One of my friends introduced me to the figure of Pierre Lyonnet, a Jesuit who lived his few years in the priesthood—nine, in total—between one hospital and the next, stricken by a merciless and humiliating illness, which he contracted only a few months after his ordination. In his wake he left a diary in which he recounts his thoughts and prayers from the years of his illness.
His writings manifest an interior battle that gripped him during this time of trial. He wanted to be a priest, give himself to the people, and bring about great things. But his sickness subjugated all these desires, eliciting an unceasing conflict within himself: a battle between the dream and reality, between the pursuit of an image of the life that could have been and the life that actually was.
This is a battle that each of us is called to live, through all of our days. The alternative in every moment is between a love for the instant and the escape of the dream. If my work was different, if I hadn’t made this mistake, if this person would change, if I could only…The forms that our escape can take are many, but it is always an evasion of sacrifice, of pain, of the Mystery, staying attached to and hiding behind a certain image of ourselves and of our lives. These images can be beautiful, good, at times heroic, or even holy. But they are, unfortunately, always false images. False because they deny a part of reality. False, because the truth is that we do not know how our life will come to fruition. We have desires and projects, but happiness remains a gift and not an acquisition. The fulfillment of my life is something that I can only receive, and, admittedly dizzying, I know neither how nor when I will receive it. There is, therefore, only one position that truly gives us peace: abandonment, the willingness to love the present instant, to welcome it as a part of this path that is mysterious yet good, because it is the will of a Father. “To accept my illness,” writes Lyonnet, “to joyfully offer you my sufferings, takes but a minute, Lord, but this minute is worth more than an entire life I could dream of, even though the life I dream would be without a doubt very beautiful, if You had not chosen another life for me, one that is even more beautiful than what I imagined.” This minute is more beautiful, full, and precious than all of our dreams, because it is a minute of truly abandoning yourself to God, and therefore to a true companionship. In contrast, in our dreams we are always alone.
There is no peace in dreams, because they are not true. It is in reality that our life comes to fulfillment, reality as it is and how it is, at times mysterious, but always lovable and beautiful because it is how the Father willed it.
In the living relationship with God everything can be embraced, even the most difficult embrace of all: that of accepting ourselves. We ourselves are afflicted, limited, or simply different than how we would like to be. To accept who I am because you, Lord, love me and call me now.
Some time ago I had the grace to accompany a woman of great faith who was afflicted by an illness. She had a great desire to live, along with the certainty of being a daughter who knows that everything rests in the hands of the Father. She lived her illness, the estrangement from her husband and children, and finally death, with a steadfast and radiant joy. There was a great peace in this woman who died. The peace of one who had abandoned the dream, opening her heart to the desire of being only what the Father had conceived and willed. “Lord, I want to love you,” says Lyonnet, “I want to be a saint, but the saint that You want, and through the path that You choose.”
(Photo above: Several seminarians during a retreat in the city of Formia, which resides in the province of Latina)