the nursing and professional work, but I remained a "midwife" for the Lord in a new and authentic way. By our human and spiritual listening, we allow the other to discover her true self.
The Hand of God allows us to witness more wonderful births. Little by little, this hard-to-face truth ends up coming to the light. It is a question of patience and gentleness. It is with this same heartfelt attitude that I accompanied our sick Sister.
The sickness that started slowly 10 years previously was finally diagnosed in 2001 by the doctor. During the years 1995-1998, I remember seeing her sometimes very tired but very courageous; her professional conscience would direct her to continue and to finish her work without complaining. It happened at times that she continued to be alone on call for 12 hours in the absence of pediatricians; the pediatricians had great confidence in her. Through the years, I witnessed a progressive weakness that she controlled but that always worried me until the day I received a real shock. It was on June 2001. I was away. By phone, I learned that her diagnosis was a degenerative neurological disease. Very fast, the diverse exams were ordered, and we had to go to Marseilles, a city near us. Upon our return, we stopped at the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde to pray and confide in our Heavenly Mother, the present and the future of Sister Simon-Pierre, and ask her for the strength to live these events in full confidence. Discretion forced me not to reveal right away anything to the Community, and it was only later on that our Superior General, at the time, Mother Marie Marc, informed the whole Congregation of the disease of the Little Sister. It was Parkinson's disease in a very young person. Being responsible for the Community, I had to assume this ordeal with the Community. I could not conceive that such a young and active Sister could, from one day to the next, find herself in such a dramatic situation? Why was God imposing on us such an ordeal when we needed so many vocations and some Sisters active professionally? I never rebelled, but I painfully accepted the reality. I wanted to believe that God had a loving plan for her and that we had to trust in His providence.
Gradually, Sr. Simon-Pierre would discover her sickness and learn to live with it. Her whole being — I would dare say, her personality — was affected. I admit that it took me a long time to accustom myself to this sickness, because it is always harder to accept it in one close to us. Personally, I understood nothing of this disease. To accompany her daily was very delicate at times. I had difficulty keeping up with her expectations: Sr. Simon-Pierre needed so much to feel understood and respected. She would insist on telling me that she had read it in the books, that the patient with Parkinson's needed a lot of understanding from his surroundings to overcome it and to not feel judged. I could not understand why one day she felt good and the next just the opposite, I would shake her up. I had difficulty understanding. In four years, I made some progress. The Little Sisters of her Community could not understand this strange sickness either.
I lived another kind of novitiate, the one of patience in accompanying her: I had to learn to listen to this Little Sister differently, and through her, this illness was changing the atmosphere in our community.
She continued to assume her responsibilities. She was no longer nursing, but she remained responsible for the Maternity Services. For example, she was in charge of 45 persons, handling the medical records; the planning of the personnel was computerized. That is the reason why she could continue to work that long. I was fully aware of her daily efforts. I remained watchful so that she would not overwork, but at the same time, I wanted her to remain active, so as to not let her retire prematurely. It gave her joy and happiness in the Lord her service to the mothers and the newly-born, welcoming the families, being attentive to the fathers and the children. She had a wonderful occupation, and we were living it in the heart of the community in collaboration with laypeople.
It was important to let her fight to the end, since this struggle would give her much joy. So, very spontaneously, I would not pay heed to the repetition of her symptoms, and when she would complain that she was getting weaker, I would show that she was still able to do some work. Nevertheless, she did not wish to be a burden on her community, which was a good reason for her to continue what she was doing. This lasted for four years. Anguish resided in me. What would I do on the day she would tell me she can no longer work? I could not believe that her sickness would have the last word. This desire to always see her at work with us was my inner strength. This attitude I had remained with me until she told me she could no longer write. This day that I feared had come, June 2nd, 2005: "If you cannot write with your left hand, can you not learn to write with your right hand?" My question would have appeared insolent outside of this context that I describe. "No, I cannot learn to write with my right hand. See, it has been shaking for two months, since the death of John Paul II", she said. Yes, since his death, all the clinical symptoms had rapidly increased. How could I have ignored this change?
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre had found the strength to go forward during the four years of her sickness by drawing from the witness and courage of John Paul II. I was aware of the deep and real spiritual life of this Little Sister. I knew of her great admiration for Pope John Paul II who suffered from the same illness and could understand her. At the same time, this Pope was sending her the painful image of what she would become in a few years. According to her, because of this disease, there was no more hope of healing.
