Friday, October 17, 2014

Suffering Souls and the Sins of the Church

I’ve been reading The Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich.

As fascinating as Anne Catherine Emmerich’s story is, there is another that I find just as compelling for these times. The other saint’s story is embedded in Chapter 14 of the book, and concerns Blessed Lidwina of Schiedam.

View from retreat cabin window
First, about the physical sufferings of Blessed Anne Catherine, the author states:

From her infancy she had suffered for others; but now these sufferings assumed a more elevated, a more extended character. The wounds of the body of the Church, that is the falling off of whole dioceses, the self-will and negligence of ecclesiastics, the deplorable state of society – was all laid upon her to be expiated by varied and multiplied sufferings. Her infirmities resulted from spiritual wounds entailed upon the flock of Christ by the sins of its own members…

The author goes on to relate the story of Blessed Lidwina, who also suffered by bearing physical wounds that mirrored the spiritual ones present in the Church at the time.  Many horrible sufferings are described, including “swarms of greenish worms that generated in her spine, attacked her kidneys and devoured the lower part of her body, in which they made three large holes.” This horrific penitential ordeal was given to Lidwina, the author states, in order to make reparation for “the three-fold havoc made at the time of the great schism by freedom of opinion, immorality, and heresy”. All of Lidwina’s sufferings, it is said, were symbolic of problems in the Church, and her suffering was meant to atone for those sins.

The description goes on for pages, and it is scarcely believable that a person could remain alive with the disfigurement that was wrought on the saint’s body. In addition, she seemed to take no nourishment. In response to some women who “tormented her with questions as to the reality of her taking no nourishment”, she simply told them that if they could not understand it, “do not despise God’s wonderful operations…There is no question as to what you think of me – but do not rob God of His glory.”

Returning to the story of Anne Catherine Emmerich, we are told than her sufferings “were of the same nature and signification as Lidwina’s.”  

I find this idea of these horrific physical sufferings as symbolic of and endured in reparation for the sins of the Church as a whole to be very interesting. I am constantly noticing – as I’m sure you do – the parallels between the sins of our society and the sins running rampant in our poor Church. The homosexuality issue is one parallel – the homosexual agenda has been secret in the Church for decades, but in the secular world, homosexual behavior is now open and applauded. And sexual sins in general abound everywhere! Who will atone for those sins?! It seems we need another suffering soul to take the burden of those sins upon herself!

This all became very clear to me the other day when I felt I was experiencing a particularly intense kind of attack of the little demons that constantly come up with new ways to irritate me. Without going into detail, I will just say that I “suffered” (though infinitesimally compared to Anne Catherine Emmerich and Lidwina!) in ways that reflected some of the things going on in the Church today. It was just a little glimpse, but it made everything come into focus in terms of the interconnectedness of all of our lives, both spiritually and physically.

Well, I’m not doing a very good job of articulating what I came to understand, but I think that you can probably come to the same realization just by thinking about the examples of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich and Blessed Lidwina.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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