Lately, as the chaos both in our own country and in the world seems to spiral ever darker, we would do well to recall that it is the darkest before the dawn. As Christians we are are on a pilgrimage to our eternal home, heaven, following in the footsteps of our Savior on the Way of Suffering.
Life never ceases to surprise us, despite our best efforts to be prepared for all outcomes. But when our own vision of our future is upended, it is at these times that we must remind ourselves that our lives are indeed not in our own control, but rather in the hands of another, who is God.
When life-altering events occur in our lives, it is natural to cry out and ask where God is. There is a wild mysteriousness to God, one that our minds cannot quite grasp, but it is one that our hearts can indeed sense, if we seek His will and listen for the small, quiet voice that speaks to us in the stillness, sending us His powerful peace and renewing our trust in the Creator of the universe. Looking up at the night sky with its infinite expanse reminds us of the infinite love that God the Father pours down us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
I haven't updated this blog these last months, not because of lack of interest or even time, but every time I sat down to write on here, words failed me. There have been some major events in my personal life this summer, but one in particular, that has radically changed my life.
Let me recap:
As the academic year drew to a close, in early May I was working on finishing my thesis and beginning to study for final exams. I was blessed to receive unanimous approval by my seminary superiors to advance to the 4th year class and the transitional diaconate. So it was with an eager heart that I looked forward to returning home to Florida for the summer, where I would spend time first with my parents, and then at a parish assignment, before returning to Rome for another year of studies.
In the midst of all this, I was shocked to hear the news that my dear mother was in the hospital. After a battery of tests, the results confirmed our worst fears: that of terminal brain cancer. Because of the size of the tumor and other factors, surgery, radiation, and chemo were all ruled out.
And so it was with an added urgency that I finished my thesis and exams, and flew back home to the States. The new reality hit me when my mother couldn't make it to the airport to meet me upon my return.
On the car ride back home, my father explained to me more about my mother's condition, but nothing could prepare me for seeing my mom's condition firsthand and its rapid progression as the weeks went on. From unsteady walking, to frequent falling, and finally to being completely bedridden, the changes were quite evident. Cancer in general is such a horrible disease, but how much more so is brain cancer, for its changes in behavior and memory. It many ways, it is as if time has fast forwarded her from 64 to 84. How hard it is to hear my mom's confusion and hallucinations and to see her grow weaker. And yet, my father and I try to find humor in the littlest things and to encourage not only her, but one another. It is difficult enough for a child to watch one of his parents go through this process. I can only image how incredibly painful it must be for a spouse. I've longed wished to be able to spend more time with my father, albeit under different circumstances, but I am so thankful that I have been able to spend this time with him in helping care for my mother.
Watching a loved one suffer and decline is an incredibly hard process and it is the feelings of helplessness that can be hard to handle for those family members assisting. What can you say to your loved one who is suffering? Often words fail to express our deepest feelings, but love can be expressed by even our littlest actions, our presence, a caring touch, or fixing a favorite meal.
My mother overall seems to have embraced this cross with a peaceful and quiet resignation to the will of God, an act which I know flows from a deep and simple faith. Mother Teresa spoke of doing small things with great love and likewise my mother gave of herself in so many ways to myself and others in need over the years.
In our conversations, many times she would express her frustration that although she wished to be more actively helping others through volunteering or different charities, either health or other issues would prevent her. Yet, the things she was able to do for others, whether it was finding the perfect creative gift for my cousins or writing and designing cards for special occasions, her "ministry" became one of encouraging others, reminding them of God's love, and helping them to see the best in themselves. She had a wonderful way with children and the elderly, too, and brought a smile to many a face over the years, with a kind touch and a gentle word.
The beauty of God's creation always beckoned her. This deep love of the wilderness and growing things, of simpler times, and a life lived on the land, stayed with her over the years, even as we moved from the Midwest to Southwest Florida. On countless vacations, we would head to the national parks and there, with the scent of fresh pine wafting in the clear mountain air, one could see her spirit soar, surrounded by rushing streams, towering waterfalls, golden sunsets, and cozy cabins.
It was that same love of nature and common interests and shared values that first brought my parents together, and now after 42 years of marriage, their faith and love continue to sustain them on this journey to new ends and beginnings.
As I prepare to once again journey back to Rome, now for my last year of seminary, I thank God for the blessing that I was able to be present and care for my dear mother these last months. My bishop was kind enough to allow me to be home with her instead of at a parish assignment and was good enough to even visit our home and pray with my mother and father. His spiritual fatherhood and support means so much, especially during this time.
Each moment we have with our loved ones is precious, for we never know the time nor the hour when we will be separated from them. An article I read recently stated that the ancient Celts called the stage when death approaches as the "thin times," when the veil between this world and the next becomes less and less and begins to dissolve. We are indeed made for the world to come, and someday we hope to be called to the next great adventure, to the ultimate journey to that land of "white shores, and beyond, a far green country, under a swift sunrise," (J.R.R. Tolkien) where we will journey "further up and further in," (C.S. Lewis) to the infinite joys of unity with God in His Kingdom.
I will write again soon, with more updates about my mom's condition, and other happenings.
God Love You!