Eucharistic Adoration is very important in our religious life. During her years of illness, she found strength by spending hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. While at work, I remember spontaneously sending her an e-mail through the Internet. It was March 2nd, one month before the demise of John Paul II and three months before her healing. From her Superior, she received a photo of John Paul II carrying the Blessed Sacrament and containing these words: "Little Sister, I am proud of you, and I am praying for you. As it says in Psalm 139, verse 12: 'Darkness would not be dark to you, night would be as light as day.' So hold on by grace." She replied to me: "And me, what would I say about you? May the Lord give you the strength that you need to accomplish in peace the mission entrusted to you. Let us continue on our way, our way of the Cross that we must live in love. Yes, we sing: 'The Cross of my Lord is our only glory!' Keep faith, Little Sister. The Light of Easter, this year, will shine as never before. It cannot be otherwise."
That year, the Feast of Easter fell on March 27th. And the light started shining. The night of John Paul's funeral on April 8th, many Little Sisters in my Community had spontaneously felt the need to pray privately for her. On May the 13th, Pope Benedict XVI announced a dispensation of the five-year waiting period after the death of John Paul II in order to open his process of beatification and canonization. Our Superior General then asked the whole Congregation for the intercession of John Paul II in favor of the healing of the Little Sister. She had a very strong intuition from the Holy Spirit. I believe that each one of us has been placed where the Lord wants us in order to accomplish His mission. This miracle is the fruit of the prayers of the whole Congregation. Each Community had started praying on May 13th with one heart and one faith, humbly, discretely, with strong hope. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre was very touched by it all.
Shortly before her healing, she needed a new medical exam and wanted to cancel, but I told her: "Please, go for that exam: if you are healed one day, at least you will have a complete medical record, and it will be easier to prove that it is a miracle." I said this to make her feel better and because I felt it was important for her not to refuse this exam. I had no particular revelation. She had fought interiorly for years to say this "Yes, Father" in faith. For years, she struggled to accept what was coming to her: the vision of the wheelchair. It is not easy to accept if you are 40 years old. In this discussion, we have named the symptoms and searched for God's will — a Father who never abandons His children. But what was His Will? We still wanted to believe in the impossible.
Second Chapter: The grace of healing and the diocesan inquiry.
On June 2nd, 2005, it was with an intently listening ear that I welcomed Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre in my office. We were bathing in the climate of prayer that had started three weeks previously, known as a continuous novena. She confided in me that she could no longer continue her professional service because of the progression of her disease. I ask her to wait until the return from her pilgrimage to Lourdes that she was to make in August in the tradition of John Paul II. She had been so disappointed not to go to Lourdes in 2004 when Pope John Paul II was there because of an incident secondary to her sickness. She quickly told me: "You know, I reflected and I think I will always be able to be a Little Sister, even in a wheelchair: my consecration will always be active, and I will be able to continue to encourage the families and to serve the institute." Interiorly, I was deeply moved and happy to witness an interior grace of healing in her that I had desired and prayed for so long. Her struggle was ending; she was accepting who she was, a sick Little Sister but entirely a Little Sister. What an amazing reversal. I remember having said interiorly: "What a victory! Thank You, Lord." It was the beginning of a victory, victory in itself —Just as if the mission given to her had found its acme, its highest point. We were fully in the hands of God, hopeful and serene. There was no more fear for the future. Isn't this the paradox of the Cross? The time was grave; she had just told me that she was at the end of her strength, and we were completely at peace.
As we were talking, in the middle of our exchange, she told me that she could no longer write. I asked her to write the name of John Paul II. Why did I insist three times that she write the name of John Paul II? A sure sign of his strong presence among us, this does not explain my spontaneous and persistent request. I had not reflected on what I had said. If I can say — it had come out spontaneously. Unconsciously, I wanted to verify that she could still write, it was not the end, and that she should not give up. My memory being visual, is my explanation sufficient?
On a deeper level, I believe that our understanding is of another order, and there I can no longer control anything. When God has a loving plan, He always finds docile people to accomplish it. Did I interiorly obey an intuition of the Holy Spirit not counting on its outcome? Most probably. I felt that through this writing, the glory of God would one day be manifested. I understood it much later only after the medical report had to be sent to Rome.
