You will find the Lord in the People of God

By  Charles Lewis
  • March 13, 2012

When I became a Catholic several years ago I understood that I was joining a family. I knew what that meant intellectually, I understood it in theory, but I did not feel it in my bones — even though at the time I thought I did.

Now I feel it in my bones and in my heart, and the feeling will never escape me.

Like Elijah, I found God’s still voice but in a different way than the grand Old Testament prophet.

In mid-December I began to develop horrific pain in my spine. The problem is not new to me but as I get older the fundamental issues are deteriorating so each bout is more severe. Seven years ago I had surgery for the same ailment — which came after four months of pain and narcotics.

But this time around it was of a completely other magnitude. It is important to say from the outset that I was never in danger of death and I have an employer that was nothing but supportive. My wife helped me throughout in a way for which I can never thank her enough. Throughout the ordeal, I kept thinking of what it would be like to be homeless, without a warm bed and medicine and a salary coming in. And how isolating and lonely pain can become. I am now walking relatively straight and my eyes are now clearing up.

Even with perspective of the condition of others, one’s pain is still one’s pain and there were times when I thought the pain I had would drive me insane. Even swallowing the wrong way would set off back spasms. Over the weeks I hardly slept and I was so distracted by the pain that I could not read or concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. I am now convinced that television is a wasteland.

I spoke to a friend, a priest, and he asked me if anyone was bringing me the Eucharist? As a relatively new Catholic I never thought of having someone bring it to me at home. He arrived a day or two later to give me the sacrament while I lay in bed because it was too painful to stand or sit.

He also talked to me at length about pain and how to give it up to Jesus on the cross and how to make suffering something holy. He came over several times, once just to talk to me because I think he realized I was beginning to despair. By the time he left I felt much better and recommitted to keeping my prayer life alive even when the pain seemed to get in the way. I used his words to encourage me through the rosary and to find a deeper relation with Mother Mary.

My own parish priest from St. Brigid’s in Toronto came over to talk to me and bring me the Eucharist, as did a dynamic two-woman team who hit the streets every Wednesday to make sure ailing Catholics in our neighbourhood are kept fed with the body of Christ. They have so many rounds they leave their coats on.

Even on my first trip back to Sunday Mass, I was overwhelmed by how many people had said they had prayed for me. I was so surprised at the outpouring of love it nearly took my breath away.

This meant even more given I have only been at the parish for less than four years. I now understand more fully why so many of us are loyal to our parishes, despite the very human issues that can distract us from the real purpose of faith.

Many of my non-Catholic friends and colleagues also were in contact to monitor my progress. And their words of encouragement were no less important. But oddly, I realized after, one of my two Catholic friends in the newsroom was the one who wrote to me nearly every day to see how I was doing and to encourage me to “hang in there.” The other friend came by to bring me blessed holy oil.

Even after the pain passed, and I began to deal with the real torment of morphine withdrawal, the Catholics in my life continued to pray and let me know as much through phone calls and e-mails.

On Feb 29, three days after final withdrawals, I went to the homecoming Mass for Cardinal Thomas Collins at St. Michael’s Cathedral. The glory of the service lifted my soul far higher than it had been in a while. And still, people kept coming over to wish me well.

Like Elijah, the Lord was not in the wind. But nor did I find Him in the silence. I found Him in the People of God. In my wonderful Catholic family.

(Lewis is the religion reporter for the National Post and the editor of that paper’s religion site, Holy Post. He can be followed on Twitter at @holycharlie)

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