When I immersed myself in prayer and united myself with all the Masses that were being celebrated all over the world at that time, I implored God, for the sake of all these Holy Masses, to have mercy on the world and especially on poor sinners who were dying at that moment. At the same instant, I received an interior answer from God that a thousand souls had received grace through the prayerful mediation I had offered to God. We do not know the number of souls that is ours to save through our prayers and sacrifices; therefore, let us always pray for sinners. (1783)
–St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in my Soul
The other day I was speaking to a friend of mine who had in the past struggled with frequent migraines. These migraines could be debilitating, often making her feel sick and perhaps even throwing up. A suffering none of us would want.
She had medication the Doctor gave her, but the medication has it’s own side effects, so she set out trying to prevent ever getting a migraine. Remove alcohol, this food or that, please Lord let this be the thing that stops the migraine. There is often thinking that accompanies the experience of pain, what did I do to cause this to happen?
For the Spiritual person that question can leave you wondering, aside from foods and lifestyle, what sin you committed to cause this to happen. Perhaps curse breaking prayers have been prayed, all to no avail. For some, I imagine, fear of the next onset of migraine can cause despair.
For my friend, she had tried everything she possibly could do to humanly fix it, and she had begged God to fix it for her. She fought as hard as she could against getting the migraine. But all the efforts failed, and she still got them.
Finally one day she realized she was afraid of the migraine. She was afraid of the plans it would change, the pain it would cause, the throwing up, the medication side effects, the sin she may have committed. All of it was fear. And she decided she no longer wanted to fix or fight the migraine because of fear.
So, she decided instead to accept that migraines were her lot. And instead of eliminating so many foods or trying to control getting them, she decided that if God had sent them her way she would accept it and not try to control the prevention of them. She would surrender the pain, she would offer up the pain for someone else and trust God to do what he would with her offering of love. She had tried everything humanly possible to save herself, to control the situation, and when that all failed, she turned to her Savior to save. She decided that in her gift of offering her pain in love, God could do something with it that she couldn’t see. She got outside of herself and her pain, and looked to love. She actually just prayed to desire to do the will of God, so that if she got a migraine she would desire to suffer for other souls and want for their salvation as God does.
And then an amazing thing happened, her frequent migraines stopped being so frequent. While she does still occasionally get one, they are not nearly as frequent as they once were.
It seems that some of the cause may have been spiritual and perhaps Satan left her alone when he saw how efficacious her offerings were for other souls. Perhaps her torment of migraines was an effort to distract her from love, but when she redirected back to love, the tormenter fled.
Now, I don’t type this out to say that everyone will be physically healed of something if they just do what my friend did. Because if you think, oh I will surrender so I will get better and not suffer, then guess what, your focus is still on you and you are still trying to control the outcome. You must understand, she made the offering out of love not knowing or expecting that her migraines would stop. In other words, her pain didn’t measure into the equation, she only wanted what God wanted. The whole message of my friends story is that she took the focus of her pain off of herself and in pure hearted sincerity used it in love for others. Our offering for others is so powerful that the devil flees from us when we do it because he does not want us offering for the salvation of other souls. My friend, she still offers her suffering for others, her sufferings have just changed.
And there is a larger lesson here, this situation does not just apply to physical suffering, but to all situations. When we get outside of ourselves and look to love God and others, amazing things happen.
Many times in life we operate out of fear instead of love. That fear leads us to fight and fix, or try to control a situation. We leave no room for the Holy Spirit to act because we keep interjecting ourselves. And then we wonder why it fails. Miracles happen when love is the focus.
I see this so much, struggle and fear, fighting, fixing and failure. I see it in marriage and relationships with adult children. People who know the truths of God who want to try to fix or control their loved ones who perhaps have fallen away. If they just watch this one Fr. Mike video I send them, or I just tell them one more time about the beauty of the faith, then they will come back. And our efforts seem to build a wall that further pushes them away. The spouse or parent lives in bitterness or resentment against the one whom they are actually trying to love and a cycle of rejecting one another takes hold.
Please understand, I am not saying we should not be telling them the truth, or that we should always be silent, but I am saying to let the Holy Spirit guide you as to when to say something. The judgement should leave and be replaced with love.
There is a spirit of control, of “rightness” that can permeate the faithful. And those in sin hear our “rightness” and dig into their own sin. And then we get angry and try even more to fix and control, or we tailspin into whatever we think it is that we did wrong that may have led them away. All of these responses keep us focused on ourselves instead of looking to the one who saves.
You are right, to believe and follow church teaching, but your effort to fix and control and save, that can be wrong because you are not their Savior. God is the one who saves. You could have, in the past in your own journey, done something wrong that pushed them away, but it is wrong to believe that God cannot repair it and that your mistakes can never be forgiven. Instead of these responses, love like Christ and I have no doubt that they will see the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. They will want it and it will do more to bring them home that any amount of telling them how they need to be fixed, or even apologizing over and over for your past mistakes, can do.
Sometimes all you need to say is, “I am going to Mass.” And say it with no bitterness or animosity towards them. There should be no hint of condemnation from you, like saying the extra phrase, “you should too,” especially since you probably already told them that many times before. Look up towards God and pour life into the situation.
When these are the situations you are in, move away from fear, fighting and fixing, which fails, and move towards love, acceptance of the suffering–not of their sin, and trust that surrendering it to God can and will help save them because He wants them saved more than you do. Never stop praying or sacrificing for them.
This means accepting the suffering that they are away from the faith, offering your suffering of your worry about their salvation – for their salvation – because you love them, and wait for God to act. I think this is what Faustina was talking about when she wrote about saving souls through our prayers and sacrifices. And I think God can act faster than we can ever can when we try to control and fix.
I know with 100% certainty that when I was steeped in mortal sin, people were praying for me, and their prayers worked. I didn’t know until later that they were praying for me. I also know when people tried to control me I ran in the other direction.
It makes me think that Saint Dismas had a mom who prayed for him and it helped him recognize who Christ was and is. Maybe that was the difference between him and the other thief who also saw Jesus but rejected him. Jesus is always reaching out, but are we uniting with Him in prayer and sacrifice? Are we like Saint Monica was for Augustine? We know Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s prayers helped a murderer kiss the wounds of Christ before his own execution. We are all connected to one another, and it is a great sadness when a person has no one to pray and sacrifice for them.
If prayer and sacrifice can stop wars, like Our Lady of Fatima stated, think of what it can do for that one soul that you love.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16