You may laugh, but I often thought of St Thomas, who is my Holy Patron! Who can say with assurance what his deep motivation was when he wanted to put his hand in the wounds of Jesus? Is it only his lack of faith that had dictated his request? Is it possible that his doubting could be transformed into profound adoration by the will of God, so that the glory of God could be manifested and so that we might believe in the Resurrection? The sole understanding of her writing that I perceive is that through me, God had asked Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre to make an act of confidence, an act of boldness, and she did it in obedience. Obedience allows God to reveal Himself. As for me, I was only an instrument in his Hands. At first glance, the results were pitiful.
Facing the unintelligible writing of Sr. Simon-Pierre, I became speechless and remained in prayer. I had never imagined that her situation had worsened so rapidly in such a short time. Interiorly shamed for having asked to see her handwriting, I feared I had humiliated her. We remained for a moment speechless, in silence in front of this writing. I remember praying and thinking at this moment that we had tried everything and that we had reached the end: "Lord, the only thing left is a miracle!" That's how I expressed my thoughts before she left: "John Paul II has not said his last word", Sr. Simon-Pierre jumped up from the chair. That's how she expresses it in her testimony. And there I did not recognize her. She said, smiling and with a sense of humor: "Thank you for once for having listened to me to the end." Did her healing start at that time? Nobody knows.
On the morning of June 3rd, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, she went to the Eucharist convinced that she has been healed through the intercession of John Paul II. During Mass, she went to the loft to read with gusto the Word of God. I did not find again the rigid features at the level of her neck. I remembered precisely noticing it, but I did not think anymore about it. Other Sisters noticed that she was not the same, and they will mention it later. However, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre did not disclose it. She was absent from the communal breakfast following the Mass, but I did not notice it. She went up to her room because she needed to write. She took her treatment in the morning, but she discontinued it on her own at noon on the 3rd of June. The treatment was causing nausea, she had lost weight, and ate very little. At the noontime meal, she noticed that she was eating normally. Surely, I did not see it.
About 1:30 p.m., at the time we were praying the Rosary in community, Sr. Simon-Pierre gave me a call. I was not surprised of her absence because she is often called in by the Nursing Department. She asked me if I could meet her right away. I was worried. I reached her in the corridor that leads to the Little Sisters' rooms. I thought she had more stiffness and was not well. I caught sight of her, radiant, at the end of the hallway. She gave me a sheet of paper telling me: "Look, I wrote." Immediately, she tells me: "We have to tell Mere Marie Marc." I answered her: "Wait a little, you will kill the poor Mother!" She adds: "I have stopped my treatment." Worried, I answered her: "How come you have stopped your treatment?" While speaking, I was looking at the letter that she had written. The writing was amazing. It was really hers, but I had not seen it in years. I asked her: "What's happening?" She replied: "Sr. Marie Thomas, I am healed." I replied: "How come you are healed?" She answered: "Sr. Marie Thomas, I was healed through the intercession of John Paul II." I finally told her: "Come to my office this afternoon. You will explain to me what is happening. This is too much for me." Surprised interiorly by what I was seeing, I was deeply shaken; I could not understand." I could realize that she was healed, but I was too distressed at that moment. I needed time to digest what had just happened. I reached right away the Community; the Little Sisters were still praying the Rosary. At the end of the Rosary, we invoke Saint Joseph, our Founders, and at that moment, I surprised myself by invoking "Saint John Paul II". It came out without realizing what I was saying. I was brought to a standstill by this sudden healing. All the Little Sisters stared at me, wondering what was happening to me. I did not say anything, I finished the Rosary as if nothing had happened. No one asked any question. We returned to our departments. That afternoon, in this same office that she had left the night before, Sr. Simon-Pierre related to me what she had experienced, hour by hour the previous evening and that night. I had no more doubt about her healing. Immediately, without thinking, I told her: "Take this pencil, write Jean Paul II." Without hesitation, she wrote. Her handwriting was very different, totally readable. While I was at it, I asked her to write my phone number. This made no sense; I just wanted to see her write in front of me. My religious name is Sr. Marie Thomas. I must be a relative of Saint Thomas the Apostle!
