Photo: Graphic by Mary Flannery
When the darkness of loneliness and suffering blot out the light of faith, The Divine Mercy is there with the red and pale rays of illumination.
By Dan Valenti (Sep 4, 2008)
Some time ago, I got a call from a woman in South Dakota. She tracked me down after reading a piece I wrote about God's mercy. Without even introducing herself, she was on the line and expressed a deep loneliness that she said she experienced as an "aching in my heart."
When I ask her how I could help her, she didn't say in so many words. After we talked for several minutes, however, it became clear she was looking for human contact and commiseration. I could hear a person whose hope had been shriveling from lack of love and whose spirit was being worn down by too little loving human contact. I had no easy answers — only the ability to listen.
No Family, No Friends
The woman said she lived in a remote area 20 miles away from Pierre, S.D. She said she had been suffering from intestinal problems. To complicate her situation, she said she had no family or friends nearby.
She once had a strong faith, she said, but after she got sick, it became difficult for her to travel the 20 miles to Pierre for Sunday Mass or to make other church visits. Consequently, her faith began to wane — a combination of illness, loneliness, and missing church. When I suggested that God is not only with her but also within her, she said she would like to believe that but couldn't because she had no sensation of His presence.
How could the God who was there make Himself apparent to her? More to the point, how could she learn to perceive His companionship? I let her talk.
You don't realize what it's like. For the past year I've had health problems, difficulties with eating and digestion. I don't like it. I don't enjoy it. It's terrible. I dragged myself to church on Dec. 8 for the holy day [the Feast of the Immaculate Conception]. In South Dakota, it's very cold and harsh in the winter, awful. I dragged myself there [to church in Pierre] 20 miles again for Christmas, but from Christmas to Ash Wednesday, I could not make it. It was just too much for me.
I managed to get my name put on the parish sick list that they just run through real fast. They mention it at Mass, but they rush through it. I don't have a family. They died a long time ago. I don't have a support list. I thought I deserved some prayers. I called [the church] back. It was embarrassing to do. My name was put on the prayer list for a while, and a couple women friends from the church called me because they did care a little bit for me, especially being out here by myself.
The pastor never called, nothing. Some time after Easter I finally came back to church, and I've been trying to make it as much as I can. About three weeks ago, the assistant pastor got after me when I shook hands after Mass. He said, "I haven't seen you very much. How come?" That insulted me and hurt me. "I've been sick a lot this past winter and spring," I said. "I live at a distance. Often, it's not safe." I told him I watch the Mass on TV. I went home hurt and sad. I felt condemned, ashamed, and yelled at.
A Persistent 'Soul Ache'
She ran out of energy and her voice tailed off. Again, I asked how I could help her. She asked if I knew anyone in her area of South Dakota who she might contact or who might be good enough to call upon her. I was honest. I didn't know anyone out there. I offered to pray for her and to share her name with the Marians' Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayerline, here on Eden Hill, in Stockbridge, Mass.
After she hung up, I knew I hadn't touched the persistent "ache" in her soul. I hadn't made her see that God Himself had inspired her phone call and that He was with her, every bitter step of the way. I also realized it was OK that this hadn't happened. The unknown God moves as He will.
It's been more than a year since that call. I had forgotten about it until today, when I came across the notes from our conversation. The discovery was by mere chance, or was it? God often throws things in our way so we might have to stop or stumble. I read the notes and felt compelled to share them with others.
A Call for Prayers
I don't know the woman's name. She didn't give it. I don't know what town she lives in — only that it's about 20 miles from Pierre. I don't know if she still reads this website. I don't even know if she's alive today. Nonetheless, only good can come from bringing sunshine to her story.
I can ask you, dear readers, to pray for her. Your prayers will be heard. I also offer this column itself as my petition for this woman's good and the good of her soul.
I'm sure I will be thinking about her often. She reminds me of the great "ache" in the world caused by loneliness. So many experience this emptiness of soul and feel the frustration when it resists the attempts to fill it up. Only God can handle such an ache, and that is why we must continually turn to Him in prayer. As St. Faustina writes, "A soul arms itself by prayer for all kinds of combat. In whatever state the soul may be, it ought to pray" (Diary of St. Faustina, 146).
Nothing is permanent in this life. We are sinful and God is mercy. Suffering and hardship are inevitable in this valley of tears. The best we can do is be touched by the eternal through whatever the present moment throws at us, something that — because it's easier said than done — becomes a test of faith and character.
We have all failed that test at one time or other and maybe much more than that. What matters is not the falling down, though, but the getting back up. God's mercy can help us rise again, but we must be open to it and ask Him for it. If we are so down we can't even do that, let our prayer then be that God will cause someone to hear our anguish and pray for us.
Prayer works. I have seen many remarkable examples from the Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayer Line. That line is accessible by calling, toll-free, 1-800-804-3823. The call is free. You can also e-mail the prayer line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our troubles are only instruments; what we must try to do is to see the One Who is handling them — the God of Love. It is the spirit of faith that sees this Love in suffering and turns its darkness into light. ...To be faithful does not mean that we shall not suffer. ... Suffering is, and always will be, suffering — that is, violence done to our nature. Even God cannot change that.
Thou hast made us for Thyself. It is in the "Thyself" that lies our happiness. Suffering is in opposition to the "Thou hast made" and to the movement towards our end, "Thyself".
By suffering with us and for us, Jesus has brought this opposition into the movement towards Himself.
Go on, then, bearing suffering bravely, making it serve to enlarge your capacity for the divine life in you. Continue, too, to look upon God with love when He sends you these hours which mean so much for our spiritual growth — when our crushed heart can do little more than utter its Fiat (quote from They Speak by Silences by "A Carthusian," Cistercian Publications, 1996 edition)
Recommended to The Divine Mercy
To Lonely in South Dakota:
This column hasn't stopped your pain, but it's the best I can do besides recommending you in prayer to Jesus, The Divine Mercy. What is the best you can do? I don't know, but as best as you can, pray and be patient. Be persistent. Be present to your life, in whatever form it takes. That's where the Unknown God lies hidden in — and for — all of us.
You have many prayers coming at you from Eden Hill.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" for thedivinemercy.org.