Monday, November 30, 2015

Jesus in the dentist's chair

As I type this, I am aware of that odd sensation of cement smoothed over the top of two of my molars, and my mind begins to recount the events of the day. After my morning prayer and a rushed breakfast of fresh bread, I made my way to the hospital for my first “real” dental appointment since becoming a foreign missionary. Last week my teammate and I happily discovered the office of Dr. Monsanto, whose brother is Msgr. Monsanto assigned here in the diocese of CDO, and assured her of our quick return.

Our Lady, Mary Mediatrix of All Grace, similar to the image adorning the door of the dentist office.
I wasn’t too worried about the appointment because I could clearly see God’s hand at work, helping us to find this dentist whose office is tastefully decorated with pictures and  statues of Our Lady and the Infant Jesus, not to mention a small plate of scapulars conveniently placed on the front desk, should any of her clients lack that blessed object which is so commonly worn here in the Philippines.

Still, my general demeanor must have betrayed any lingering sense of foreboding, as Dr. Monsanto felt it necessary to reassure me that I had nothing to fear. She planned to fill two purportedly “big” cavities and to conquer the other lesser one at a later date.

I was surprised how quickly she began drilling the first tooth, with no preemptive novocaine shot, but overhearing her conversation with her assistant, I presumed, through my limited knowledge of Visayan dental vocabulary, that she intended to drill a little on the surface of each tooth before going deeper and requiring anesthetic. After a while the drilling sensation began to morph into a slight pain, and then a much sharper one as she neared the nerve.

It must be getting close now, I considered, as I prepared myself for the pinch of the injection and the ensuing numbness that would soon overtake one side of my mouth. But, unperturbed, she continued drilling.

“Gami lang, ha?” she politely noted, as if asking my permission to proceed for just a little while longer. I gave an affirmative response, or as much as I could muster with all manner of dental hardware bracing my jaws apart.

As I closed my eyes and began to contemplate the loving face of Christ, I felt a calmness settle over me. My attempted mental rosary had come to naught, as the increasing pain made it difficult to focus on the words of the prayers, but the face of my dear Jesus was somewhat easier to hold within my concentration. I thought, too, of a few beloved friends here on Camiguin who are in great need of conversion, and I begged the Lord to let me offer up this small sacrifice for them, that their souls might receive more of His grace for repentance.

Eventually the dentist finished drilling; the anticipated anesthetic never came. When she proclaimed her work completed, I conveyed my honest surprise.

“Oh, I’ve heard you use novocaine in the U.S. when filling cavities. We don’t do that here in the Philippines,” she explained rather nonchalantly, with only a hint of hesitation in her voice as she observed my reaction.

I didn’t know what to think, except that, 1) I was and still am astonished at the surprisingly bearable degree of pain brought about by the drilling of two apparently large cavities, and 2) I was grateful for this small but truly meaningful sacrifice that I could offer up for the conversion of sinners.

I recall once reading that now-Saint Padre Pio would not accept any anesthetic, even during more serious and extremely painful dental procedures, due to his concern that onlookers might irreverently inspect his stigmata, the wounds of Christ that he bore on his own hands and feet. For some reason, that anecdote has always impressed me because of his decision to willingly undergo suffering out of love for Our Lord. I cannot boast to possess the same fortitude as that great saint, such as would inspire me for pious reasons to submit myself to greater pain than must necessarily be borne, but I am humbled that Jesus would allow me to have this experience, to unite my suffering with His in a more intimate manner than before.

Every Friday, as I meditate on the Stations of the Cross, I read the words of St. Josemaria Escriva: 

“Love sacrifice; it is a fountain of interior life. Love the cross, which is an altar of sacrifice. Love pain, until you drink, as Christ did, the very dregs of the chalice.”

My Jesus, may I desire more and more to offer up my small pains for the glory of Your kingdom!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Jesus on night adventures

It's already dark out, but we promised to bring medicine to our student Recardo who is awaiting the results of his MRI, so we call our new friend, a motorcycle driver, to ask for a ride to Recardo's mountain home. It's very muddy from a week's worth of typhoon-like rain, and we're praising God as the bike slips and slides along the unpaved road - thank You, Jesus, for a skilled driver!

Rodito driving his parents and little sister.
We deliver the medicine and check in on the family. It's still difficult and very painful for Recardo to walk. I ask his sister Gelaiza why she has been absent all week from school -- I've missed her in my English class. A toothache, she explains, and my flashlight cuts through the darkness of the night as I inspect the offending tooth. We'll check at the health center to see when the dentist will next be visiting our town, we assure her.

We play with the littlest ones who are scampering around outside the house; last week we were able to bring backpacks and notebooks for the children -- much-coveted school supplies and unaffordable for families like this one. Their need is so great. I take a turn holding Andi, Recardo's baby niece, and reflect that just a few months ago I met her for the first time in the hospital when she was admitted for pneumonia. How good is the Lord! I marvel at the way He has drawn us into this family's life.

Recardo outside his home.
Before leaving, we pray for healing for both Recardo and Gelaiza and then hop back on the motorcycle. What a blessing that our driver Rodito has now accompanied us on several such home visits and witnessed our mission in action! On the ride home I'm feeling a little bold, so I ask him, "Can you read?"

"Conti," he responds. Only somewhat.

"Do you know how to pray the Rosary? Would you like one?" I press on. His affirmative response is all I need, and when we arrive back at the house we invite him inside for his first catechesis. A few minutes later he walks out with a glow-in-the-dark Rosary to grace his motorcycle on night rides, as well as a Rosary guide to assist him in praying. There's something stirring within his heart, it seems, and we resolve to continue looking for opportunities to invite him into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

What a blessed evening! Just another night here on mission in Camiguin.