On the evening of June 7th, 2005, after a consultation with the neurologist who noticed the total absence of clinical signs, Mere Marie Marc announced to all the communities the grace of this unexplainable healing, asking us to keep this news in humility and total discretion among us. She sent a letter to the Postulator for the Cause of Pope John Paul II. A few months later, Monsignor Oder came twice at the Maternite de l'Etoile in Aix en Provence to visit us and get an idea of the situation. Then he presented to the Archbishop of the Diocese of Aix and Arles, Monsignor Claude Feidt, a request to open an investigation (inquiry) of the healing "presumably miraculous," which is the technical term. Monsignor Feidt set up an inquiry commission. A very detailed questionnaire was prepared with the help of a medical expert, an expert neurologist. ... Witnesses were interrogated; physicians examined Sr. Simon-Pierre: neurologists, professors of neurology, psychiatrists, neuro-psychiatrists, and psychologists were involved. She did not meet the graphologist who had made a study of her writing from documents handwritten by her throughout the years. Another Commission of medical experts would later examine her medical record at the request of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints. Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre was always available during those years of investigation, mentioning that it was for her an "obstacle course."
In a televised program produced by the Catholic network KTO, Father Luc Marie Lalanne — diocesan priest, canonist, and the Episcopal delegate who led the diocesan inquiry — expressed himself in this way after the miracle: "What constituted the miracle, it's that something physical happened in the physical order. Here it was the whole Institute of the Little Sisters who were praying with great discretion and with great fervor, in turn and finally all together in the seven Communities, in an atmosphere of prayer that went up to God for her healing." He added furthermore: "We are faced with a fact that has two dimensions. There is the medical dimension, and a theological, spiritual dimension. In the medical order, the question asked is this: Can this healing be explained with actual medical knowledge? In the theological dimension, we may say that the key question is: Can we find a link between the intercession of John Paul II and the healing that happened in the framework of this prayer? This is the key question. It is evident that through this question, a vision widens and will prove that the context in which the healing happened is really coherent with the faith, coherent with Christian Revelation, with God's actions by Christ in this world. God acts in this world, but we must verify that the context, the way that the healing happened, the events that followed, the attitudes of the persons, etc... that all this is coherent with a perspective of faith, and what faith is telling us of God's actions in the world."
Third Chapter: Scientific studies of the doctors and their conclusions.
As I explained to you, the diocesan inquiry remains confidential. The members who were part of the commission that was organized on this occasion were sworn to medical and professional secrecy. However, I can share with you the reactions of the doctors who followed the Little Sister closely during many years and were not part of the inquiry commission. For example, consider the personal doctor of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre and the neurologist.
First of all, the reaction of her physician, Dr. Xavier David: He knew her for many years, and in his first consultation in 2001, he describes a vague symptomalogy that reminds him of multiple sclerosis or secondly Parkinson's syndrome. She was, according to him, too young to suffer from this disease. Two weeks after her treatment, there was no improvement. At the second consultation, he referred her to a neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, seconded by another neurologist from Marseilles.
On June 7, 2005, four days after her healing, following an appointment done a long time ago, she had a consultation with the neurologist. At her request, I accompanied her but remained in the waiting room during the exam. The consultation was endless. Before being called, she had told me: "You'll see, he'll let me walk before him in his office, and he will make up his mind about the changes of my sickness." It all happened as she had predicted. The doctor asked her: "How much dopamine have you taken, Sister, to be so well?". And her to reply: "I didn't double the doses, Doctor, I stopped everything." You can imagine his surprise! After a complete physical exam, he noticed the total absence of any clinical signs of Parkinson's disease. As I was let into the doctor's office at the end of the consultation, I saw him all shook up. He kept opening and closing the medical record, reminding himself that he had been treating her for years for this sickness. I remained standing. He reassured me that there were no more clinical signs of that disease. I asked him to please give me a medical attestation of his findings. After the sudden disappearance of the clinical symptoms, he saw the Little Sister within a few weeks and several months later. Everything was perfect.
Much later, I heard the testimony of the graphologist Gilles Giessner, who gave it during an interview with Grzegorz Tomczak, a Polish film producer. It was for a documentary entitled: "Santo Subito: First Part: Inexplicable Healing."
