March 19, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

By joining our crosses to Christ’s, we can ‘stay glad’

Every morning as I button my shirt or when I turn the pages of my prayer book, I am reminded of my chemotherapy and radiation of almost two years ago. Neuropathy, some numbness of my fingers, is a lasting effect of my cancer treatment in 2008.

The ordeal seems like it was only yesterday. It must seem the same to other folks because I am frequently asked how I am doing. I am happy to report that I continue to be in remission. Recently, a couple of people asked if I would consider reporting on and reflecting about my bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The first thing I would say is that if I ever had questions about the power of prayer, I don’t any more. So many people assure me that they continue to pray for me and, believe me, I feel the prayers and I am sincerely grateful. And I hope you keep praying for me.

One of the difficulties about my health problems is that they become public because of my absence from liturgical ceremonies during recovery.

Unrelated to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I had a complete left shoulder replacement and a lot of rehabilitation since early August. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I took a bad fall. In the latter case, the embarrassment was probably the worst effect. In mid-February, I underwent a surgical procedure to remove a kidney stone. So, I ask, please keep up the prayers!

On the ledge of the window in front of my computer is a little plaque that reads: “Always Stay Glad.” Regular readers of my column will recall that Bryan, a sixth-grade student from St. Roch School in Indianapolis, wrote to me about courage back in 2008: “The definition of courage is hard to memorize. But luckily for everyone, it’s easy to describe. It’s the ability to move forward when times are dark. It’s the times you give it all you’ve got even though you’re weary. So remember dear Archbishop, that even though times are bad, you’ve still got the grace of God, so always stay glad.” It was a timely message then, and I have no doubt it will always be so.

One of the positive consequences of my cancer is the impetus to spend more time praying for others who have cancer or any other debilitating illness. During chemotherapy, I learned to sit patiently and pray. Anyone who has been sick and waits for a doctor’s appointment or lies on a gurney waiting for a scan of some kind knows what I mean. I especially notice how much poor people have to wait for even the most basic needs of their lives.

I wonder about how some of my fellow patients in chemotherapy are doing. I know some have gone home to God. But I run into companion lymphoma survivors like Rob, who had to go to work even while undergoing the difficulties related to chemotherapy.

I am in touch with a seminarian, Dominic, who while undergoing chemotherapy continues his formation for the priesthood at Saint Meinrad. There are many such stories.

I still undergo periodic scans and blood tests to check things out. I can’t help but wonder each time if I am going to get a positive report. Some folks don’t. But I continue with my first reaction back in 2008: God’s will be done.

I think of the oncology and hospice nurses regularly. They have a very special mission, and are great people in my book. They deserve the support of our prayer and gratitude.

I guess I will always pray for a deeper understanding of the meaning of my having had cancer. I know God does not want bad things to happen to us. But he permits it. I guess since original sin some things go wrong simply because they can. And it is important to see them as opportunities to join our suffering to those of Christ.

On the eve of Passiontide, it is opportune to think of human sickness and limitations in relationship to the Passion that Jesus suffered for us. Our crosses may seem small and paltry compared to what he endured, but it is our love, in exchange with his, that makes all of it count.

Someone once remarked that all of us have splinters in our shoulders from the crosses we bear. In prayer during the remaining days of Passiontide, let’s offer those marks of suffering to Jesus as a gift of our love.

And let’s offer these gifts of love with grateful hearts. The St. Roch sixth-grade student, now an eighth grader, had it right: “Even though the times are bad, we still have the grace of God, so always stay glad.”

Our crosses joined to Christ’s need not take away our interior peace. †

Local site Links: