Saturday, January 21, 2017

A 10 Year Old Gift--A Confession and a Thanksgiving

  On January 18, 2007 I was treated with  radioactive seed implants for prostate cancer.  Prior to that I had had 5 weeks of beam radiation as well as several medications as part of that treatment.  I am not unique in having successfully undergone such treatments.  They were not particularly harsh and I know others who have received much more difficult treatments for different cancers.  That having been said this article is not about comparing the harshness of my treatments with those of others, it is rather about saying that I am grateful to God and to many people for being alive today.

   In subtle, but profound ways my life changed when I received the call telling me that I had cancer. That news lead me to several life-changing awarenesses.

   First of all it made me face my own mortality.  The fact that I, as well as every human being, is going to die some day, is not news.  It is, however, a fact, a truth, that we run away from.  Yes, even those of us who believe in the next life, in sin, forgiveness, redemption and all the rest of the good news of the Gospel, tend to hide from this truth.  We don't deny it. We just don't pay a lot of attention to it.

   Sometimes people are faced with this reality at a young age and in a blunt and forceful way.  There are accidents, grave illnesses and tragedies.  Military people and first responders are asked to write out a will, confronting them with the truth of the risk they are taking out of love for our country.

   In my case the news that I had cancer was not a blunt, harsh confrontation with the possibility of death.  I knew that the success rate of prostate cancer treatment was high.  Nonetheless I was faced with the fact that something was growing in me that would kill me if I did not do something about it.
What a blessing. What freeing news.

   Freeing news, a blessing?  Yes, because it forced me to evaluate my life and decide what was really important.  Too much of my time was caught up in the trivial.  More importantly I was carrying way too much anger and resentment.  Yes, on the surface I was gentle and serene, but underneath there was a pot load of anger that I had carried for years. Realizing the shortness of life helped me to just let go of resentments that I could do nothing about.   Much of this anger was tied to loyalties to ideologies and led me to anger towards those who didn't see things my way.  I still have my opinions and preferences, but have them more in perspective.  I really think that one of our main problems today is not "those liberals"' "those conservatives", etc.  It is the anger that we carry towards one another.

  A more important part of the blessing has been the deepening of my prayer life, a movement towards a more contemplative style of prayer, a realization that prayer is ultimately about union with God and not an effort to get God to do things.

    Gratitude is another product of this blessing.  I am so grateful for the Doctors who treated me and for all of the nurses and technicians who were part of that process.  I also came to see how loved and supported I was by so many people who sent prayers and support my way.

   Finally this blessing has given focus to my life as a friar and to my ministry of preaching.  Living religious, fraternal life as a friar is not always easy, but I am so blessed to be part of a community of brothers that cares for me and that challenges me to care for them as I move into the latter years of my life.  My ministry, above all, amounts to letting people know that God loves them, and reaching out to the most vulnerable of people who need to be reassured of that.

   An old song has the line, "What a Wonderful Life".  I have been blessed with a wonderful life and hope to make the most of the years that I have left.


  1. Father,
    Your words of insight are important for all. God Bless you, your health and ministry. Please continue to write as your words bring comfort to me and many others.
    God Bless You.

  2. Dear Father John,

    Thanks be to God that you have been successfully treated for cancer. My wife is a cancer survivor and has been cancer-free now for 26 years. There is an old saying in Spanish "Dios aprieta per no ahoga". For those not fluent is Spanish, the translations is something like "God squeezes hard but does not choke you". My prayers are with you. You are a real inspiration. May God bless.