A Cross and A Crown

How MS devastated my Physical Life; yet enhanced my Spiritual Life

Perhaps you can imagine how difficult life was for me nearly 26 years ago.  Having prepared for priesthood for eight to ten years, I had just been ordained and was ready, enthused, and energized to change the world.  However, you know the old saying, “we make plans, and God Laughs.”  Approximately six months into my first
assignment I began to trip and fall quite often.  I had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, which causes attacks to the human body, resulting in loss of function in various places.  Throughout the next six months I utilized braces, canes, crutches and a walker to take a few steps.  I distinctly recall one day that I witnessed my cousins wedding, and tried to stand at the end of the ceremony, to administer the nuptial (marriage) blessing.  Finding this task nearly impossible, I blessed the couple as I remained seated, concluded the ceremony, and watched the bride and groom exit the church. I tried with all my strength to stand, and was eventually successful.  (Quite honestly, I was glad that everyone was watching the bride and groom walk down the aisle and not my own particular struggle). That evening I was admitted into the hospital with another flare up of MS.  The next day I attempted to get out of bed like I had for the past twenty-eight years of my life, and then simply fell to the floor.  The evening prior was the last day I recall walking; and the next three months in the hospital were geared toward learning to live my life, and my priesthood, all over again…now in a wheelchair. I wondered, how could this happen.  I prayed, “Lord, I just devoted my life to you, what is going on.”  I recall writing in my journal one day, “Hey Lord….you’re picking on the wrong people.”  Yet, I was determined.  I come from a family of overachievers and thought this was an obstacle to overcome.  I remember confiding to a friend one day….I might have MS….but MS won’t have me.  Indeed those were difficult days, but throughout the years I have come to realize that living with MS is both a cross and a crown.  I am sure you can easily grasp the analogy to the cross….but what about the crown?

    Sometimes we might deceive ourselves to think that loyalty and obedience to God warrants consistent blessings or good fortune.  Realistically, loyalty and obedience to God requires one to pick up his/her cross and to follow Him with faith and with trust.  Fidelity to God requires us to let God lead us through the path of life, as opposed to us trying to lead God where we think He ought to be.  As I said earlier, I think you might agree that a newly ordained priest is certainly ready, enthused, and energized for ministry…but able to change the world is a pretty unrealistic expectation, don’t you think?  So frequently we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves.  Indeed, living the teachings of Christ often contradicts societal norms, but Jesus expects us to live faithful and holy lives….if we dare to bear His name.  Jesus calls us to a much higher standard of living.  We are called to turn the other cheek, to forgive 70 x 7 times, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to give to the poor, etc. Talk about difficult living.  It is probably easier to live with MS than it is to carry out some of Jesus’ commands.  Sometimes it seems as if God is asking us to do the impossible.  No wonder the disciples registered shock and dismay over some of his teachings.  "Pick up your Cross and Follow Him"....Really, Lord! They cried out to Jesus, how could you possibly expect us to do such a thing that is so overwhelmingly difficult?  And, if you really expect us to do the impossible…“Increase our Faith.” The answer that Jesus gave to His disciples that day has been a life lesson for me throughout the past twenty-six years.  Jesus calmly responded to His disciples and said; to be effective in the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with the size of one’s faith.  What matters is the object of one’s faith – namely, our Father in heaven.  According to Jesus, our faith needs only to be the size of a mustard seed.

    Trust me brothers and sisters, when you study for the priesthood for eight to ten years, you learn a significant amount of theology.  But the real question is…Did you really get to know God?  During the years of formation, did the seminarian develop a personal and intimate relationship with God?  Did he really come to know that God exists?  Did he truly acknowledge that Jesus Christ was his personal Lord and Savior?  Did he merely learn facts about God, without developing a loving, intimate relationship with God?  Now....here is where the crown analogy emerges.  I would honestly admit that I learned much about God during my years of formation, but did not develop the authentic relationship with Jesus that I longed to achieve (which is essential and necessary in the priesthood). I am a firm believer that God does not strike people with bad things simply to make their lives terrible.  I believe that God allows things to happen in our world.  Sometimes we are placed on our back, and learn the importance to look up. (How’s that for a great analogy?) Someone once told me that “You never know that you have a need for God in your life…until something happens that makes you really need God in your life.” I believe that difficult circumstances occur in our lives as a result of human nature, not divine will. It is important to recognize that God promises to be the source of strength and hope to carry us through those circumstances.  You have heard me say this before, and it certainly bears repeating, “The difference between happiness and sadness never lies in your circumstances, but always in your attitude and in your faith.  I distinctly recall receiving the diagnosis of MS twenty-six years ago, and praying like the disciples. “Lord, increase my faith.” And Jesus said, even the little (faith) that you have (at that time) would be enough to do marvelous things.  The lesson learned was to keep my faith and my expectations simple.  I learned to no longer depend on the depth of my belief, but rather in the depth of the One I believe in.  As stated, twenty-six years ago this newly ordained priest longed to change the world.  Today, being a man of faith, I pray that the world doesn’t change me.  By the way, living with MS is indeed a cross, but coming to know God intimately, as a result of MS, is the crown.  Have you discovered a crown in your cross?   Perhaps you might like to share with the readers your own story how your own suffering or difficult circumstances brought about a blessing as well?  Please feel free to share your Cross and Crown Testimony. With a loving and grateful heart….Msgr. Marucci

 

Tags: MS, Suffering, Cross, Crown, Priesthood, Seminarian

Comments

Msgr. Louis Marucci  |  United States  |  October 2, 2014  |  12:56 AM

Hi Suzy....thank you for your kind words....Who would have ever thought that you would bear such a cross....but there have been so many wonderful blessings that have come in your life after that awful night.  And my....what a great witness you have been to others who have also been called to carry that similar cross.  Pope John Paul II once said to me.....You suffer with a smile.....I think you do the same.....Thanks for sharing.....Msgr. Marucci


Suzy Schwegel  |  Home  |  October 1, 2014  |  10:54 PM

I was there.  People often say that God puts certain people in your life when He knows you are going to need them.  Twenty-six years ago He put someone in my life and I had no idea why........Lord knows it has been a roller coaster ride.  Still, through all the ups and downs, there has been that constant knowledge that God loves me and wants nothing but good for me.  I just need to trust in His plan for me and all will be well.  A young Priest in a wheelchair taught me that as he pulled me from the depths of sorrow and despair after my one and only child, my sweet Peggy, was taken in a horrible auto collision.  My life seemed over; I had no reason to live.  God had other plans for me and that young Priest in the wheelchair was part of that plan.  I thank God every day for the blessings He has continued to bestow on my life despite the terrifying loss of my only child.  Yes, God loves me and one day I will be with Peggy again in our Heavenly Home just as He promised.  Amen!


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