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Sainte AnneI’ve had a devotion to St. Anne for nearly five years now.

It all began when I started praying a holy hour each morning and included a Novena to St. Anne to meet my future husband.

It continued with me praying through her intercession when the two of us were discerning marriage.

And it continues today as I pray through her intercession, constantly, for our marriage, for healing, and to know and love God’s will for the two of us.

I’ve felt very confident that the Grandmother of our Lord has been in my corner like all grandmothers seem to be. I’ve felt like she wants to spoil me, love on me, listen to me — and help me with my heart’s greatest desires.

I remember actually writing a paper about her in the fourth grade. I chose to write about her because we have the same name (I’m Ann Marie, but I go by Annie). When I think about the little ways she has been in my life all along, I’m not surprised… God’s hand is in it all, and He knew that she would make an impression on me; one that, as it seems, would last quite a while.

St. Anne knows herself about what it’s like to desire something, to pray for it fervently, and to wait on God’s answer for years.

She knows herself what it’s like to persevere in prayer when you feel hopeless and when you feel like you can’t pray anymore.

She knows.

And so I feel comfortable going to her, time and time again, asking her to pray for me, asking her to pray that I might emulate the faith and strength she had while she waited 20+ years for God to answer her prayer. She and St. Monica had that in common; their perseverance in prayer, great faith and confidence in our Lord when things seemed hopeless.

About a year and a half ago, I was feeling a little hopeless. I was struggling with despair. I felt sick all the time, and I didn’t know why. I felt nauseous, tired and weak.  I didn’t understand why God would allow me to suffer like that.

Sometimes I could barely stand throughout mass which is probably one of the things that made me the saddest of all; that I felt so sick during mass. It didn’t feel right that He would make me suffer during something so holy, so good. I could barely concentrate on worshiping Him, on being a part of the communion of saints right then and there.

It broke my heart.

That, along with being unable to do all the things I wanted to do with my friends and family. I felt like I was disappointing everyone around me when I couldn’t do something with them because I didn’t feel well enough. I felt like I was letting them down. Like I was a disappointment.

This probably comes as a surprise to many of you because I didn’t exactly let-up on all of the work I had been doing on Pray More Novenas and here, on Catholic Wife, Catholic Life, during that time.

That’s because I felt like it was a lifeline to me; to still connect with other people and to serve them, even when I was at my weakest. And, I thought, I can still do that when I’m weak. I can still do that on my computer — in my bed, or on our couch… which is still where I do most of my work.

Untitled design (6)I was inspired by something I had read before, by Blessed Chiara Luca Badano. She said, “I have nothing left, but I still have my heart, and with that I can always love.” I had to believe that I could do this too.

During some of the worst of that time, I made it a habit to go back to daily mass. I remember feeling sometimes like it was a waste when I felt so weak. “Why bother?” But I still went. I cried during much of it. The homilies about overcoming our weaknesses, about surrendering to God, about trusting in Him; it all made me cry.

But I knew, even when I didn’t feel it, that mass would bring me strength.

St. Padre Pio said that “Every Holy Mass, heard with devotion, produces in our souls marvelous effects, abundant spiritual and material graces which we ourselves, do not know.”

And when we are at mass, “we are surrounded by countless angels. We stand side by side with our fellow Christians to profess our faith in Jesus Christ. We eagerly receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. We come to be forgiven, fed, and renewed. We cherish the graces God pours out on us as we celebrate His Son’s sacrifice on the cross.” (Michelle Fritz, Why Bother Attending Mass?)

Each novena we prayed, I did so for the intention of my healing, for greater strength to endure whatever God allowed, and for me to see His hand in all of it. Of course, I also was praying for the intentions of our community at Pray More Novenas.

Even though I thought my cross was heavy at this point, when I interacted with the other people praying the novenas with us, I learned over and over again that someone else’s cross was heavier.

I’m always learning that. And re-learning it when I forget.

Although it took a long time for me to start feeling better, it definitely brought me comfort to have people praying for me. My husband first and foremost, and then family and friends. I even received Anointing of the Sick. My problems were all physical, but my heart felt equally low and weak. I knew St. Anne could relate.

I tried to do what I knew the Church suggested for healing; frequenting the sacraments, confession, receiving the Holy Eucharist.  I wish I could say doing these things made me feel dramatically different, but it took a while, and the strength that grew — both inwards and outwards — was subtle and slow.

