Yesterday was once of the most difficult days of torment in recent months. And, in the aftermath, case two of the most profound experiences in mylife.
It started nearly immediately. At breakfast – after shower, after rising, an hour after my alarm – I bit into a piece of apple, tried to chew, and found the bolts was stuck in the folds of my esophagus. My undiagnosed neuromuscular condition involves muscles not firing normally – not contracting autonomically when they should and not relaxing from contraction, either. Muscles sometimes get trapped by and wrapped around other muscles; this particular problem is usually triggered by another voluntary movement in a related muscle group. It seems that my praying before my meal, with all the tending of the muscles in my scalp and face, was not to the liking of other parts of my musculature in my head and neck, for, when I took that fateful bite, something crucial seized. That piece of apple would not go down. I’d only experienced something like this once or twice before. The more I tried to swallow, the more tense the area got. The more I tried to unravel the knot, the worse things became. Effort was my enemy (a lesson I have had burned into me many times before). I found myself now thrashing and flailing, pounding my fist, volumes of saliva and mucus accumulating in my throat, which I had to expectorate, the fear of choking gripping me in every moment. I was shouting, crying, cursing – yes – cursing Satan for some role he had in trying to lead me into rage and despair through my suffering. Finally, by God’s grace, a got a hold of myself and, by sheer will, allowed myself to release and calm down and center, knowing my muscles needed to relax. In the following minutes, I could feel a few muscles in my head ease, I could gently unwind some of the knots, and, in a huge swoop, the bolus of chewed apple went down swiftly.
Thirty minute had passed. I needed now to be fasting for at least one hour before Mass. I was worn out, I was hungry – but, after all the rigors I’d put my stomach through, even if I’d had the time, I wouldn’t have wanted to eat. I’m hungry soon after I wake up, and, with my quick metabolism and borderline hypoglycemia, it’s not a good idea to skip meals. (Plus, the action of eating primes all the muscles of my gastrointestinal track and the skeletal muscles that support them to allow bowel movements later.). But, here I was. I had to trust in Jesus now to carry me and to offer this up to console Him. I went to Mass.
The difficulties did not end. It was a dynamic morning. The other rigors that I tend to always go through during each Mass to work out the knots in the skeletal muscles of my whole body – jerking, falling forward, softly but quickly falling down to the floor – were in full force. I’ve tried to hold back in the past, out of respect to the Mass, but the restraint always blows up in my face later. This time of day is when my muscles are ripe for forward motion, and, if I want to be functioning at least twenty-five percent normally, I simply must give myself over to it.
A very compassionate woman – a woman with whom I’d only had a few and very limited interactions with before (including the time she heard me sobbing and gave me her own St. Anthony medal) – midway through Mass approached me quietly from the side and whispered, “Michael, do you want to lean on me?”
I was touched so tenderly. I replied to her, “Oh, that is so sweet – but it would not be very good for you… The pillar [to my left, which I patted] is just fine.” I smiled to reassure her.
“Okay. But just let me know.”
After Mass, she came by again – this time asking if she could give me a ride somewhere – but, she said, she was also aware of my prayer time after Mass… I thanked her so much. I said that I would be going home later – but, yes, that I needed to pray a while first. We agreed that she would go to the grocery store and return in forty-five minutes (and I was sincerely hoping that I would be done by then).
I had finished the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and was two decades into the Rosary, when an angel tapped me, and I turned around to see her patiently, peacefully waiting in the vestibule. It was nearly the meeting time, and I didn’t want to be self-indulgent this time and to keep her waiting. So, I went.
As I entered my little house, I was aware that I always need to complete my routine of finishing my Rosary, ordering my Uber, and riding home in concentration on my body in order for things to go reasonably well later. There’s something about the specific actions and timing that my body has gotten used to, a sort of clock with which my muscle memory ticks. But I had had to abandon yet another piece of my schedule today. I was hoping that I’d be forgiven and carry on as normal. Once inside, immediately I restarted and finished my Rosary. I then began what always must follow when I get home – the work of having a bowel movement – an automatic and normal bodily function for most people, which for me is a labor of absurd feats.
I first needed to eat a little bit more, a snack that I always have prepared and waiting for me. And then, at a certain point, I begin to feel telltale movement with a little pain. And then begins an epic of consciously pulsing and relaxing muscles throughout my body – my head, my neck, my back, my buttocks, my legs – taking focus, concentration, visualization, breathing, prayers, pleading – possibly lasting the better part of an hour, possibly taking two… And nothing was happening. By a certain point in time when I start to see relief coming in the distance, there was nothing, nothingness, a terrifying muteness and blankness of my muscles, a void. I could hear the wind…
I started to panic. So I at a little bit more. And then a little more. And still I felt nothing. And I ate some more. And I was starting to loathe myself and hate my state, and anger and fear and rage and despair were gradually closing their claws – his claws – all around me, because I’d let them/him. And soon I was in his cage. Screaming, crying again like this morning. And I knew what was happening. I was trying so hard and only facing increasingly the gripping fear that, for the first time in over a year, I would not achieve this level of control over my body, that I would be forced to surrender, and be forced to accept the fate of walking on through the day in disgusting fullness, thinking of sewage within me.
