It has happened to me only once before in my entire lifetime, and while it was somewhat the same, it was entirely different. Allow me to try and explain.
Roughly ten years ago I found myself in a state that was incomprehensible and at the time unexplainable. There was no one moment when I felt it all at once; rather, I became enveloped in it over time. I remember at the pinnacle going to my husband in great pain and confusion, desperate to be rescued. I said to him, "I feel like I am dying." The experience was absolutely horrible.
Although I did not know the reason for my suffering at that moment, my husband did. Not long after my terrifying experience, I received divorce papers in the mail. Fascinating how I had already experienced the supernatural ramifications of the severing of our union before cognitively knowing of the divorce.
The intense spiritual agony lasted for years. Often, I felt like I was walking behind Jesus as He carried the Cross on the way to His Crucifixion. Fortunately, there were also intermittent moments of peace that flooded my soul, a feeling that defies all human understanding. The peace was absolutely impenetrable. Those moments were very beautiful and merciful.
All the experiences of that time drew me into greater intimacy with God.
This year I experienced a similar phenomenon, and yet it was very different. What I had been feeling greatly perplexed me because once again, I did not understand what was happening at first. I would describe it as a spiritual agony that also resonated throughout my entire physical being. There are no words that can adequately describe it.
Once, the suffering came on suddenly and was very intense. In that instant, I found myself in the Presence of Jesus. He was carrying the Cross on the way to His Crucifixion. This time, I was not walking behind Him as I had experienced many years before. Instead, He and I traveled and suffered as one. I was united with Him completely as He headed to Calvary.
I didn't understand where all this was leading at the time, but was astounded with the experience of being united with our suffering Lord in that way. More suffering followed and I continued to feel terrible. I went for my annual physical and when my doctor proclaimed that I was healthy, I thought he was out of his mind. I left his office wondering how he could let me leave without doing anything to alleviate my suffering.
Not long after that, I looked in the mirror and as I stared at myself, I was able to see in me what I had been feeling, and said with great alarm, "I look like I'm dying!" Hadn't anyone else noticed this? Why wasn't anyone else alarmed but me?
The following week, I continued to feel something very profound that was beyond my comprehension. After tucking my three children into bed, I found myself again overcome by what I could not explain. I felt tremendous grief and begged God for an explanation. "God, please tell me what is happening. I feel like I am dying!"
God answered me. This is a rough translation of what He said, for His response was not in words but was rather an understanding. I was dying to myself. That sounded very reasonable, but I had more questions.
So I emailed my pastor and asked him for some information about what it means when the soul dies to itself. He responded that the terms for "dying" to self are abandonment and surrender. I was still suffering, and responded, "Are you talking voluntary? I'm not so sure that's the case." To me, those terms meant that I was volunteering for this suffering, and I knew for certain that I hadn't willingly consented to anything like that.
I also asked my friend Paul what dying to one's self means. He wrote to me and said (used with his permission):
"God's timing is everything, this we both know. The mere fact that you asked if I knew anything about dying to one's self is astonishing and possibly prophetic. YES! I have been studying this for years now! What's more is that you mentioned that Satan let you have it last night. Haha! I laugh because he knows what's coming! The two go hand-in-hand with one another.
"In brief.... Dying to one's self involves self mastery over disordered attachments. What does that mean? I'll let St. Ignatius of Loyola explain it for me..."
'Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.'
"It's about not allowing the things of this world to get the better of you. It's about being content in all circumstances whether in times of prosperity or in times of adversity -thanks, St. Alphosus Liguiri- so that God is truly the center of your life and, therefore, all things revolve around Him and Him alone.
"It's like being as St. Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20)
"What is even more profound to me is that my new series I am going to be focusing on with my blog is on this very topic! Complete union with the will of God which can only be achieved by dying to ourselves."
I felt much better thanks to Paul, because I always like to know what I am up against (smile). I was still in the process of discovery, and look forward to reading Paul's series and learning more.
