For the eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Tim O’Malley writes about how the death of…
Triggers and suffering
Being “triggered” is a real thing. I experienced it recently at a church while hearing about virtual parishioners. All that time without Mass came flooding back to me. But it wasn’t until the spiritual communion prayer that I felt my body sliding under the pew. Thanks be to God that some of the most vulnerable have some way to be connected to the Mass. But it’s nothing like being present.
I’m not proud of myself, but one day during the extended isolation last spring, I found myself hollering at a virtual Mass on my computer. The wonderful priest, after receiving Communion, was telling me that my desire for the Blessed Sacrament needs to increase. The night before, I had been curled up in a ball crying, so much was I longing to just be present at Mass with Jesus. Life without confession was worse than not taking a shower for weeks and then months. I didn’t want to live. Not without receiving Jesus and his mercy.
Of course, I wasn’t without him. I’m a baptized and confirmed Catholic; I don’t think I had a mortal sin on my soul, and so the Trinity was — is — present within. That act of faith — and some loving friends — made the difference.
So, what do you do when you’re triggered? You realize clinging to Christ is everything. People will come and go, but Christ is our life.
And this isn’t just a spiritual thing. We’re integrated wholes, which I had a close encounter with this month and wound up in an emergency room. I was close to helpless with a raging migraine like I’ve never experienced. I thought it was a stroke. I have a whole new empathy for people who suffer these. I lost two days of my life to migraines.
The first day, without the kindness of a few Dominican priests, I could have wound up in a ditch in Manhattan — I wish I were exaggerating. When things escalated days later and I was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, I found myself grateful, putting things into perspective. The man behind me being checked in was stabbed in broad daylight. The man next to me in the ER was an HIV patient, which he kept announcing even while hitting on the male nurses. To be so enslaved to passion! It’s one of the things our culture encourages. I saw overworked nurses, who I had to beg for help now and again, even as I appreciated their circumstances. But I was desperate. How did Christ do it in his passion?
Another Dominican I know, Father James Brent, recently recorded a video on suffering and the concept of offering it up. I remember my dear, late friend Kate O’Beirne asking in her final days, “How do you do that?” I witnessed from afar my more recently deceased friend Andrew Walther do it — he gave everything he had to Christ and his service, including the leukemia pain.
I think I crossed a threshold when I found myself on a hospital gurney gripping a rosary, unable to pray the words. From the depths of my heart, I prayed with groanings that the Holy Spirit works with. Take this pain, Lord, I offer it to you. Work some miracle somewhere; please, don’t let this be without purpose or meaning. I trust you will do good with this. Please do good with this.
Mine was nothing close to the most intense pain there is, but it was enough — like the Eucharistic separation — for me to be completely and utterly aware that I am weak. Even being terrified about the hospital bill yet to come was an encounter with poverty. The poor we will always have with us — because that’s me! It’s not just a matter of finances, but everything. I am the child of the Father, and I need him. We need to help one another live from this reality more and more. Because it is our identity, and everything else is a lie if you’re a believer.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.