Alone in the Desert
I realize I may be veering off the subject somewhat, but I thought this may be a good time to add one of my very first experiences in the Carmelite Monastery. Sometimes my heart still longs to be there because it was there where I felt closest to the Lord Jesus. However, no matter what state of life we happen to be in, we can still cultivate that close relationship with Him.
I entered the Monastery of Discalced Carmelites in Anywhere, U.S.A. in August of 1969. Little did I know that the Lord was going to place a great cross upon my shoulders. Mine is a story about the will and determination of the soul to go on no matter how the odds are stacked against her.
Shortly after I entered the monastery I began to get sick. As the days wore on, my throat became sorer and my glands became swollen. When I went to kneel down and kiss the floor before entering the chapel as was our custom, I felt that my throat was going to pop out of my neck and that my head was going to explode. At that point I did not know what to do. Should I wait it out until it passed or should I go to the mother prioress and tell her that I was sick? I finally decided to say something to the mother prioress because I was getting no better. The doctor was called in to the monastery to see me. He examined me and felt that I had a generalized infection and prescribed injections of penicillin to be administered. There was no nurse available in the monastery, but the lady who took care of the outside chapel was a retired nurse. She was going to be giving me the injections. I remember my very first injection. The drugstore only sent the preloaded vials of penicillin but no syringes were sent. I really did not see a way that this ex-nurse was going to get the penicillin into my arm. She put the needle in my arm and used a narrow object to act as a plunger to push the penicillin in. I was very uncomfortable with this method.
After my first injection, I asked the mother prioress exactly how many injections I was going to have to receive before I felt better. Prophetically, she announced that I would have to receive 21 injections. The last injection that I got really stood out in my mind. The ex-nurse put the needle in my arm as usual. She could not find a thin object to use as a plunger so she grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on which were a pair of scissors. She tried to poke the scissor blades down to act as a plunger but broke the glass all over my arm. I yelled at her to get the needle out of my arm at once, and I went back to the monastery. That was the last injection I received, and if you haven’t already guessed, that was the 21st injection! I was to receive no more injections of penicillin.
All at once the Holy Spirit must have enlightened me. I asked the mother prioress to call the doctor and have me tested for infectious mononucleosis. The doctor was called, a blood sample was taken and a few days later the devastating results came back that I indeed had infectious mononucleosis. The doctor conceded that there was no amount of antibiotics that could cure this illness. All of those twenty-one injections of penicillin were in vain! This illness that I now had posed a serious dilemma. It could put some of the sisters in danger because they were within the age of contracting the illness. Therefore, it was my “sentence” to be quarantined from the community for a period of three months. The only time I could be with the community was for Mass and for prayers. All of the other times were to be spent in the “wilderness” and alone. I remember having to always eat alone, and then when I was finished I had to wash my dishes with Clorox and stack them all by themselves so that no one else would get contaminated. Had it not been for daily Mass and the privilege of receiving Holy Communion I do not know what I would have done to get through this very trying ordeal.
If you know anything about infectious mononucleosis, you know that it makes you extremely tired. Therefore, during my three month quarantine I slept quite a bit. I also had to drink lots of juice and water because flushing out the body’s system was the only way I was going to get rid of this illness. During that time I was able to deepen my relationship with the Lord because I was constantly alone. I had more time to commune with Him and to listen to His still, sweet voice. If my faith in God was not so deep, I could have very well left the monastery during this ordeal. However, the Lord is never outdone in generosity. I tried to imitate the Little Flower, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and do all little things for the love of Jesus. No matter how alone I really was I’d never felt alone because I was always in the Lord’s presence.
At the end of three months I was to have another blood sample taken to see if I still had mononucleosis. When I got the word I was all right to take my place with the community again, I had one last job to do. I had to change my straw mattress and straw pillow and put all new straw in to make a new mattress and pillow so that I would make sure not to contract the illness again. For some reason, this was a very sweet experience for me and nothing that I dreaded doing. Perhaps it was the fact that my long quarantine was now over!
I was told by the mother prioress some time later that she could have easily sent me away the minute she found out that I had infectious mononucleosis. Instead, she allowed me to stay because she wanted to give me a chance to see if I had a vocation. I guess you know the answer to that!
As I conclude this article, I am trying to think of what would be the moral of this story. It would simply be this: We can make our own desert even in the midst of all of the hustle and bustle that this world offers us. No matter where we are or what we are doing we can turn our minds heavenward towards Jesus and ask His help for the coming day or for the upcoming activity.