Physical Illness, 'a School of Patience'

The following is an excerpt from the Marian Press book 52 Weeks with St. Faustina by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle:

“Physical weakness was for me a school of patience.” — Diary, 37

Sister Faustina discovered that sickness and suffering were a “school of patience” through which she learned to persevere in doing God’s will. That does not mean it was easy. Not at all. It required much effort to resign her will completely to God’s holy will. It requires much effort for each of us to do the same. This week’s spiritual exercise delves into Sr. Faustina’s lessons in the “school of patience.” Let’s take a look.

Growing up on a farm, every day Helen breathed the invigorating, crisp, clean country air into her lungs. She stretched her legs on the many acres of farmland, bringing the cows out to pasture and playfully romping around, as little girls do. During harvest seasons, she was nourished with unprocessed, wholesome vegetables picked right from the gardens that very day. You can’t get any fresher than that! She drank raw cow’s milk, rich with vitamins. Chicken eggs, plucked from nests and still warm from the hens, were scrambled up on the hot griddle by her mama. Being a fine baker, Marianna also made sure that her home-baked rolls and delicious breads were a daily staple on their supper table. Though the family struggled financially, young Helen was well-nourished and healthy. So it might seem ironic that the bright-eyed young girl displaying a freckled, shining, and rosy face would later succumb to much illness after becoming a sister, and die at the young age of 33 years.

Sister Faustina wrote in her Diary, “Physical weakness was for me a school of patience. Only Jesus knows how many efforts of will I had to make to fulfill my duty” (Diary, 37). As Sr. Faustina progressed in the spiritual life, she learned how important it was to suffer patiently, as well as to offer her sufferings to God for His holy will to be accomplished. From her statement above, we learn that moving her will to fulfill her duties required much effort. Yet she trusted God. It’s the same with us. We need to choose to move our will so we can head in the right direction in our spiritual life, continually trusting God with our lives. Sister Faustina also wrote, “In order to purify a soul, Jesus uses whatever instruments He likes” (Diary, 38). Jesus might use sickness or interior suffering to purify a soul. He is the Divine Physician, and we need to trust that He knows just what we need and when we need it. We should ask ourselves, “If we had everything we wanted or thought we needed, would we ever get to Heaven?” It is possible that sickness might save the soul of someone who has turned away from God. God can lovingly show the soul who is the more powerful One and from Whom we need to seek help, especially before our dying breath.

In addition to so often being sick herself, Sr. Faustina felt called to pray for the sick. She once wrote, “I steeped myself in prayer, especially for the sick. I now see how much the sick have need of prayer” (Diary, 826). Another time, she wrote, “Today I must stay in bed all day. I had a violent fit of coughing, which left me so weak that I have no strength to walk. My spirit is eager to do God’s work, but physical strength has left me.” She certainly prayed to remedy her situation. To Jesus, she said, “I cannot penetrate Your actions at this moment, O Lord; therefore, I keep repeating with a loving act of the will: Do with me as You please” (Diary, 1085). Sister Faustina knew that, since she was a professed religious sister, her life was completely in her Lord’s hands. There was no use fighting it. There would be no good purpose to do so. It would only complicate her condition. She desired only His holy will. She continued to repeat a loving act of surrender to Jesus, praying, “Do with me as You please.”

Jesus grants a miracle of health

One time, Sr. Faustina wrote a letter to her confessor, Fr. Michael Sopoćko (who, as we will later see, played an extremely important role in helping Sr. Faustina carry out her role as the “Apostle of Divine Mercy”). No sooner did she put her pen down than she was afflicted with illness. She felt miserable and wondered if the sudden attack of sickness meant she shouldn’t send the letter. She wrote in her Diary, “I did not send that letter, but waited for a clear sign of God’s will. However, my health got so bad that I had to go to bed. The coughing racked me so much that it seemed to me that, if this repeats a few more times, it will surely be the end of me” (Diary, 1088). A few days later, Sr. Faustina was even worse. It was the last day of a novena she had been praying to the Holy Spirit. She could barely breathe. She wheezed in pain; her lungs rattled. She managed to receive Holy Communion and prayed, “Jesus, may Your pure and healthy blood circulate in my ailing organism, and may Your pure and healthy body transform my weak body, and may a healthy and vigorous life throb within me, if it is truly Your holy will that I should set about the work in question; and this will be a clear sign of Your holy will for me” (Diary, 1089).

Sister Faustina felt a strange sensation moving through her whole body. “[I]n an instant, I felt completely well. My breath is clear, as if there never had been anything the matter with my lungs, and I feel no pain, and this is a sign for me that I should set about the work” she recalled (Diary, 1089). Sister Faustina said she found herself “united with the Lord Jesus in a purely spiritual way,” adding, “Jesus gave me strong assurances; that is, He confirmed me in respect to His demands” (Diary, 1090). All throughout that day, Sr. Faustina stayed close to Jesus and talked with Him about details concerning a new congregation (more on that later on).

Sister Faustina learned much through this experience. She wrote, “Jesus infused my soul with power and courage to act. Now I understand that if the Lord demands something of a soul, He gives it the means to carry it out, and through grace He makes it capable of doing this.” She continued, “So, even if the soul be utterly miserable, at the Lord’s command it can undertake things beyond its expectation, because this is the sign by which it can be known that the Lord is with that soul: if God’s power and strength, which make the soul courageous and valiant, is manifest within it.” Sister Faustina expanded upon the wisdom learned. She admitted, “As for myself, I am always at first a bit frightened at the Lord’s greatness, but afterwards my soul is filled with profound peace which nothing can disturb, as well as an inner strength to do what the Lord is demanding at that particular moment” (Diary, 1090).

Something to Ponder

God had great designs for St. Faustina’s soul. But He also has great plans for each one of us. Each person is given an important mission in life. We need to get our souls ready to meet Jesus face-to-face one day, as well as to help countless souls get to Heaven.

Take time throughout this week to ponder your life. Has sickness visited you? Can you pray to move your will wholeheartedly to accept God’s holy will for your life? Suffering is difficult. Yes, we can ask for good health so that we can continue on in our lives, but we must accept whatever God has for us. We can pray for patience and acceptance of our crosses of sickness.

My dear friend Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, a renowned Fatima expert and EWTN television host, suffered from a few serious illnesses during the last year of his life. He shared with me that he would like to get better if it was God’s holy will. However, Father heartily sought God’s will and not his own. He patiently offered every bit of his suffering during the centenary year of Our Lady of Fatima for the conversion of sinners, as Our Lady of Fatima had asked. Father Andrew closed his eyes on this world on December 13, 2017, which came as a surprise to many. Countless miracles can happen in our souls and to others around us when we accept the will of God. Pray about it this week.

A Merciful Action

Carry out a special work of mercy to lift the burden from a sick person or to help the family of a sick or injured person. Perhaps it might be the gift of a holy Mass or a “spiritual bouquet,” a promise of certain prayers that you will pray for that person. You can indicate what the prayers consist of on a card and send the card to the person. Also, consider offering to make a meal or purchase a meal (if you are not handy in the kitchen!) and deliver the food to someone in need. Pray that Jesus’ love will shine through your eyes and smile when you deliver the meal.

A PRAYER OF MERCY FOR THIS WEEK

(To be prayed each day this week.)

Dear Merciful Jesus, please grant me the graces to be patient and accepting of Your holy will, no matter what it might be. Enlarge my heart to be more patient and merciful to others who are suffering. Mother Mary, help me. Saint Faustina, please pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You! Amen.

You can order 52 Weeks with St. Faustina by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle here:

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