Of Many Things

I’m writing this column using voice-activated software. Sitting in front of a computer, I am speaking into a microphone and watching the words almost magically appear before me on the screen. Believe it or not, after just 15 minutes of training, the program understands my Philadelphia accent well enough to transcribe words like liturgical, St. Ignatius Loyola and even post Vatican II without a hitch.

In fact, it’s so good at recognizing theological and ecclesiastical words that I wonder if the program wasn’t pre-tested by Yves Congar, John Courtney Murray and Henri de Lubac. (Well, it’s not totally flawless. Yves Congar keeps coming up as Yukon guard.)


The reason for this technological innovation is that I recently met with a minor accident. Last week I fell over a misplaced piece of furniture in my bedroom in the middle of the night and, half asleep, broke my fall with my hands. A taxicab ride later, I was in a hospital emergency room. And soon afterwards the pain suddenly intensified.

After examining me and taking some X-rays, a kind young doctor told me she would have to put my right arm in a cast. I don’t think I heard her clearly; I was too focused on the pain. “But to do that,” she said with an uncomfortable look on her face, “we’ll have to bend your wrist back slightly.” She then asked another doctor into the room. “Uh oh,” I thought, “this doesn’t look good.”

It wasn’t. When she bent my hand back, I actually screamed. And three things ran through my mind simultaneously.

First: I can’t believe how painful this is! They had already given me morphine, which proved largely useless. I thought back to all of those wartime movies where the hero is injured, cries out for morphine and is instantly comforted when the needle pierces his uniform. Were they giving me generic morphine?

Second: What is this, the Civil War? They were bending my wrist backwards? No doubt they explained this medieval technique, but I was in no state to listen. The doctor-supervised wrist-wrenching needed to last long enough for the cast to harden; it felt like an hour, though it probably lasted only a minute. I would have made a lousy martyr and a worse spy, I realized, ready to give up all information at the first sign of pain.

Third: Jesus was human. The pain was focused, laser-like, on the inside of my wrist. Now I’m something of a historical Jesus fan, and so I knew that he was most likely nailed to the cross at this spot: through the wrist, not the palm.

When we think of Jesus’ humanity, we are often grateful that he became one of us, walked among us and showed us the human face of God. But it wasn’t until that evening in the emergency room, half-asleep, doped up on morphine and in pain, that I think I began to understand the enormity of what Jesus took on. Every kind of human pain he willingly accepted. And that means not simply the terrible pain of crucifixion but the everyday aches and pains that are our lot as human beings: head colds, stomach flus, insomnia, conjunctivitis, migraines, hives, toothaches, back pains—all the physical things that happen in human life from time to time. Somehow this made me feel more compassion for him, and love him even more.

Anyway, it’s not so bad. It turned out just to be a tiny fracture, and my splint gets me lots of sympathy. And I guess I’ve learned something new about Jesus, which is always a good thing.

“Wouldn’t you have preferred to learn it from a book?” a friend asked.

Probably. But I probably wouldn’t have understood it. Experience, as we know from Jesus, counts.

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8 years 6 months ago
Get tough.
8 years 6 months ago
Sorry to hear about your wrist.  I can't say I feel your pain, but I am familiar with your reactions.  I know my first response when something  really hurts is *(%(#@* !!!, plus a four letter word or three, and of course, who put that dirty sock on the floor that caused me to trip.  

If I read the crucifixtion right,  Jesus, in much greater pain, redically innocent, and fully aware of what is going on, his first response was Forgive them, they know not what they do.  Forgiveness, Empathy, and Full Responsibility for His actions.  Talk about Human Nature transformed!  Gives us something to aim for, doesn't it?

Enjoyed your article, and thanks for sharing.

BTW, will this experience  lead to an article on the Jesuit Guide to Pain?
Rafiqur Rahman
8 years 6 months ago
Hi Father,

Sorry to hear the awful news ... I hope you feel better soon ... will keep you in my prayers at Mass this Sunday ... btw, your book "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything" totally rocks! ... have a blessed day
Robin Marsico
8 years 6 months ago
Sorry about your injury.  Now you need to get a "wrist strong" bracelet from your friend, Stephen Colbert!
8 years 6 months ago
  In AA we say that we share "our experience, strength, and hope,"  and that's what cures us.  You did that in this article, and showed us how Jesus did the same thing. Thanks.
Bob Hanlon
Thomas O'Fallon
8 years 6 months ago
Dear Father Martin,

Next comes PT, so goes the path. I just finish your book,The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everthing, very contemplative. Now you have another example for your next edition, alive with the Providence of God!

What voice activated solf do you use?

I knew Jesuits could not walk on water, but thought you could walk in your sleep and see in the dark, sounds like another Jesuit story in the making.

Again, thank you for turning on the light, Rule 13.

Tom O'Fallon, SLU, A&S 68
8 years 6 months ago
Fr. Jim -

Guess your good Ignatian self is not only seeing God in all things, BUT even feeling God in all things. I'm sure JC is letting you know, "Jim, I really feel your pain."  and meaning it sincerely. But OUCH!

Hope you've recovered fully  before the end of the month when I'll be among other retreatants celebrating the feast of St. Ignatius with you in Gloucester, MA. Otherwise I may be asking to sign your cast.  AMDG! sounds like a good message for your injured self. don't you feel?

Actually expect all the coddling and  sympathy you deserve (and think of all the books we now can't ask you to autograph!)

God bless,


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