Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

If you are like me, and you are disabled, poor and trying to lead a holy life in the midst of your sufferings and pains in a world that discounts you because you do not appear to be productive, you need some inspiring words to keep you going on the contemplative path.  In the case of today's saint, Jane de Chantal, you may find a lot to bolster your prayer life and your resolve.  The letters between her and her spiritual director, Saint Francis de Sales, would be helpful to you, and there are several other books, as I remember, about these two saints.  It has been a while since I read them.  I was in a Hindu convent at the time, but I recall feeling strengthened by this saint's attitude toward spiritual life.

Here is a great quote about her:

“She was full of faith, yet all her life had been tormented by thoughts against it. While apparently enjoying the peace and easiness of mind of souls who have reached a high state of virtue, she suffered such interior trials that she often told me her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself...But for all that suffering her face never lost its serenity, nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth” ~ St. Vincent de Paul.

Just google her name or look her up on, and you will find many books about her and St. Francis de Sales.  The library may also have some things.

It seems to me that most saints suffered greatly, in one fashion or another.  A few were sickly or disabled, like Blessed Margaret of Castello, and some were depressed, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta who had a dark night of the soul for 30 years.  Others were tormented by demons.  Most were afflicted with doubts and other temptations.  If anyone can relate to them in their sufferings, it is the disabled and frail elderly, many of whom endure chronic pain that does not leave them for a minute.  Depression and mental illnesses like post traumatic stress disorder are very common these days because the world has become a mean and violent place.  All of these things can interfere in a person's spiritual life if we let it get to us or if we imagine for a moment that we cannot possibly become saints if we are so messed up.

It is precisely BECAUSE we are messed up that we have a chance of becoming saints if we use our sufferings and humiliations to our advantage, offering it all up to God while maintaining a joyous visage.  We needn't pretend the suffering doesn't exist.  We aren't stoics or automatons!  We wrestle with our struggles, whatever they are, and we will notice them and occasionally give voice to the frustration, and we will certainly feel the pain, but our primary focus is on God and the beauty and joy of Him.  But never let anyone tell you that you "shouldn't feel" this or that emotion.  The saints feel plenty.  That is how they have a heart for the poor and suffering, and a heart for Jesus, Mary and the other saints.

Don't forget that God is great and has no problem using broken instruments such as ourselves.  Ignore what the worldly have to say about you and, whatever you do, don't let it get you down.  God will use us in the way he wishes to use us in the time in which he wishes to use us, and all we have to do is be open to him in our hearts.

I have been getting down on myself because of my inability to keep a strict schedule.  That was stupid.  One of the reasons I am disabled is because my illnesses prevent me from maintaining a schedule.  Somehow I had internalized the criticisms of the world.  I am learning to ignore the critical lady who frequently tells me, "I don't understand why you're not working.  You should be working.  Surely there is SOMETHING you can do.  You're so INTELLIGENT."  (As if one can only be disabled if one is a moron!)  Then there is the nosy neighbor who quizzes my apartment manager and asks her for a list of my disabilities because I do not "look" disabled. (Most illnesses, no matter how grave, cannot be detected by simply looking at someone.)

Quite a few people ask me how much money I get in Social Security.  I have made the mistake, in the past, of actually telling them the amount, only to be told that I am not really poor because some other able-bodied person with a temporary financial problem has a lower income than I do.  People do not understand that being disabled is MUCH more expensive than being able-bodied and, while an able-bodied person can actually do something to alleviate their situation, like taking a second job, a disabled person is pretty much stuck.  Occasionally, some of us can find a little something we can do to increase our income, but it is very difficult.  The solution for any financial privation is usually tightening our belts and doing without.  I will write a blog about that one day.

None of these people have the right to the information they ask about income or health conditions, and, these days, when pressed, I simply say that I have a collection of illness which, put together, make it impossible for me to work.  It does not satisfy them, but if I say it enough times, they stop asking.  Hostility and criticism toward the disabled and the poor are rampant in our society today, and we can fall into the trap of trying to defend ourselves at every turn.  Don't do it!  If someone is quizzing you about your disabilities or your income, it is not out of concern for you.  They want to judge for themselves whether you are poor or sick and your word is not good enough.  If you give in to this type of interrogation, you will lose your dignity like I did, and no amount of explanation will change a person's mind about you and all the other "lowlife" poor people who are faking disability (supposedly.)

Don't make the mistake I made and internalize the world's garbage until you are so down on yourself your spiritual life goes down the tubes.  There are plenty of people in the world for whom all the explanations and information in the world would not be enough to gift them with a sense of compassion and understanding for your trials or appreciation for your contemplative strivings.  In fact, most people won't "get you" in any real way.  If you're lucky, like me, there are a few dear friends who respect you and trust you.  Ignore the rest of the nattering world and hold onto the Lord.  Think of the rest of us who are in your same position (and there are quite a lot of us!)  We are your community.  We get you.  We support you.  We pray for you.  Don't give up.

Silver Rose Parnell

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