The interviewed graphologist expressed himself in these terms: "My name is Gilles Giessner, I am 60 years old and have been expertly assessing documents for the past 30 years. I am enlisted in the Court of Appeal, and I suppose that on account of my expertise in assessing documents that I was asked by Father Lalanne to examine the outline of this case. I received the writing records of the Little Sister, spaced in time, since I had writings from her childhood up to some writings after her healing. I verified them to be assured there were no false ones, that there were no alterations, scratchings, erasure marks, or counterfeits. I could register and model the pathological deformations. According to the books that I had seen, the quality of the writings conformed to the specimens of the writing of Parkinson's patients. Next, I qualified the writing, the quantity of its degradation up to the time of the famous mention of 'John Paul II' when it was much worse, and in fact it corresponded in my experience to a writing at the end of life, the kind I was used to find in the testaments of dying people. And I had the record of her writing the day after her healing. It was similar to the one seen 16 to 18 years previously. This was something amazing and inexplicable in my experience that is already becoming ancient."
Father Luc Marie Lalanne, whom I referred to earlier, continued his televised program with this testimony: "The objections from a medical point of view are these: Could we really have passed by another disease, could it have been a disease other than the Parkinson's, etc.? The miraculous fact cannot be proven, or it is a proof by abstention. In routine clinical practice, the diagnosis is made occasionally by elimination of the entire possible hypothesis. It is rare, but it happens. It is a process that is possible. It is a diagnosis by elimination. Here we face a similar problem. It is a diagnosis by elimination. This lack of proof is the impossibility to give a rational explanation to an unusual event that contradicts the actual evolution and the knowledge of the disease."
Fourth Chapter: How can this testimony have an impact on your professional life?
Basically, I will rely on a passage of the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II on the Christian meaning of suffering (Salvifici Doloris). This letter was given in Rome, during the liturgical celebration of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th, 1984, during the sixth year of his pontificate. The Pope undertook this reflection during the Year of the Redemption. By your professional practice, you are accompanying the sick or the injured; you are facing the mystery of evil as I myself was with Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre.
May I suggest six small sections for your reflection:
1. Walking with suffering,
2. Watch over everyone: patients and caregivers,
3. Accompanying the patient comes with a constant, deep, and listening ear,
4. From compassion to prayer, prayer to compassion,
5. Consider the sickness as a slow gestation,
6. The night shines as the day.
1. Walking with suffering
The Holy Father writes in his letter: "In order to perceive the true answer to the 'why' of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of suffering that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remain a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the 'why' of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love" (no.13).
On certain occasions, in the testimony of her healing, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre will affirm: "Without love, this did not make any sense." Therefore, a question arises: "How can we awaken this knowledge of the love of God in our patients?" The answer is found in the Guide to Nurses for Divine Mercy: Nursing with the Hands of Jesus.
2. Watch over everyone: patients and caregivers
Who can, better than Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, understand the precise situation of your patients, their families, and their caregivers? To be attentive to the persons is essential. It is just as important, I feel, to pay attention to the patient as to the caregiver. Confidence does not exclude the questions, the anxieties, the uncertainties, the spiritual struggle. You know how to understand and bring help to the persons with whom you work. Isn't this taking everything seriously in the working community? The caregiver can be a strength, a support in very difficult cases, but she needs to be supported also. No one is exempt from great distress, so we must gently provide some necessary means of support.
3. Accompanying the patient comes with a constant, deep, and listening ear
It is to welcome the whole person in his integrity, with his corporal, physical, and spiritual needs. We are addressing human beings and not diseases. Dealing with Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, I told you: "The human fellowship was difficult at times. I could not understand her needs. It took time, a lot of time, to understand her suffering. She needed to feel understood and respected. Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre was very slowly discovering her illness and was learning to live with her sick body. Her whole person was affected. I had to learn to listen differently to this sickness that was taking more and more of a place in our life. It took time to tame it."
By this human and spiritual accompaniment, we can allow the other to discover her true self. I think that by our sensitive relationship, we can allow the other to exist, to "be born again" in her true self. Slowly, this truth, at times hard to face, finally reveals itself. Yes, the truth of this sickness is very difficult to manifest itself. When it is progressively announced, it liberates. In the case of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, I received this brutal announcement by phone. You may imagine the risks.
