I have Cancer, Lord
by Fr. Jack McArdle
Lord, you know me through and through. You know my every thought. You know my lonely moments, my quiet fears, my greatest guilt. You can read my heart like an open book. Because you can read my thoughts, you know that I have often reflected on life, on death ; on when and how I would die, and how all that would be. To a large extent I always tried to keep that at arm's length, because it was too uncomfortable to let too close. Of course, I knew I would die some day, but that had nothing whatever to do with my life just now. And then I heard that dreaded word cancer, the Big C, and the bottom fell out of my life. The immediate shock was the worst, before I had time to discuss it, listen to the doctor, or look at the news objectively. I know there will come a time, some day, when the word 'cancer' will mean no more than 'tonsillitis' or 'appendicitis' means today. In my parents' time, T.B. or diphtheria sent a shudder throughout the whole community, effecting more than the person who had contracted it. Cancer is a bit closer to our time, however, and, while medical research and treatment has come a long long way, and while the graph of recoveries continues to rise, there is, however, a very real dread of the diagnosis of cancer.
I know I have two clear choices : I can fold up, go to bed and die, or I can turn this into the greatest time in my whole life. If I choose the latter, I can grasp life with a much firmer grip, with a greater sense of appreciation and responsibility for how I live it, and I can become much more alive than I have ever been up till now. Jesus, Lord, you came to redeem, to save, to heal, and to give us life in abundance. I don't think it too far-fetched that having cancer might open me, at last, to all that you offer. Nothing is impossible to you, and you can always turn everything into good, no matter how bad it may seem to us. I don't come crawling to you, because I know you don't want that ; that would be an insult to your great love. I turn to you because I choose to, because I am free to, and because you want me to. I turn to you, because you, and you alone, can take my present situation and turn it into a good.
One of my first reactions, when I heard the word cancer, was to experience a sense of helplessness. The only hope I clung to was that the diagnosis was wrong, and that further checks would prove that to be so. My head was in a spin, and the questions were flying Why? Why me? Why now? Why this? I know rightly, Lord, that you understand all of this totally, and that you allow me deal with my own humanity, and all that is stirred up there, before I am ready to turn to you, and to turn things over to you. You are always and ever on standby, with the extraordinary patience and understanding that goes with extraordinary love. Lord, I don't pretend at all to be in control of things at the moment. I'm getting by, sometimes O.K., and sometimes very poorly. I try to generate some inner power and strength of my own, and, just when I think I'm in control, something happens, and the walls close in again. For someone who has always been able to cope, it is difficult for me to have to admit that, this time around, I experience myself as very brittle, very frail, very fragile. It's really hard to keep up appearances, to disguise my worries, and to hide my worst fears. Deep down within me is a very strong desire to go on living. I'm just not prepared to go to bed, and wait for death. I believe that strength must come from you, and I am grateful for that.
Only you, Lord, can understand the human mind, and how it works. My mind tells me that I have cancer, not just that I am sick. My mind wishes that it was anything else but what I have. There were many times in my life where I wished I were anywhere else than where I was. I find it really difficult to face reality, and to be prepared to live in that reality. I know that you are real, and, until I become real, and live in and with my reality, there is no chance that we can come face to face. And yes, Lord, that is what I want to do right now. I don't want to wait till I die before coming face to face with you. You know me through and through, and, so there's no point in trying to pretend, or trying to choose nice words, flowery language, or impressive speeches, when I come before you. I stand before you now, exactly as I am, with all my fears, worries, anxieties, and doubts, and I pray "Lord, please help me. Please place your healing hand upon me. You only have to say the word, and I will be healed". I don't understand faith too well. I always thought that, if I had faith, I would never have doubts. Now I'm beginning to accept that that cannot be so, or, at least, that is impossible for me. With all my doubts, with all my worries, with all my fears, above all of that rises the belief that you can heal me. It is as if my faith in you rises above all the rest, when I become still within, let the muddy water settle, and become aware of your presence within me. I am beginning to see that faith has really very little to do with how I feel, how I believe, or how good I am. I am also beginning to see that faith can actually be accompanied by doubts, and, it is in spite of the doubts, that my faith grows. I know that you love me, and it is from that fact, and from that fact alone, that my faith comes. This has nothing to do with church, religion, prayers, or practice. On my side, I have nothing to offer but my fears, my brokenness, and, yes, my cancer. If I concentrated on my side of the equation, I would be in the depths of despair long ago. In fact it is not an equation, except that you can equate my nothingness with your everything, my fears with your peace, my sickness with your health.
