There's a book called "A Father's Legacy" and the whole idea behind the book is that you spend time interviewing your father so that you can hear some of the stories of his life. I've been doing this with my Uncle Jim, who is actually my Grandfather's brother. Since all of my Grandparents have died he is the closest thing that I have to a grandfather now. It has been a privilege to hear him tell some of the stories that I've never heard before, some make you laugh and some make you cry. He's finally opened up and began telling some of the stories from the war. My Uncle and Grandfather served in World War II, but neither of them ever talked about it. I found out that he was shot in the leg and received a purple heart. Coincidentally I also found out he has had 4 complete knee replacements.
My father for many years, fifteen if I remember correctly, had put off his knee replacement. I've heard many people say it is the most painful surgery and difficult recovery there is. Some people say to get them both done at the same time because if you don't you won't go back after the pain of the first one.
I watched as my father began to limp around, miss out on activities and wince in pain from time to time. I remember times when his knee went out and we actually had to carry him to the car to get him to the hospital. He was finally mustering up the courage to look into getting his knee replaced so he figured he'd go to the expert: my Uncle Jim!
He asked my Uncle Jim which was worse "knee surgery or getting shot in the war?" My Uncle Jim responded without hesitation and in all seriousness "Oh knee surgery for sure, I'd take getting shot in the leg anytime over another knee surgery."
Needless to say this give my dad any assurance to go ahead with the surgery. Finally when the pain became too great, and the frustration of a bad knee had built up, he went and had the surgery. It was every bit as painful as my Uncle Jim described, recovery was long and painful, but my dad being the dedicated German that he is did it faithfully and today he gets around fine.
I have a beautiful picture of him from just this fall of him playing in the leaves with all three of my neices and nephew. Not only was he rolling around in the leaves with them, he was falling and jumping in the pile and throwing leaves up in the air. He doesn't regret having the surgery. I've actually heard that consistently from people... "Father it was painful, but I don't regret doing it."
In the first reading we hear from the prophet Isaiah:
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
The truth is we all have weaknesses, if not physical, then mental, emotional, developmental, spiritual and all of the above. "Be strong, fear not!" Weaknesses are not to be feared but embraced, bound, and healed.
St. James reminds us: "Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."
The reality is that we are all broken in some way, we all have need of healing, strengthening, and firming. It is often during the suffering, waiting, therapy, and setbacks that we are truly healed.
St. Ignatius is one of the greatest teachers in prayer. He was a mystic who devoted his entire life and founded the Jesuits on the motto Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or ad majorem Dei gloriam "For the Greater Glory of God." We can thank him in part for our current Holy Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit. Ignatius left us with some of the greatest gifts for prayer and discernment: The Spiritual Exercises, the Rules for Discernment, The Examen of Consciousness, and the Prayer of Contemplation where he teaches us deep, intimate, profound ways of praying with scripture by actually entering into the scenes by imaginative prayer. We can actually experience being there with Jesus and encounter him in a very real and intimate way.
He was not always a religious man, in fact before his conversion, he was pretty vain, egotistical, and a womanizer. He wanted to go off and be a war hero, not because he really cared about serving his country. It was another opportunity to get the ladies.
Igantius was a charismatic, attractive and passionate man who kept his army fighting even though they were loosing. That was until the enemy fired a canon ball which took out his legs and at that point they surrendered.
This was the time before anesthesia so surgeries were very serious and there was a high mortality rate. After Ignatius had his knee surgery to repair the damage he discovered that the doctors had actually shortened one of his legs so he was now walking with a limp. A bone protruded from his leg and looked unsightly. He nearly died during the surgery. His leg was set but did not heal, so it was necessary to break it again and reset it, again without anesthesia. Ignatius grew worse and was finally told by the doctors that he should prepare for death. Having a limp was unacceptable for Igantius so he, against the doctors wishes, went in for a third surgery on his leg.
He spent months in recovery and being laid up in bed was bored out of his mind. He would often ask his brother for war novels and books about heroes until he finally ran out of them. So his brother told him all he had left was the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. Ignatius was so bored that he read them. He discovered something very interesting. When he read the war stories about heroes and conquests he was excited but he found that after he put them down his heart was heavy and the excitement left him. However, when he read the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints he was not only inspired and excited when he read it, but afterwards he realized that his heart remained lifted and there was an increase of faith, hope and love. He imagined himself doing the things that St. Francis did and many of the other great saints... and thought "suppose I could do this."
This seemingly tragic event in the life of St. Ignatius lead to his conversion and changed his life for the good, and all of us are forever blessed because of it.
It is often through the difficult times in our lives that we discover true joy. Knee surgery may an fact be a very painful surgery and the recovery seems daunting but it is all worth if it we can have stronger knees and firmer hearts.
St. Paul encourages us:
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Maybe you are going through some suffering in your life right now. It may be physical, back pain, knee pain, or difficulty getting around. It may just be the difficulty of getting old. You may be experiencing emotional suffering, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or despair. It may be a spiritual suffering of desolation or the Dark Night, it may be suffering the loss of a loved one, the death of a parent or spouse or child. It may be the pain of tension in your family, a divorce, or a child who has separated from the family. It may be suffering a disappointment, a lost job, a friend who suddenly leaves you out, or some other kind of experience of rejection, isolation, or setback.
Whatever you are going through is Holy Ground, because "The Lord hears the cry of the Poor." "Be strong, Fear not!" God is working in this so "Be patient, make your hearts firm" because this moment of brokenness can actually be your conversion. The part of you that was so weak and feeble becomes strong and resilient.
We celebrate and rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday because the Lord is so near. The suffering will not last as long as you think it will. The suffering is actually part of your conversion and strengthening in faith, hope and love.
And like my father who can now play and jump in the leaves again and Ignatius who went on to be one of our greatest spiritual leaders, when you make it through it you will once more be able to enjoy life even more so, the pain will be gone, the weakness will be strengthened, and you may even discover that you have met God in the experience.
So we too like John the Baptist may question: "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?"
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
We wear "rose" colored vestments on Gaudete Sunday as a sign that the end of our waiting is so near, the time of recovery is coming to an end, Christ's coming into your heart will be sooner than you think. You will experience His healing and peace, goodness and joy. We can rejoice because because things will get better and sooner than you think.
I have no better way to end this than a classic song from the '70s "Ooh Child"
Ooh-oo childThings are gonna get easier
Things'll get brighter
Things are gonna get easier
Things'll get brighter
Some day, yeah
We'll get it together and we'll get it all done
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
When the world is much brighter