Once again, though, by God’s incredible grace, I seized my soul back for just one moment. I chose to be quiet. I was still sobbing horribly, but I started to reach out to the Blessed Mother in desperate need for consolation and help. I was drowning and was reaching for my life raft. Then, as I was thinking about her, something happened. In my mind’s eye, I saw her figure, slightly fuzzy, but distinct. And then she said to me, with definitive identity for me, “My son.” She said it again – “My son.” And she was repeating it in an unmistakable statement that I was her son – it was there in her voice, clear to be heard. And as I focused on her and this repeated address to me, she said something else that didn’t understand . She said, “My son, I have prepared a place for you.”
Unexpectedly, it stunned me almost cold. I felt a little comfort, but also something that was like fear in me. I thought, “Our Blessed Mother is claiming me once and for all as hers and that she has a place for me, and we can be sure that her desire will be fixed, defined by total sacrifice, and completely consumed by the spiritual life and, therefore, completely dissolving of personal freedom of movement but for one freedom – the freedom to choose… And we all know what those whom Our Lady graces with her particular attention do chose out of a love for her that is such a desire for perfect love and the pathway to redemption that all but annihilates any other possible desire. This means that the Queen if Heaven’s desire must necessarily this is my chosen life, and how could I choose any other? But the Satanic part of me, the fallen part that is under his spell, against which I must rail, said that must fear this, that the will of God (here through His Mother) must mean the end of my freedom, the end of my peace and happiness. What lies. Peace and happiness and true freedom are found only in God, and it is through our Blessed Mother that we get there… So of course, in my soul, was growing a “Yes” to the Blessed Mother, whom I beheld in my mind’s eye. As the assent to her grew, so did the willing self-giving-ness of my soul within me swell. I didn’t have to say a thing – silently I was allowing the desire to be in union with God and cooperate with His plan through my Mother to completely take me over and, thus, as I knew instinctively, against all rebellious desires, surrender. And, then, yes, I did finally say, “Yes.” And in my mind’s eye,everything was growing blue in light, ever more blue in the glow of the background and a sheet of glow in the foreground simultaneously. The more I said, “Yes, the bluer things became. And I thought, “I’m being wrapped in her mantle… My place is in the folds of her mantle?”
“But – wait – I’m sick.,” the Fear-bound Imagination said again. “My body is a mess, and it only degenerates with time’s passing. Is my place then to be like Bl. Marthe Robin – ultimately fully bedridden and incapacitated and helpless – in her arms? Blessed, a channel of grace, and a perpetual nothingness in the throes of pain and immobile suffering?” Yes, I still allowed fear in me. But I cast it all aside into the Fire, the eternal one, and said, in the face of all fear, that I accept. I wanted more than anything else to go to Heaven, to let others be helped through me, to bask in her exquisite and tender motherly love and, to live in the fount of her grace – and let the Father’s grace flow unobstructed from her, through me – all the days of my life. I’m a nothing, small. I’m a mouse. Unnoticeable, unimportant. But if she talks to me, I feel like a saint – and I want to go marching in.
Ultimately, I was able to re-Center with my physical needs and, by God’s grace, come to relief finally and praise His name in humility and gratitude. I still was sobbing, struggling through it, but I made it.
I was a wet rag afterwards. I needed to waste no time to get ready, as I was to be picked up in two hours to join a Divine Mercy prayer group. I was washing dishes when internal difficulties and pain struck again. There was more to come, evidently. Trying to work through it, I did my best, and I was not succeeding. Devolving again into tears and screaming and pounding, I almost at one point did the wrong thing- I almost picked up the phone to call my ride to tell her not to come for me. I thought, “You’re tired, you’re not doing well, you feel horrible. You don’t need to go. It’s really not necessary. You don’t have anything to prove – why try to be a hero and a slave to formal commitment. Just stay home and take it easy, go about your normal chores at a normal pace, and go to Confession later, like you always do on Saturdays. See? You’re still a virtuous person. Just cancel and take it easy. That’s the same thing to do. Just cancel. You’ll feel better.” And then I heard another voice, as clear as a trumpet behind me blast, “NO! YOU MUST GO!” And I understood. That was not my voice. He was trying to keep me from a beneficial activity, even in if meant some initial sacrifice and discomfort. He was trying to convince me with the lies that I had done and would do enough, and that I was entitled of self-indulgence and inertia. Lies. Thank you, Guardian Angel. I pushed through the pain and continued getting ready. I was barely together by the time my ride arrived. I was still a limp rag, but the decision that I needed to move forward and attend gave me peace.
I could have made no better decision for myself that day than to push through pain and sorrow and join others in prayer. Their fellowship, their warmth, their smiles, was so soothing to my soul and buoyed it up. Communing with the Our Lord Jesus united with others lifted me to Him. And more tears came, tears of acceptance of whatever suffering He desired for me to advance salvation from Hell for others, tears of consolation and peace from His love. It put me back together. Though maybe a little weak for the rigors of the day, like one recovering from a terrible flu – but I found I could walk again.
I went to Confession afterwards, I went to the laundromat to do my laundry, I went home. I had dinner- it was normal – and I went to bed, thanking God and with hope for a peaceful night. Praise God. Thank you, Mary – thank you, Incredible and Miraculous Mother.