When I receive unexpected devastating news my heart stops, my breathing stops, my mind stops. I turn numb and cold inside and I feel as though I were outside my own body. Nothing can prepare us for such heart-stopping information, particularly about or from those we love. I have stood beside women who have shared with me through tears the news that was breaking their heart. There was no way to make sense of what was happening, of how lives and relationships were being torn apart by decisions made by loved ones and friends.
A promise that God is with a person in her sorrow never seems enough. Of course, I believe it is true. But it seems like I'm taking the easy way out by saying this and leaving it at that, almost disengaging myself with a promise of prayer as I return to my own life.
I recall one conversation I had online as I began to meet with a woman in California for HeartWork sessions. It was evident that she had been crying and was distant as we spoke. After about twenty minutes I reached out gently and said it looked like she had been crying and was there something wrong. Just five minutes before our phone conversation, she told me, her husband had told her that he was leaving her. It felt like a silent bomb had exploded in the space between us. In the silence, I felt small before the immensity of what had just happened to her.
Since we were working together in HeartWork, an online program of spiritual development and personal growth, I told her that HeartWork could not promise that he would change his mind or come back. But I could promise her if she did her own HeartWork, she would strengthen herself for whatever her relationship with him would become. All summer we worked on our hearts. All summer we both prayed. In the fall, she was in a car accident. She needed help, and it was her husband who came back to help her. I learned recently that they have been together since the accident, a happily married couple still strongly in love.
HeartWork has enabled me to adopt the practice of witnessing my heart's own truth, and to teach this practice to others. Initial reactions to pain and loss are often anger and fear. These emotions create numbness and keep us on the surface. Such rocky and hard soil makes it difficult for the Word to take root within us. Prayers, our own or another’s prayers for us, can call upon grace to soften our pain and open our spirits. When prayer is joined together with the practice of witnessing our heart's truth by staying with what we are experiencing, however, I find we may hurt more but we heal more.
Naming and experiencing and understanding what we are going through in response to devastating news, peels away layer after layer of emotion. As we move downward and inward, we experience the raw intensity of our desires and expectations unfulfilled or betrayed. Witnessing my heart's truth lets me sink into the vulnerable and powerless ground of my being, and it is there that I hear and see and touch God's Word rooting itself within my now fertile ground. The Word proclaimed from the altar at Mass or the Scriptures read in private prayer becomes the Word blossoming and radiant within my own spirit. And it is this meeting of the Word, this oneness of Word that ultimately heals.
This October we will spend 9 days reflecting upon how #theWordHeals. Our Founder in his first homily as a priest drew attention to the healing power of Jesus, but he states that the Lord’s mission of healing brought spiritual graces, and it is to this spiritually fruitful mission that the Founder Alberione would call the sons and daughters of St. Paul: “Spiritual graces – Jesus cured so many sick persons, consoled so many afflicted ones, enlightened so many persons in doubt, strengthened many who were weak. Widows, orphans, the poor, the old folks, the young, the rich and the poor: he has graces for everyone because he is infinite in power and in mercy…” When I consider the way that Jesus can use my tongue to speak the miracles of his mercy, I am humbled. I never know what to say truly to a person with whom I am journeying in HeartWork, but God does. I trust God to speak directly to that person’s heart through the Word preached in this online space which becomes, indeed, a cathedral.
This October won't you be a part of our Novena Webathon journey? We will be praying the rosary daily on Facebook Live for all those who need healing, especially you and your loved ones. We are such a part of your life all year long that in the Novena it is your intentions that we remember first and foremost. You can also reach out and offer that healing to someone else through your generous donation to help the Pauline mission expand in this coming year. More details on that later.
For now, if you want to send special intentions for the Novena, please send them here. And for those who already have, know that the Senior Sisters have already started praying. When I sit at table with them during meals, they tell me about the intentions they have received and the way they are remembering you in rosaries, Masses, and their evening prayer together.
May God bless you all!
Sr. Kathryn J Hermes, FSP