As I speak to you, Lord, I'm beginning to get some sense of the old paint being stripped away within my soul. I have a sense of being purified, of being stripped naked before you, of being totally exposed to your love. I have lived so much of my life in smugness, and in cozy confidence. I went about my business without a care in the world. I took my health for granted, I took my life for granted. I attended funerals, walked away, and continued to keep life sufficiently on the surface, that nothing really penetrated my outward veneer of coolness and calm. I was in control, and nothing really bad could happen to me. It was always somebody else's funeral. I don't pretend to understand, Lord, but I suspect that I may well need this cancer, to help concentrate my thinking, and deepen my living. I believe that you are more interested in the depth of my life than in the length of it. You are more interested in quality than in quantity. While I worry about the next life, you are concerned that there may not be much life going on now. In your eyes, I'm not dying, but, in your eyes I may not be living either. I believe it is your wish that I should live life fully, and live it right out to the end. I don't believe that you ever pluck a flower from the garden of life until you decide that the time is right.
Lord, my own understanding of Incarnation is that you came down here on earth to meet us and to be with us as we are. You easily could have loved us from a distance, but you decided not to. Incarnation, for me, at this moment, is that you want to come to me as I am, right here, right now. Reality for me is that, yes, I do have cancer, but that does not mean that it is terminal. My life is terminal, I know, but, because of you, I can have much of life to live still. Please help me accept the reality of my situation, to accept things as they are. Out of that reality will come a prayer that is from the heart, a prayer that wells up from within the depths of my soul, a prayer that will always reach and touch your heart. In the past much of my praying could have been nothing more than words, coming from my lips, but not from my heart. I now feel that it not possible for a human being to fall on her knees, cry out to you, and not be heard. Lord, Jesus, Son of David, Son of God, hear me, heal me, save me.
Thank you, my child, my friend, for that prayer from the heart. My grace works wonders in a heart like yours. Please accept that I know what I'm doing, and that you, and your welfare, are at the very core of all my plans for you. I would never let anything happen to you that would harm you, unless you yourself opted for that yourself. In that case, I could do nothing, because of my respect for your freewill. As you said, I know you through and through, and I understand only too well that it often takes something like cancer to turn the human mind totally to me. Please believe me when I say that that is not why I permit cancer to occur. In actual fact, believe it or not, it is not I that gave you cancer. You inherited it, your personality incubated it, or your life-style has caused it. How you got cancer is totally unimportant at the moment. The point is that you have it, and that you want me to remove it, arrest it, or contain it. I understand only too well why you should turn to me with all your heart, at this time, more than before. It is very natural and very human to do this. As I said in the Gospels, 'It is not the healthy who need the physician, but the sick'. I don't expect you to come running to me in panic every moment of every day, no more than I would want you to be running to your doctor, your dentist, or your physio every single day.
You know they are there if and when you want them. You know that I am here, that you have to travel no further than your heart to find me, and that you don't need words when you stand before me. It pleases me greatly when you are aware of my presence, because this can help you through the lonely moments, the sleepless nights, or the troubled days. I am in your heart for your sake, and for your sake only. That is why I came on earth in the first please. My healing must begin within your heart. My life must flow through your veins, my Spirit must radiate your body, if you want me to remove all growths that are not part of the person my Father created. I came that you should have life, and I don't want anything to destroy or limit your living of that life.
I can use anything and everything for good. Even your sins of the past can generate great compassion within you today. I have no desire to waste anything, and I can turn everything into good. At the moment you think of yourself as having cancer, and that is the extent of your knowledge of how you are. You cannot possibly see other areas of your life where healing is more urgently needed. I can see many many areas within you that are in need of healing. I am not interested in healing just one area, and allowing you remain unhealthy. 'Your sins are forgiven, arise and walk', was my way of showing that healing begins on the inside and works out from there. You couldn't imagine me healing a blind man, and letting him go down the road full of resentment towards his brother. In that case, the man wasn't healed, but continued to be very very blind indeed. What I'm asking you is to put the whole lot on the line. When I washed the apostles' feet, I said 'You are clean, but not all'. In your case I want all of you to be healed, and, the fact that you have cancer provides a good opportunity for you to open out your whole being to me, and for me to touch everything within you that is in need of healing. This is a moment of grace, it is an opportunity of great blessing, an occasion for great growth. If you think of cancer being a growth, or as something that should not be there, then, please let me include with that everything else within you that should not be there either. I want you totally healed; otherwise you are not healed at all.
