You know what they say: Sometimes you choose your Lent, and sometimes your Lent is chosen for you. This year, I fall into the latter category.
One of my husband Dan’s Christmas presents to me was a weekend getaway he planned for us in late January. We drove to Stratton Mountain in Vermont, stayed in a romantic room with a fireplace, woke up early on Saturday morning, and went skiing.
We made it about halfway down the mountain before I took a hard fall and heard an unusual noise. That probably wasn’t good. There was a hot, throbbing pain in my left knee. That probably wasn’t good either. Dan held me by my arms and I tried to stand, but when I put weight on my left leg, it buckled beneath me. I wasn’t sure how I would be getting down the mountain, but it would not be on skis.
As it turned out, I got down strapped to a sled, lying on my back, with Mike from ski patrol “driving” from the front on a snowboard. Mike was fast. We swooshed past hundreds of skiers, and I lay there, staring up at the sky through goggles as snow sprayed my face. We swooshed, and I prayed. The familiar words of the Surrender Novena came to mind: “Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.”
And he has taken care of everything. I was diagnosed with a torn ACL and I have surgery scheduled soon. As I hobble through my life on crutches these days, I have been learning to slow down and ask for help. As I trade heels for sneakers and strap on an ugly knee brace, I have been learning to let go of vanity.
In moments when I find these small things difficult to manage, I sometimes scold myself. There are so many worse things people suffer in this world! How dare I complain about a little bit of inconvenience while I enjoy my otherwise first-world life? And yet I know that even the smallest of sacrifices, if accepted with a spirit of generosity and love, united with the sufferings of Our Lord, can have infinite value. Lent is the perfect time to practice doing that.
St. Seraphina, whose feast day we celebrate March 12, was a young girl who spent her short lifetime practicing just that kind of sacrifice. Born in Italy in the 13th century, Seraphina lost her father when she was very young. Though she was once a pretty child, she contracted a mysterious illness that not only caused her a great deal of pain, but left her so disfigured that others were repulsed by her appearance. Her mother cared for her, but was preoccupied with much necessary work, and so Seraphina spent many hours rejected and alone with a crucifix. When her mother also died, Seraphina had only one friend who would visit her and bring her food. She had a great devotion to Pope St. Gregory the Great, and so she prayed to him for the strength to endure physical and emotional turmoil until her death, on his feast day, in 1253 at the age of 15.
God has a unique plan for each of us. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton never suffered a torn ACL or a disfiguring illness during her lifetime, but she certainly endured many trials, disappointments, and losses that, like St. Seraphina, she accepted and offered up out of love for God. She suffered financial hardship and broken friendships. She suffered illness and endured the loss of her husband and two of her children.
When Elizabeth was quarantined in Italy with her gravely ill husband in 1803, she wrote in her journal: “My eyes smart so much with crying, wind and fatigue that I must close them and lift up my heart. God is our all indeed. If sufferings abound in us, his Consolations also greatly abound, and far exceed all utterance … If I could forget my God one moment at these times, I should go mad.”
God is our all. If we forget God, we would go mad. And that is the key. Whatever we must endure, whatever kind of suffering God might allow us to experience in our lives, we must not forget to turn ourselves over to him, accepting all and uniting all to the sufferings of Christ.
What that entails will look different for each of us, and it’s OK to admit how hard—sometimes agonizingly hard—it can be at times.
Whatever lies ahead for me and my crutches this Lenten season, I will do my best to remember that God is our all. St. Seraphina and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
Image: St. Seraphina. Public Domain
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