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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.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

On the Twelth Day

  The popular Christmas carol celebrating the 12 days of Christmas was originally a coded catachetical song in England in the days when Catholicism was banned there. Perhaps in another article I will spell out the meaning of the turtle doves, etc.  For now I would like to emphasize the fact that there are 12 days of Christmas, not just one, and for good reason.

  In Luke 2:19, after the shepherds visit the manger revealing what had been told to them, we are told that "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."  An older translation, which I prefer, tells us that Mary "pondered" these things in her heart. This experience of Mary makes us aware that the great mystery of the Incarnation is not something that can be celebrated quickly.  It has a richness of meaning that must be pondered by all of us.  And so, while the stores have put away the trees and other decorations and are already hanging up the hearts for Valentine's day we must ponder the great mystery that is being celebrated.

    I remember as a child that while our tree usually came down on New Year's Day because it was a real tree and therefore a fire hazard if it stayed up too long, the creche always stayed out until the Feast of the Epiphany was over on January 6.  Of course there was no deep theological reflection done at home but the various "shades" of Christmas, as I like to think of it, were acknowledged.  Everyone knew that the feast of Stephen that sent good king Wenceslaus out, was December 26, the day after Christmas.   On December 28 we heard the story of the Holy Innocents, and on January 6, even though it generally fell during the week and not on Sunday as is now the case, we heard the story of the Magi.

    We can add to the 12 days of Christmas the 4 weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas.  As we "ponder" during this time we look at a world that yearned and still does for the coming of the Lord.  We celebrate that the Lord deeply enters into humanity and most especially into the poverty, sinfulness and brokenness of the human condition, though without sin himself, and finally we see that His coming is for all as He is revealed to the Magi and adored by them.

   This only touches the surface of what we need to ponder.  Our world today likes so many things to be "one and done".  Christmas deserves more than that.