It may surprise you to know some of the more serious barriers to my Power working within you. It has little to do with religion, practice, prayers, or anything like that. The biggest barriers are anger, resentments, and unforgiveness. In themselves, these are destructive, and my power cannot work alongside these. Having a resentment against another is like you are drinking poison, and you are expecting the other person to die. I know it sounds crazy, but it is very seriously crazy. A soul that is filled with unforgiveness is certainly not in a healing mode ; healing cannot take place there. This is something very serious, and I want you to give it your full attention. Of course, I want to heal you, but you must provide the conditions for healing to take place. I certainly will help you, I will give you what you need, but you must be willing to let go, to rid your heart, and to prepare your spirit. I know rightly that others have hurt you, I know only too well where the resentments are coming from, and I am very aware of the source of the anger. That makes no difference, however. They have to go if you are to be healed. It is never a question of will-power. You don't have what it takes to deal with all of this on your own. If you have the will, I will supply the power. Like the man at the pool, in the Gospels, I am now asking you :"Do you want to be healed?" Oh, yes, of course, you want to get rid of your cancer, you want that to be taken away. However, my child, my friend, you will still not be healed, you will still be quite sick. That is not my wish for you.
Speaking of forgiveness, how about beginning with forgiving yourself? That may surprise you, but, if you dig a little into your thoughts and memories, you will find plenty of guilt, regrets, hindsights, and misgivings. Part of you blames yourself for the cancer. You contributed to it through some pattern of behaviour, though your use or abuse of food, nicotine, alcohol; through fretting, worrying, or anxiety; or, indeed though the accumulation of the emotional or spiritual toxins of unforgiveness, angers and resentments. As your God, I ask you to open out the canvas of your life to me....out...out....right out to the very corners. Nothing hidden, nothing denied ; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, let us look at this together. Do you see what I see? Do you want to see what I see? Are you prepared to face and accept the reality of what you see? There is nothing really serious there. That's not what I have in mind. I'm not here to accuse you or condemn you. I am here to heal you. All I need is that you honestly admit and accept all the guilt, the regrets, the failures, the sins, and the brokenness that this canvas of your life is reflecting back to you.
(Take a few moments out now, to reflect on the canvas of your life, so that you can sincerely acknowledge and accept the reality of what it reflects.)
I now want to erase those from the canvas, to tell you that they are forgiven, and to join me in total forgiveness of yourself. O.K., so far? There is a difference between being healed, and being cured. To be healed means to be restored to health, and to be cured is to have some illness removed. I have much more interested in the ministry of healing, because I want all of you to be healthy. In the Gospels I speak of my joy, my peace, and my abundant life. I want nothing less for you. I'm sure you are quite aware how human organisations like the U.N., N.A.T.O., etc., may succeed is stopping a war, but they cannot bring peace. The war breaks out again, further down the road, or in some other country. What I am offering is not just some quick-fix that will allay your immediate fears. I am thinking of a whole new way of living, of being, and of recovering. I am now inviting you into a programme of recovery, which, like the incoming tide, will lift all the boats, even those stuck in the mud. I want to raise you up, I want you to experience a whole new way of living, of thinking, and of seeing things. One of the effects of getting something like cancer is to concentrate the focus of one's attention on the next life ; whereas, I continue to try to turn the focus of your attention onto this life. This is the life you should be concerned about; the quality, the depth, the investment, and the Incarnational dimension. Heaven begins now, and you have to begin to find that heaven, that kingdom within your own heart. Seek that kingdom first, and everything else will be added to you. Leave the cancer to me ; you have enough to be getting on with. The very fact that you have cancer may be exactly what you need to open up your heart, your mind, and your spirit to a much wider and fuller living and experience of living. Life becomes precious when each day is cherished. You can get so involved with the urgent that you overlook the important. I never waste anything, whether it be experience, failure, sickness, or sin. I can turn everything into good, if it is given to me. What you see as a problem, I can see as an opportunity. I can see the beauty of the tapesty, whereas, from where you are, you can see only the reverse side, with threads going in all directions, with no apparent pattern, design or order.
It is not my wish, my intention, or my will that you should not be concerned, anxious, worried, or afraid, because you have cancer. You are a human being, and your reaction is the normal reaction of any normal human being. All I am asking is that you may be willing to let me into the situation, in such a way, that you do not have to continue, as if I were indifferent, unaware, or unwilling to become involved. All I have ever looked for from anyone is that I be believed, that I be accepted, that I be allowed do what I came to do. Healing the sick, replacing that sickness with abundant life, replacing the fear with my peace, and restoring the hope in the heart of the anxious one,....that, in brief, is central to my mission and presence among you. Someone said one time that if I had to break your heart, and break every bone in your body, I would do so, if that resulted in you letting me take over the running of your day-to-day living. That, of course, is not true, because the statement is made wrong way around. I was the one who was willing to have my heart and every bone of my body broken, so that I could become Lord in your heart, and God in your life. I love you, and I see your present situation affording me a very special opportunity to let you experience my love. You are mine. You did not choose me. No, I have chosen you, and, instead of you making promises, or any great commitment to me now, all I ask is that your accept and believe the very clear and the very definite promises I have made to you. Heaven and earth will pass away before my word passes away.
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It's Me Again, Lord... copyright © 2004 Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.