Saint Martin of Tours is better known for the story when he impulsively cut his own military cloak in half to share it with a scantily dressed beggar. That night he dreamt of Jesus himself wearing his own military cloak Martin had given him.
Another story tells us that since he had the gift of healing, when one day he was passing through a certain town, a number of crippled beggars disappeared from circulation. One beggar, who was new to the job, was utterly shocked. “Why are you running away? Martin can heal us from our paralysis!” “Don’t you understand?” they replied. “If he heals us, no one will have pity on us and no one will give us alms anymore!”
I was a young priest when I visited this woman who was very sick. Seeing her was heartbreaking. She lived alone. She had a hard life story. Her husband left her, taking their children with him. She also had serious financial problems. Together with my colleagues, we organized ourselves to take her to doctors and specialists when she would ask us to. We collected money to pay for her medication. The neighbours would go and cook, clean and spend time talking to her. We went out of our way to help her.
Once I receive a phone call from one of the doctors we had been to. He wanted to speak to me. When we met, he explained to me that physically there was nothing wrong with this woman. She was in perfect health. The problem was all in her mind. He explained to me how this woman yearns for affection so much, that she is ready even to physically harm herself to attract the attention she wants. When she acts like a sick person everyone cares for her, but when she is healthy, everyone goes about with his own life. So she just digests numerous pills and tablets to simulate symptoms of illnesses!
It never dawned on me as much as that time how much we crave for affection.
The problem is that some of us live all our lives seeking for love from things and people who cannot ever give us what our heart really needs. And we die without ever having lived…
Or as the famous Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote, “Our life is full of brokenness – broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God’s faithful presence in our lives?”
This is why Saint Teresa of Avila, with her typical practical approach to life, said, “Prayer is the only road to God. If anyone tells you otherwise he deceives you.”
Yes, the saints are right. St. Leonard of Port Maurice wrote “Leave sadness to those in the world. We who are with God should be light hearted.” St. Clare of Assisi said, “Melancholy is the poison of devotion.” And St. Philip Neri said, “I will have no sadness in my house.” St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” St. Teresa of Avila said, “One person and God is an army.”
The only way to cure ourselves from sadness is not to love it! And to let HIM put on us the cloak of joy.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.