Tests and trials…

Dear children! Today I wish to tell you that God wants to send you trials which you can overcome by prayer. God is testing you through daily chores. Now pray to peacefully withstand every trial. From everything through which God tests you come out more open to God and approach Him with love. Thank you for having responded to my call. August 22, 1985

As many of us grow older we become familiar with the routine medical tests we have to undergo to maintain our health; blood tests, blood pressure, eyesight, hearing, cholesterol, scans and smear tests are all part of the service offered by our GP’s these days – and usually we take these in our stride knowing that they are designed to help us keep a check on our health needs. We appreciate they are in place for our benefit and we co-operate.

However, most of us are less than willing to be tested on other fronts, particularly in a spiritual sense. We often view these as trials we can do without and pray hard that they will not come our way for ourselves and our family.

Recently, I was invited to hospital as an outpatient to undergo an exercise test on a treadmill, designed to check the condition of my heart. It didn’t happen, not because of any reluctance on my part but simply because an initial ECG reading caused the doctor enough concern to tell me I wasn’t going home and would be admitted to the CCU immediately. Now I must admit that that news did send my blood pressure through the roof and I began to wonder what might be the outcome.

It was then the morning’s Gospel reading at Mass came to mind (Mark 8 : 23-27), when Jesus was in the boat and calmed the storm. I held on to that scenario for most of the next nine days that I spent in hospital. It prompted me to take a closer look at Mark’s Gospel during the long hours of waiting and lying in bed and I quickly came to realise that this hospital journey was in fact a spiritual test and not just a medical one. While doctors and others became concerned for the condition of my heart and all roads that lead to it, I began to understand that it was actually my spiritual heart that was really being tested, especially my faith and attitude to others.

Later, when my wife Sandra brought our bible on a visit to see me, I began to take a serious look at Mark’s Gospel. What struck me very early on was how after Jesus was baptised he was driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness, remaining there for 40 days and being tempted by satan. He was among the wild beasts and the angels looked after him. I began to look on my stay in hospital as a long period in the wilderness where I had to struggle with my own temptations and face demons within me. Thank God for the kindness of the nurses that took care of me.

Another passage in St Mark’s gospel that jumped out at me was the time when Jesus stood in the boat and spoke the parable of the Sower to the large crowd on the shoreline. There were four outcomes in this teaching (seed scattered to four corners of the world?) which Jesus later explained to his disciples:
1. Seed that fell on the edge of the path and was carried away.
2. Seed that fell on rocks and took no root.
3. Seed that fell on thorns and choked
4. Seed that fell on good soil and produced fruit.

Little did the disciples realise that they were soon to be tested on this teaching and questioned as to which seed was sown in their hearts. If they were to be true followers of Jesus then their faith could not just remain in the teaching but also had to be lived and put into practise. The test got underway when Jesus spoke these words: “Let us cross over to the other side.”

Soon the winds struck up and the waves began breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. Through this crisis, Jesus slept until eventually he was woken up by the panicking and fearful disciples. After calming the storm, Jesus challenged them: “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?” It seems that the disciples were those who had received the seed on patches of rock who, when they first heard the word, welcomed it at once with joy, but when some trial or persecution came their way, they fell away at once.
But the test didn’t end there.

A little later in Mark’s Gospel (after the first miracle of the loaves) Jesus repeats the boat trial, making his disciples cross the lake to Bethsaida. This time he didn’t go with them. Instead, he went off to the hills to pray. When evening came and the boat was far out, Jesus watched from the shoreline and could see the boat struggling against the winds and the disciples worn out with rowing. There is no mention that they cried out for help. Perhaps this time their faith was stronger. Nevertheless, Jesus could see that all was not well. This time he came to the disciples, walking across the water before getting into the boat.

We should never forget that Jesus is in the boat with us – and all will be well; and when at times we may miss his presence and he doesn’t seem to respond to our prayers, he is in fact keeping a close watch on us from the shoreline, ready to reward our faith in often the most surprising way – sometimes doing what seems impossible, like walking on water.

A senior consultant said that I would probably need a couple of by-passes or even three. The following day I was given an angiagram to see where the blocks in my arteries were. (I already had two stents fitted 10 years ago and these seemed to be the likely problem spots as they don’t last forever). Halfway through the procedure I heard the probing consultant say: “It doesn’t look as bad as we first thought.” The following day I was told there was only a slight narrowing of the arteries (not unexpected for someone of my age). Two further tests, radioactive scans which involved measuring the blood flow to and from my heart, were carried out over the next few days. There was no clear outcome on this to signify any blocks. On the ninth day the senior consultant said I could go home. My blood pressure had been normalised and I was told to take things easy for a while.

I consider my stay in hospital a blessed period. At first I looked forward to the next day hoping it would be the day I would come ashore and return home, but then I began to realise that the course, the journey, had been set by God and that there may just be another headland, another test, to get around before I was home and dry.

My heart and my spirit have both been tested and I truly feel better for the experience. A few days after I left the hospital my blood pressure registered the perfect score: 120/80! As to my spiritual health check, I accept that this is ongoing because, as Our Lady explains in her message below, we are tested because God loves us – and I wouldn’t want him to stop loving me!

Dear children! Thank you for dedicating all your hard work to God even now when He is testing you through the grapes you are picking. Be assured, dear children, that He loves you and, therefore, He tests you. You just always offer up all your burdens to God and do not be anxious. Thank you for having responded to my call. October 11, 1984

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