With All Due Respect, Last Weekend's Masses Were a Pain in the Neck!

So now that the title has grabbed your attention, I must say that the "pain in the neck" is not a statement of attitude, but of my physical condition these past couple of weeks. You see four years ago as I was celebrating Tim Shinkten's Confirmation Mass (where I served as his sponsor), I felt as though I was having a heart attack. Intense pain was shooting down my left arm while my right hand fell asleep with that "tingling" feeling. Unfortunately, I do not remember much from that Mass; I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. It was time to give an urgent call to Dr. John Gray.

Dr. Gray did not seem to be as concerned as I was; he's extraordinarily laid back, you know. And while he was putting me at ease to some extent, his dismissing my self-diagnosis was a concern for me. He blew off my diagnosis to inform me that it sounds as though I have a slipped disk or a pinched nerve. John ordered an MRI which confirmed his hypothesis -- that's why he gets paid the big bucks -- me, not so much!

The MRI reported that I have major disturbance in the pink zone (Cervical Vertebrae) depicted in the picture above. Specifically, there is damage in disks 4 - 7, 5 & 6 being the worse. Back then, I was told I have three options: 1. Undergo neck surgery. 2. Have a series of cortisone shots to dull the pain. 3. Just hold tight and wait until it works itself out. Honestly now, what would you choose? I chose door # 3, and sure enough, the pain went away. But a week or so ago, now four years later, it came back with a vengeance!

For the most part, I can handle the pain during the day. There are so many issues, activities and appointments that serve as a very welcome distraction from the constant pain. However, the pain seemed unbearable at Neil and Hannah's wedding rehearsal last Friday night. My dear friend and wedding hostess, Carole Guyette, was there to encourage me, to "hold my hand," and make a referral to see someone whom she thought could assist me in my physical need.

The wedding on Saturday was not as painful as I thought -- and that's not a commentary on Neil and Hannah's goodness. They're very kind people. But Sunday's Mass was quite uncomfortable, especially when I raised the newly baptized, Grace Suxanne Olejniczak, high above the congregation. It wasn't until after Mass that I looked at the notations and realized that baby Grace was born back in January -- by now she was "full of Grace" and was too heavy for me to lift as high as I would like! After that moment, I was afraid to encounter the elevations at Mass. I was fearful that I'd drop to the ground!

While the pain during the day has been constant, I must say it is not as intense as it is during the evening. Immediately upon hitting the bed, I am racked with pain. Perhaps worst of all is that there are no distractions. I venture out of my room to find the priory completely darkened and silent -- the brothers have all settled down for a little nap before Morning Prayer. Watching re-runs of the evening line up on Fox News Channel or watching Jay Leno twice just doesn't cut it. Infomercials? Forget it. The nights have been terrible. Having become exhausted with a week of being "Sleepless in DePere," I decided to get help on Monday morning.

After examining the MRI reports from four years ago coupled with about twenty x-rays taken on Monday, the doctor thought I was in some sort of an accident years ago. I replied, "negative!" The thought that I was involved in some serious sports injury simply made me smile and think, "wouldn't that make for a cool Packer homily?" Not a chance! Quite honestly, while the x-rays show some serious concern, I have no recollection of any injury that would have caused such damage.

But then the doctor asked me to consider some "bad habits" that might have caused such damage over the years. I did not have to think long before I came up with several bad habits that are undoubtedly the cause of my neck injury. They include, but are not limited to the following:

1. PACKER TRAVEL! For the past 10 years, I have loaded up my Nike Packer NFL duffel bag, complete with shoulder strap. The bag has got to be close to 40 pounds if not more as I travel with a lead chalice and patten, sacramentary, lectionary, Mass wine flask, electric shaver, habit, vestments, running shoes, bellytelly, Batman-the-Series DVDs, book of the day, a month's worth of Entertainment Weeklys, civilian clothes, clerical clothing. Pretty senseless for an overnighter, isn't it? Naturally, that bag is strapped consistently over my left shoulder -- never the right side!

2. FEELING PARCHED! Both in my office and at the priory, I have one of those honkin' Culligan water coolers with a five gallon jug of water crowning the apparatus. So every-other-week I'm headed to Festival Foods to hand in my empty and pick up my new jug. Guess where that goes? While holding my groceries in my right hand, the five gallon jug is lodged on my left shoulder tucked in the corner between my shoulder and neck. It looks rather manly [perhaps], but now I'm realizing how stupid this is.

3. CARRYING THE CROSS! I hope that does not sound flippant, but it's true: I've been bearing the cross for the people of Old Saint Joe's! While readying the church environment for Lent, Easter and Graduation Sunday, I have helped carry the new crosses (in the bell tower and the Good Friday cross) from location to location. And yes, you guessed it, I have propped up this cross over my left shoulder. Mel Gibson would consider me a stand in if the Gospel had a sequel!

At the time, these occurrences seemed so very natural. Now I'm paying the price. This week I have missed much of the annual June Chapter. I'm at the doctor's office each day stretching here, bending there -- getting shot with that hammer gun everywhere! When at home, I am iced four times a day. And then when I do get to the meetings, I'm pretty much distracted by the nasty sensations that are lightening up but not going away as of yet. So time will tell.

So why do I share all of this with you? Well first of all, if I do not raise the newly baptized or the Book of Gospels as high as I normally do, or if I flash a few grimaces at Mass every now and then, you'll know what's up. But I share it with you also to let know know that so many of you are so kind in sharing with me all of the crosses you bear, all of the issues you confront. I feel blessed that you would share so much of your personal selves with me. It is my honor and privilege to keep you in thought and prayer amidst your physical, relational, emotional, spiritual issues. I simply thought it would be appropriate for me to share with you a personal issue I am confronting these days, while humbly asking for you to think of me and pray for my good as well.

So there you have it, walking the journey together in good times and bad, in sickness or health, being Church to one another. Keeping in mind that, "God's flock is in your midst, give it a shepherd's care!"

Happy Feast of Saint Norbert!

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.


Anonymous said...

You are always in our prayers..Karen Domagola

Anonymous said...

Personally, I would have chosen surgery. I'm a baby when it comes to pain.

Sounds like you need a nice sacrament...anointing of the sick?
My prayers are with you always.

Anonymous said...

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