CUSA is an apostolate “of persons” rather than “for persons.”
People who live with the cross of chronic illness or disability (or both) are usually aware of their dependence upon others. For instance, my struggle with post-polio syndrome and psoriatic arthritis makes it difficult for me to carry anything while I am navigating a flight of stairs. I am, therefore, dependent upon others to carry things up and down the stairs. People who are confined to wheelchairs are oftentimes dependent upon others to assist them. Many CUSANS live with personal caregivers who help them with their daily tasks, something as ordinary as getting in and out of bed. These are all examples of acts of charity which are done “for us.”
However, chronic illness and disability do not exempt us from the need to perform acts of charity ourselves. While it is difficult or even impossible for a paraplegic to do something physical for someone else, this does not mean that they are incapable of acts of charity. CUSANS practice the virtue of charity in two very real ways for each other. This is why we identify our apostolate as an apostolate “of persons” rather than “for persons.” We see ourselves as agents of charity as well as the beneficiaries of it.
CUSANS practice charity in two very real ways: support of others who are chronically ill or carrying the burden of a disability as well as holding one another up in prayer.
SUPPORT: One of the most difficult parts of chronic illness and disability is the fact that it tends to isolate one from the rest of humankind. This isolation comes about for several reasons: the inability to be out and about, the reluctance of others to get close to someone who is ill, the misunderstanding that sometimes accompanies disability, etc. Sometimes even those who have been part of the lives of people in the past shy away from them after they become ill or suffer an accident simply because they cannot relate to them any longer.
CUSANS understand this phenomenon on a very personal level. We are, therefore, motivated to support one another in our illness and/or disability. Mrs. Brunner, our foundress, was confined to her bed because of a serious heart ailment. In her native Belgium, she had maintained contact with her fellow sufferers through correspondence. When she came to the United States before the Second World War, she missed her friends and the friendly letters they exchanged. Through her efforts the apostolate that had sustained her in Europe started to bring support to those who like her were confined to their beds or their homes because of chronic illness.
PRAYER and SACRIFICE: The other component of CUSA’s apostolate is the spiritual dimension of prayer and sacrifice. CUSA is more than simply a “pen pal” organization. Through our CUSAN Morning Offering, each CUSAN unites with all the other members in a common or communal prayer as we begin each day. Through and in that prayer, we remember all who suffer from a chronic illness or disability. We call upon God to ease the pain that comes from isolation and the frustration that is part of not being able to do the simple, ordinary things that we take for granted.
However, our apostolate goes further than the boundaries of our membership. Each cell or group of CUSA adopts an “intention” for which each member prays and toward which it applies the graces earned through our willingness to offer up our sufferings for others. We intercede for the Church, for its missionary activity, for people who live in precarious situations, for priests and religious, for the most vulnerable members of our society, for those who live with the scourge or war and violence, for those who are preyed upon by others, etc. This “activity” fulfills our call to mission, the great commission that was given by Jesus to all his followers at the conclusion of the Gospels. In this we join with the work of the universal church, much the same as St. Therese of Liseaux, a contemplative Carmelite nun, was recognized as the patroness of foreign missionaries. Just as she prayed for and offered sacrifices to support the endeavors of missionaries throughout the world, CUSANS pray for and offer sacrifices for many different intentions and activities of the Church throughout the world.
CUSANS will always be grateful for that which is done for them. However, they also recognize the need to be active themselves. While their “activity” may not be known beyond the confines of their beds or their homes, they are, nonetheless, “active” participants in the work of the Church.