4. From compassion to prayer, from prayer to compassion
"Suffering inspires compassion, it equally inspires respect, and even intimidates, because it contains in itself the greatness of a specific mystery" (Salvifici Doloris, 4). "Love is the most complete source to understand the meaning of suffering," says John Paul II. "This answer was given to us by God in the Cross of Jesus Christ."
Knowing the truth, which is on this occasion the seriousness of a disease, inspires the caregiver to develop compassion. Compassion is the attitude of a heart that "suffers with" and radiates God's mercy. The compassion may be expressed by a silent presence or a smile, and it produces a spark, a little flame of love and peace. Aren't we responsible for those who come to us, and those who are sent to us?
In certain situations, when we are exhausted after having humanly tried everything, prayer allows us to remain confident that God is in control. It is replenishment and consolation; it gives us energy to persevere. We must then go from compassion to prayer, and frequently from prayer to compassion.
5. Consider the sickness as a slow gestation
Beware of an overly quick prognosis. Certain transformations may be missed. We are not to encase everything in marble. There is a need for the patient to face the future — and at times, we are his compass. He has a great need to keep on living in the present and in the moment. His energy and courage he receives today. The manner in which he struggles conditions equally his future and his prognosis. I am not teaching you anything new. In the case of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, it was manifested in this way: "I was not paying extra attention to her complaints, and I would show her that she was still able to work."
I encouraged her to write the name of John Paul II, and I feared I had humiliated her. Generally speaking, no one is exempt from tactlessness. We must know how to explain our actions. The caregiver receives much from the one under her care. The suffering person is very sensitive. This degree of sensitivity varies during the same illness. This sensitivity is a richness that we must learn to appreciate. In this manner, I was aware of the deep spiritual life of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre and reached out to her by sharing with her the verse of a Psalm that allowed her to get out of herself and express her inner thoughts. (cf.: "Even darkness is not dark for you and the night is as bright as the day," Ps 139:12). It could easily be other than sharing a psalm. We have to take into account the patient and reach her where she is at, what she likes, and what gives her life.
6. The night shines as the day
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre struggled for years interiorly to say "Yes, Father" in faith. For years, she fought with herself to accept what she foresaw. "You know, having reflected, I think I will always be able to be a Little Sister, even in a wheelchair. My consecration will always remain alive, and I will be able to continue helping families and serve the Institute."
Even though there had not been a physical healing yet, she had received the grace of an internal healing. She had accepted the grace to embrace her sickness and not run away from it. She had realized and understood that her humanity was greater than the illness she was enduring, but it was not affecting the deeper sense of her vocation. I sincerely believe that this healing grace was her first victory; she was accepting who she was, a Little sick Sister but fully a Little Sister. As a caregiver, you often find yourself at a crossroads: between a denial and an acceptance of the sickness. It is precisely this way of acceptance that we are invited to favor in the exercise of our profession. The disease may evolve and advance, but the person has the capability to recover interiorly. The periods of desolation can mysteriously become the beginning of an inner joy. And it is precisely there that Christ is waiting for us with Mary, His Mother, at the foot of our Cross. The Paschal mystery is present in all human life. We have to pass from Good Friday to Easter morning. This exodus is not without anguish.
Father Lalanne, previously mentioned, said to the reporter: "If 20 years or three days from now, we discover how to heal Parkinson's disease, I will be the first one to rejoice; it will absolutely not change anything to what happened, nor to the judgment of the Church. The judgment rendered was absolutely not contrary to science. Science was not questioned at any moment. On the contrary, I see this as an encouragement: someone was spontaneously healed of Parkinson. Many sick ones were not cheated, but it became for them a source of great hope, telling them: 'Then it is possible!' And it is for that reason that the Church rendered a judgment."
While praying for this conference and its fruitfulness, I reread the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable reveals Christ to us in the expression of His compassion, a major attitude and part of His own heritage. This parable, associated with the washing of the feet (Jn, 13), unveils for us the attitude of the Heart of Jesus that will stretch, that will grow during His ministry, to the dimensions of all humanity. This interior attitude that gives meaning to our gesture, our conduct, our actions, can be ours, and it should be ours in our accompaniment of the sick or the injured. Jesus will take on the misery of men of all times and carry it in His Merciful Heart. This apostolate of mercy, lived and described by Sister Faustina, reunites us today.
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