Difficulty of Conversion with Chronic Illness

David Emery | August 18, 2019 No Comments

ChristinaS asked a question about the process of conversion when one suffers from a debilitating chronic illness on our old discussion forum and received some insightful answers from the Coming Home Network community. We’ve curated the topic for you here. Feel free to continue discussion in the Disqus comment box below.


ChristinaS

Today was a bittersweet day. I began my journey to Catholicism largely because of my experience of chronic debilitating illness which resulted in my having to go on disability after getting sick only six months after starting a tenure-track position at a major research university. The conversion road has been bumpy not only because I am converting from a rather small sect with rather unconventional beliefs, but also because my illness has made normal participation in Catholic community life difficult and at times impossible. I only made it to a few sessions of RCIA when I started last fall, and from January to May of this year wasn’t even able to attend Mass.

But thanks to a wonderful pastoral associate who visited me at home this spring, and her husband, who is a permanent deacon, I was able to receive further instruction this summer, thanks to his willingness to visit my home. A couple of weeks ago, he recommended to my parish priest that I be received into the Church. I met with Father Ignacio this afternoon.

Father made it abundantly clear that, since I have not previously been baptized, he would like me to wait till Easter Vigil, so that both baptism and confirmation can be done at the same time. Furthermore, he wants me to have a community experience as part of my journey towards the Church, so he wants me to attend classes either this fall or this winter. We agreed on this fall, and he wants Deacon Chris to continue to instruct me this coming winter in preparation for Lent and Easter Vigil.

But then I got home and started talking with a dear Catholic friend who shares my illness about all the bumps in the road this class could entail. Sitting up for that length of time, in a room to which I could very well have an allergic reaction to (my illness has led to several environmental sensitivities), concerns about whether I will actually be able to finish the twelve weeks of the evening class. Then Deacon Chris called. He put together an email to Father Ignacio about my illnesses, and since his wife, Barb, is actually running the class, they hopefully will be able to “finesse” things to accomodate me a bit better, etc. My responsibility is basically to try to attend, and then they will help me figure out what the alternatives are if I’m not able to manage the class.

Thank you, God, for Deacon Chris and his wonderful wife, Barb! And please, somehow let there be a miracle that lets me get thru the twelve weeks of Wednesday night classes.

Curious if any others have found that physical health became a real impediment to a normal smooth entry into the Catholic Church.

Celia

Christina! Good to hear from you again! It is wonderful to hear how God is working in your life.

David W. Emery

I saw you on the forum the other day, Christina, and wondered how things were going for you. Here you have explained it all, so I don’t have to ask.

Having accompanied a number of ill and/or handicapped people through the “obstacle course” of the conversion process, I am confident that you will eventually make it. Perseverance is the key, of course. God calls, and we have to keep trying to obey, remembering that that he counts our efforts as the deed itself.

Keep us posted on your progress. I have you in my prayers.

DavidBrown

Christina, It took me 20 years of challenges of every kind to convert in retirement last year. Health is a real issue for me, at 67, for active particpation and entrance into the Catholic Church. I was a lector and had to drop out because of uncertain health in the mornings. Also, I have tried to go to morning Mass and a men’s Bible study that I have been invited to attend at 7 a.m. I have made Mass a couple of times, but not Bible study. I think God knows our love for him, for the Eucharist and for joining the Church, as you are struggling with now. We can only do what He gives us strength to do, and according to his timing. I light a lot of candles repeatedly. I have prayed for you.

ChristinaS

Thank you all for your continuing love, support and prayers. I have had such peace in my heart, and it has become easier to pray since last evening.

Then this morning, I received this email from Deacon Chris:

Good conversation with Ignacio. He’s very open and sympathetic, more than I think you realized. We talked about the possibility of maybe having you baptized and confirmed in December, and he asked me to contact the archdiocese on your behalf, which I have just done.

Would you be able to go to the cathedral in Portland?

And this is regardless of you doing Quest in a way — I mean, please do. It’s great. Give it a serious try. But whatever happens, we want to try to do this.

Now, the archdiocese may say no, too, and you’ll have to wait until Easter, and there are, I think, real spiritual advantages to waiting. It can deepen your longing, open your heart. Ignacio and I just had a good conversation about this.

But talking with him just now, it’s obvious to me that, whatever happens, all is well. These are just details. The Spirit is moving in you, and the Church is waiting for you, and the rest is just details. Nothing to prove — if we had to prove ourselves, none of us would get in! This is all grace!

Will let you know.

David W. Emery

I remember discussing that couple with you and encouraging you to stick with them. They are really going to bat for you.

The peace you are feeling may be the grace of our prayers already working. You are in good hands.

If you are able to go to the Portland cathedral, I recommend it. I’ve been there, and it is a quiet, spiritual church, mostly marble inside.

Seth

Hello,

I just started RCIA (again). I tried a few years ago, and encountered some teachings that I was not ready to think about. It has worked out very well, though, and God knew He had this planned out just perfectly. Often God’s timing seems longer than mine.

Since that first class, I have been diagnosed with MS and lost my mother to cancer. Through tremendous grief, shock, and loss, it became a tremendous time to gravitate to the Church. And God keeps sending little helpers to invite and encourage.

Like Paul, our weakness is His strength shining more brightly. It doesn’t look how I want it to look, and many days it hurts and is painful, but there is some type of beauty in letting go in that process. I love hearing about “joining our suffering with Christ” or “offering it up to God.” No other church that I know of has a place for suffering.

In fact, that’s how I came back, when I realized I was being pushed to the side. I wasn’t example of “victorious, or my best life now.” I even thought I wasn’t stable or good enough to make it through RCIA because of the cognitive and emotional aspect of my illness.

Then I got a call from the new RCIA director and she shared her disability. I couldn’t believe it! She really didn’t know about mine, but we both agreed it was a divine appointment. And the Catholic Church wants us, loves us, values us.

I want to do a lot and participate like I used to do at Churches, but I have a new normal and can’t do as much. God knows. He has a place for us. Think of the ones He touched and helped the most: lepers, the woman with the chronic issue of blood, paralytics, blind. Disabled!!

There’s room at the table, and we will have that new resurrected body one day that is free. But there is something in the suffering that is being taught or given, I don’t know what it is, but God does.

I’m going to attend as I can, and they know if I have a bad episode, they may have to meet with me one-on-one to make it work. But I very much want the communion of saints and walking with others on this journey — for as much as I’m able.

God bless you, and I’m glad God has a hand on your life, because He sees the beauty He created and wants to perfect!!

ChristinaS

Seth, thanks so much for your reply and my apologies for going AWOL from the forum and never replying till now.

The Catholic understanding of suffering is precisely what drew me to Catholicism originally, and I continue to be grateful that it is generally a more disability-friendly religious environment than my former church. That said, there have been many times where I have wished for more understanding. Difficulty in receiving communion when I’m in the middle of a crash/relapse, same for confession, getting forgotten by the parish community, and of course the longer period of time it took me to be received into the Church because of illness. It definitely wasn’t easy.

I was finally baptized and confirmed this past Easter Vigil, for which I am so grateful! But then, that was followed by several months of struggles between illness, rejection by my sponsor despite him giving me individual instruction during my conversion, and then attending a few services at my former church, resulting in some very difficult spiritual questions. Chronic illness truly can be a cross in more ways than you might think, but I try to remind myself that getting sick was also what truly forced me to search for the truth!