Paul's blog, "Tongues as of Fire!"
One day I found myself in another state of discomfort just before retiring, still having so many unanswered questions. Again, I asked the good Lord to help me. It was then that I took notice of a nearby book and picked it up, opened it randomly, and read two passages from it. God was not giving me the full explanation yet, but provided me with great comfort and additional understanding in the two passages from Quiet Moments with Benedict Groeschel:
85. Take yourself to prayer.
In your life, when things begin to fall apart, apparently by happenstance, perhaps because of the ill will of others, or on the occasion or terminal illness or death or economic insecurity or the loss of a position - when things start to fall apart, for heaven's sake, take yourself to prayer. Not prayer that is going to tell God what to do. That's not very helpful prayer. God already knows what to do. But prayer that will reassure you that you are in the hands of God. 1
88. Kingdom Growth
Despite your destitution, your weakness, your distractions, your inner stresses and strains, do you feel the kingdom of God unfolding within you? You should, wherever you may be on your spiritual journey.
Not that this internal unfolding of the kingdom will necessarily feel like a beautiful rose opening in the morning sun, with each delicate petal touched by the dew. In reality, a great many Christians feel more like an untidy ball of yard unwinding bit by bit, as if it were being batted about by a mischievous kitten, or like a knitted sweater becoming unraveled.
The fortunate ones among us may detect something profoundly spiritual deep within, be it ever so faint. In any case, you will know what the kingdom of God is coming in your own soul because it calls you to grow in holiness. 2
I was astounded, because God was reassuring me that I was in His hands (as we always are) and that something significant was happening. The kingdom of God was unfolding within me. Why this was taking place was still a mystery, but I was greatly comforted and felt joyful.
God was happy, Satan was furious, and I was tired. ;>)
On my way to the Tridentine Mass last weekend, the good Lord decided in His most perfect timing to provide me with a very crucial piece of information about my experience. What God told me (again, my humble translation) was that I was experiencing the purification of my soul. I understood that my suffering was in proportion to and the direct result of the sinful choices that I have made, and if this was not resolved here, it would have to be later in purgatory.
I was being purged of my self and being purified. By going to Holy Mass regularly, receiving the Eucharist often, and by going to Reconciliation regularly, I had and was continuing to give my consent to this vital process.
At first, when the suffering was most intense, I found little comfort. As I progressed through this purification process, there were intermittent moments of peace that flooded my soul which defy all human understanding. Those moments were very beautiful and merciful, very similar to what I had experienced many years ago.
All the experiences of this second death drew me into greater intimacy with God.
Paul wrote to me again and said (used with his permission),
"I'm looking forward to hearing about your death. (chuckle). You see how bizarre that sounds? It's no wonder the world thinks we're all nuts! But I know EXACTLY what you mean! Praise Jesus Christ! There is SO much to learn, Michele! Every time a part of us dies to self God fills the now empty space with more of Himself! Then what? You receive, in turn, a deeper knowledge of Him! A deeper love. But this knowledge and love comes with a price. You will be held more accountable before Him because you have been given more. On the same token, the grace is all the more greater! Habits begin to drop and virtue begins to develop. Your mind get's transformed, little by little, to that of Christ's. And the world will hate you for it. "...but take heart! I (Jesus) have overcome the world!" (John 16:33) AMEN!"
The remarkable parallel between my earlier death experience and this most recent death experience are worth taking note of. The first death was the result of one person's refusal to love, and this recent death was the result of God always loving. That sounds like something Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen would say!
He remains with us, always._________________
How have you experienced the kingdom of God
unfolding within you?
God is at work in each one of us.
How have you experienced the kingdom of God
unfolding within you?
God is at work in each one of us.
1, 2. Quiet Moments with Benedict Groeschel (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2000), #s 85, 88.
Photos copyright 2010 Joseph Karl Publishing.