Where does one begin to sort things out after being told that they have Cancer? One does not even know where to begin until your head stops spinning from fear. Fear can impale you or you can embrace God and hear his words, “Be Not Afraid” These three simple words are stated 365 times in the Bible. How reassuring those words can be to the ears of anyone who is stricken with any kind of catastrophic illness.
When the nurse called me into the doctor’s office, I was all alone waiting for her. Waiting just like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. I felt this immediate need to pray and I began to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The doctor came in and told me that I had breast cancer. I immediately became fearful and contemplated that I had the BIG C. During prayerful thoughts, I heard a still, small voice says, ‘Be Not Afraid and do not think of the Big C as Cancer, think of BIG C as Christ and Cross.
I thought of Christ in the Garden, where He was so stressed out that He literally sweated Blood. I thought about the fact that although He was both human and divine, He did not say, “Why me, God?” Instead he submitted to the will of God. In His human nature, He suffered immense pain; then I thought “Who am I that I would be spared, when He suffered so much for me?” I prayed that God would allow me to heal so that I could see my grandchildren grow up as have a granddaughter named Isabella who is two and was expecting two more grandchildren (Owen and Marcela) within a few months. I thought I must be well for them. I began to cry.
I have always been a very strong-willed woman and want to be self-sufficient in all that I do. Suddenly I felt helpless and wanted to run away but instead I listened intently to what the doctor was saying. “Your prognosis is good, with surgery and radiation treatments you should do well.” I felt frozen in time and thought that Jesus must have felt the same way during the Passion. He couldn’t take the nails out of His hands and feet and come off the cross and neither can I.
When I began my radiation treatments I did not know what to expect. But I remembered these words, ‘Be Not Afraid” During my first treatment I was asked to lie on the table and remove my hospital gown and put my arms up over my head and hold onto two rods. I suddenly thought of Jesus on the cross, arms opened, exposed and vulnerable. I immediately thought, “There is nothing that I can do but submit to bearing my Cross”
The Cross was the instrument chosen by God for the redemption of mankind. That is why Our Savior refers to the hardships and fatigue and trials of daily life as the “cross” that we must embrace if we are to be His disciples. The “cross” can include everything that goes against the grain, and that can be an endless list in fulfilling God’s commandments and the duties in our state in life.
All these entail suffering, and are part of the penalty of sin of our fallen nature. One can accept the suffering that can become redemptive or one can complain and loose hope. But being in union with Christ brings us the grace to persevere.
Saint John Paul II wrote:
“In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus, each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris). This leads me to ponder that he was saying our suffering is changed and is worth something if it is in union with Christ. Every time we suffer, we have an opportunity to either run from Christ, or embrace the suffering as an opportunity to love and walk as He walked.
It we perceive the weakness of the Cross-the point where Jesus was emptied and lifted; then our weakness is capable of being filled with the same power manifested in the Cross of Christ. St. Paul experienced a lot of weakness and suffering, when he prayed about it, Christ answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The key is not the suffering itself, but the meaning found within it.
If we fail to find significance in our suffering, we can easily fall into despair. But once we find meaning in our suffering, it is amazing what we can withstand, both mentally and physically.
Jesus tells us that if we are to follow Him we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. (Luke 9:23) St. Paul said “We are afflicted in every way, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life Of Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence” 2 Cor 4:8-11, 14)
When I hear people say,” bad things happen to good people.” I immediately think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who said yes to God prior to her incarnation. This “yes”, her fiat, would result in great pain; as Simeon told her: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35) But what was the fruit of Mary’s suffering?
Life for the whole world.
What is the fruit of my suffering? To be able to submit to the will of God. To be able to have the strength to bear the awkwardness of my radiation treatments which make me feel fatigued, exposed and vulnerable. Although I feel alone in my discomfort I know that God is always with me. As I go through my treatment and listen to the low hum of the radiation machine I sing in sync with it and sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet or Ave Maria or pray the rosary. This eases my fear and brings me much comfort and I feel so much closer to Jesus. Laying exposed I must submit to complete trust in my medical provider as well as placing my trust in God that He will never forsake me. I hear that small, still voice that says, “Be Not Afraid, " for I am with you always, even until the end of time” (Matt 29:20)