People ask: “Does your faith help you deal with cancer?” Wouldn’t it be better to ask, does cancer help one’s faith? There I feel on surer ground, because one thing cancer undoubtedly does is to simplify one’s life.
One cannot do all that one used to do. One’s planning goes from long-term to (very) short-term. One knows there is nothing one can do of oneself to stop the cancer growing inside. That changes everything. One realizes how much of one’s daily life has been a living in the future rather than the present, yet it is only in the present that one can encounter God.
Stripped of Defenses
To be stripped of one’s defenses in such a thorough-going way is painful, but it is also salutary. One re-evaluates everything, and from that re-evaluation comes, I think, a renewed sense of wonder — not all the time, of course, it is difficult to wonder when one is being sick or unable to breathe or move freely — and, hopefully, a deeper compassion for others.
“There but for the grace of God go I” must be one of the most misused sentences in all Scripture, but when its meaning finally pierces one’s heart, one cannot but pray. And prayer is the secret of growing in faith, hope and love.
We recently observed the 224th anniversary of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne, with whom the Benedictine nuns of Cambrai shared a prison. There must have been dark and lonely hours for all of them, but today we remember only their faith and their courage. It wasn’t the kind of faith nurtured by cancer but one which was nourished by being true to what they had professed.
Their courage was sheer gift, but let us hope we may be given the same gift if and when we need it. Let us ask their prayers for all whose faith is faltering, for those who face new and difficult challenges, and those in their last agony — especially, please, those who have come to the end of their cancer pilgrimage, and for those who love them.
The writer is a member of Holy Trinity Monastery, a community of cloistered Benedictine nuns in Howton Grove Priory in the United Kingdom. The community website can be found here. “When There is Nothing One Can Do” is adapted from “Faith and Cancer,” published on their weblog iBenedictines.
By Digitalnun. Copyright © 2018 Trustees of Holy Trinity Monastery, Company No. 7487215, Registered Charity No. 1144001