I’ve learned, firsthand, that God works in mysterious ways, that He loves us, that He has a plan for us — even amidst and within our suffering. He uses it all. Every single bit of it. If we offer it to Him.

When friends asked what they could do to help, I asked them to pray for me. It got tiring for me to pray over and over again with little improvement. And in those moments, I realized why God puts people in your life — to be strong for you when you’re weak, to remind you of hope when you doubt, and to pray for you; which is actually good for them, too.

(Note: when you ask someone to pray for you, it’s actually giving them an opportunity to grow in holiness and closer to our Lord – so don’t hesitate to ask for this from your friends and families; perhaps God is using you to bring them closer to Him).

I asked a lot of people to pray for me, and I read a lot about some of the saints known for their intercessory prayer for healing. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but St. Anne was one of them.

2canesThere are a lot of stories about miraculous healing that has been done through St. Anne’s intercession. You’ll see, actually, canes, walkers, wheelchairs, left in churches that honor St. Anne — all of these things left when people were healed through her prayers.

I was inspired once more to seek St. Anne’s intercession last year, then; this time, for healing, for strength, for what I needed to get by each day.

I even submitted my prayer request to the Secretary of the Shrine of St. Anne in Beaupré, Quebec, Canada.

It brought me some added comfort to know that my intention was being placed at the foot of the shrine to St. Anne, the saint to whom I had turned to many times before.

And while again, I did not see instant results, I trusted that God was (is!) faithful. I told myself He IS working. And even though I had to remind myself of those things pretty often, it helped… it worked. I believed.

Many people pray for healing when they aren’t feeling well, or when they receive a debilitating diagnosis. I get it. I do. But I’ve learned from the saint’s examples that we must also pray for God’s will, for us to lovingly and joyfully say yes to that, and perhaps it is through that prayer we will receive the most healing; knowing and understanding God loves us even when we do suffer, even when it doesn’t subside.

Thankfully, though, my suffering has lessened in many ways. God has blessed me with some relief, with some healing, with greater strength — and maybe most of all, with greater faith.

I am doing better and feeling stronger right now than I was one year ago — not completely healed, but better, and I am so grateful that I am.

But I’m also grateful for all the suffering I’ve endured.

Not grateful enough to ask for more… like some saints did. 😉

But grateful enough to see God’s hand in it all, to see how I had to become low so that He would be able to raise me up, Himself — and Him alone.

Suffering can be isolating, but it can also be unifying; it can unite you closer to Jesus Christ, on the cross, and the other countless people who suffer daily. It can unite you closer to our Lord, as you realize what you really need in this lifetime; not comfort, not relief, not healing, but Him.

This is all a lot longer than I intended…

What I meant to tell you was that this past week, my husband and I went on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Saint-Anne-de Beaupré — which was originally a shrine to St. Anne. This is where I submitted my prayer request last year for healing.

meprayingInside the basilica is a relic of St. Anne, the forearm bone of the mother of the Mother of God. There are countless stories of miracles happening there, and I believe in miracles. 😉 And we can still use one — or two. So I prayed for them.

I planned this pilgrimage for us to prepare to celebrate our third wedding anniversary which is coming up on September 8th, the feast of the Nativity of Mary. I planned this pilgrimage for us to thank St. Anne for her intercession thus far in our marriage and for much of my healing, and to beg her for some more intercessory prayers — for us, for our closest friends and family members, and for those praying with us on Pray More Novenas.

We attended mass there, we spent time in Adoration, we prayed in front of St. Anne’s relics, we prayed the rosary in one of the pews. It was surreal to come to this place where St. Anne is honored — the saint to whom I had been asking for intercessory prayers for years. It was surreal to feel as though I was finally coming to “meet” her, in person — as though we had been pen pals for years and we were finally sitting in front of one another with coffee in our hands. It was comforting. It was healing. It was encouraging.

We’ve also be praying the Novena for Marriage and Family which leads up to the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, our anniversary. So we’ve been praying to a Mother-Daughter duo unlike any other, to our Blessed Virgin Mary and to her mother, St. Anne.

We can all use the intercession of our grandmother and mother, can’t we?

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned through my illness, it’s that we can also all use the intercession of the people closest to us.

So I have also been praying for you too and whatever needs and desires are dear to your heart.

I hope you will join me in praying for others and serving them too. Even in our weakest state, we can do those two things.

The prayers of the suffering are the most powerful, after all.

You can read more about the devotion to St. Anne here.

“Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13

“One cannot desire freedom from the Cross when one is especially chosen for the Cross.” -St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – Edith Stein