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Deacon-structing the voice of illness, part 1

Deacon Pedro

Monday, November 23, 2020

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay
As we prepare once again for the season of Advent, I remember a few years ago on Perspectives: The Weekly Edition, I was speaking about the Festival of Lights – Hanukkah – with Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich, and he said that it’s no coincidence that Hanukkah begins on the day of the year that has the least amount of light: It’s a celebration of light in the midst of the darkness. That reminds me, too, of that beautiful passage from Isaiah 9:2 that we hear at the Christmas Vigil Mass, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”, and that it is very often in darkness that we notice the light.
This is also part of what we celebrate at Advent and Christmas, and it's no coincidence that Advent and Christmas also take place at a time of year when there is more darkness than light.
I think it’s right to say that this year has been one that has had its fair share of darkness. Even though we’ve survived this “COVID Spring” by calling it a spring and by looking at all the signs of hope and light, for many people it has been a time of illness, unemployment, financial struggles, and loss.
For many, it will be during this Christmas, when we’re supposed to get together with family, that the darkness will really hit home. Yet, in a strange kind of way, that pain can actually help us journey through Advent; it can help us in our spiritual journey.
COVID or not, there is a lot of pain in the world. Most often, it is not physical pain. I have heard this type of pain referred to by other deacons, as "the voice of illness".
According to Deacon Robert Suthers, the voice of illness is the "voice" that exists inside all of us that asks, "Where is God?" It is not specific to physical illness or disease. In many ways, it could also be called the "voice of brokenness" or the "voice of woundedness". It is in our brokenness and woundedness that, deep down inside, all of us cry out in search for meaning and compassion.
I am reminded of a saying that I first heard from the L’Arche Communities, that everyone who has been hurt has a right to be sure that they are loved – and all of us have experienced hurt, so it applies to all of us. In my opinion, this is the best explanation of the voice of illness. It is that voice that cries out for love – to know that there is meaning to our existence, to our suffering and seeks to know with certainty that we are valued. For Christians it’s obvious that all these questions can be answered by asking, "Where is God?" even if those who are suffering have no awareness or knowledge of God.
In our second year of formation for the permanent diaconate, we explored what it was like to work with ex-offenders and with those who have hurt children. At that time, I recognized that the work cannot be done outside of God’s grace and mercy. I recognized that perpetrators of horrible offenses are really just clamouring for help – clamouring to be loved and to be accepted, much the same way that lepers were in the time of Jesus. The voice of illness could also be called the voice of suffering. In truth, we are all suffering at some level. We all have our own wounds that need to be tended. At some point, to various degrees, we all cry out, "Where is God?" We all seek to be loved and accepted.
Next Sunday, we will hear Jesus telling us to not fall asleep during the night. In times of darkness, let us also not lose hope – the dawn is approaching. Together with the Prophet Isaiah, let’s cry for the Heavens to be opened and for the Lord to come down (Isaiah 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7). Let us turn to the Lord, that we will see his face and be saved (Psalm 80).
As we move through this week towards the First Sunday of Advent and then towards the Solemnity of the Birth of the Messiah and on to the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, let me share with you a series of reflections on suffering and what we call the "voice of illness". May it help you see the darkness and those around you in a different light. May it help you to see opportunities when you encounter people in pain this Advent season. May it help you journey with your own darkness, brokenness, and pain. This is where I begin my reflection and where, I am beginning to learn, I must always begin any ministry or diaconal work: from the place of my own woundedness and my own crying out, "Where is God?"
Come back next week as we continue by looking at what's best, to be with or to do for.
As always, write to me to share your thoughts and stories. I love to hear from you.

pedroEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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