Physical illness brought me closer to this popular saint

Working as a Catholic communications professional kept me busy. I rarely had the opportunity to sit down and read for pleasure.

For years, I had wanted to read “Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska,” but somehow time kept slipping away from me. However, during Lent 2023, I was forced to rest due to a long-term illness. At the time, my eyes were fatigued, and reading a book was not feasible for me. Instead, I listened to the audiobook and found much comfort in it.

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While this book speaks about the second coming of Christ and the Divine Mercy devotion propagated by St. Faustina, it is also a manual on suffering and being patient during physical illness.

After joining religious life, Faustina became ill. She expressed in her diary many themes that I could relate to while I was confined to bed rest. Among others, she spoke about the solitude she experienced while being ill and educated me on being thankful despite my circumstances.

With her wise advice, I began to offer every pain I felt in my body for the salvation of souls. I also learned to observe how pain moved through my body without judgment; I began to accept it and to thank the Lord for it. It was a counter-intuitive way of thinking for me, and even if I didn’t succeed at it every day, I tried.

Before my long-term illness, it didn’t cross my mind that Jesus could use my sickness or interior suffering to purify my soul. I remember asking myself, “Why would a loving God want us to suffer, and how is it good for us?” My perception of suffering was primitive, often combined with questioning the Catholic faith, my circumstances and God. However, Faustina made it clear that suffering was allowed by God as a tool to help souls become more like Christ.

“You are not living for yourself but for souls, and other souls will profit from your sufferings. Your prolonged suffering will give them the light and strength to accept My will.” — Diary, No. 67, Jesus to St. Faustina

Embracing surrender

Accepting God’s will was another important theme mentioned in the diary. I was accustomed to resisting and overcoming difficulties in my life, not accepting them. However, Faustina helped me see that I lacked humility in this area. I was accustomed to thinking that I had the power to control my circumstances, yet I was powerless during this trial and forced to rely on God. Even though I am a practicing Catholic, amid the persistent physical pain, the purification of my soul was not my priority. I simply wanted to get better, and I wanted it to happen fast so I could return to my normal life. But the Lord chose Lent 2023 to teach me lessons in patience, humility and surrender.

One of my symptoms that lasted four months was a permanent migraine with a brain-burning sensation. The doctors could not explain it, and it left me feeling confused. However, when I heard that Faustina asked the Lord to be crowned with Christ’s crown of thorns and how she described her sensations, I felt comforted. I knew I had a spiritual friend in heaven who endured similar sensations to what I was undergoing, even if I hadn’t asked for this invisible crown.

During my health trial, I also struggled with mental health and despaired that my pain would never go away. I had to learn to surrender to God daily, even hourly. I learned what it meant to endure chronic pain, which helped me understand a friend who experiences chronic pain regularly. Her words were of much comfort to me during my illness, as she helped me remember the value of sacrifice and prayer.

“My daughter, I want to instruct you on how you are to rescue souls through sacrifice and prayer. You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.” — Diary, No. 1767, Jesus to St. Faustina

God doesn’t waste anything

When I was on bed rest, I simply wanted to be distracted from my pain. Listening to an audiobook was simply a good way to do so. However, in looking back, I understand how God used this trial to draw me closer to him. Even if it felt like my life was stagnant, I was still moving in the spirit. God doesn’t waste anything.

Has sickness visited you? Suffering for a prolonged period is difficult. As Catholics, we can pray for good health, but we must also learn to accept the crosses God allows us to experience at a given time. Remembering that our lives here point to our eternal destination is crucial to finding hope and accepting the will of God.

Our time on earth is limited and precious. We may not always understand the plan of God, but we have been promised a good outcome in heaven if we keep our eyes on him.

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