I have a dear friend. His name is Tom and he’s only 51 years old. Tom and I worked together for ten years at a large medical center in the northeast. Being around Tom always made the rest of us in the IT department happy. He never took himself too seriously. He was always looking on the bright side of life, and he loved to make us laugh.
A few weeks before this passed Easter, Tom went to the emergency room with severe pain in his side. A week later, after several scans and blood tests, Tom was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable pancreatic cancer. He was given less than eight months to live. Tom spent Easter Sunday with my wife and me and we have been spending a lot of time together since then.
Tom is very organized. He has been going through and cataloging all the memorabilia from his life, from his kindergarten report cards to hundreds of photos of him with his parents and all the places he has visited on vacation. He has made plans and paid for his funeral, his cremation and the spreading of his ashes in the same sea where his mom and dad were laid to rest six years ago. He has selected the liturgy and readings for his funeral Mass and asked me to preach the homily.
Tom shared with me that he doesn’t question or blame God for his terminal illness. He doesn’t believe that God made him ill or willed his cancer. In Tom’s own words, “God doesn’t make these things happen. They just happen; we are only guests on the journey of life.”
I have been privileged and blessed to witness the degree of trust Tom has in God. He is carrying his cross and following Christ with courage and love. My friend Tom is teaching me about real faith.
Life is a gift and it is beautiful. But sometimes life doesn’t make sense; there is chaos, there is darkness; bad things happen. Sometimes, no matter how good we are, how loving; no matter how hard we try; we cannot escape the pain and contradictions of human existence. The symbol of our faith is itself a contradiction — the cross, two opposing beams of wood made from the tree of life, yet used to torture and destroy life — and in the center of the contradiction we find God in human form.
But the message of the cross is hope. It tells us that we are not alone, that God is with us in the chaos and the darkness; he is present in the pain, the loss, the suffering; he is there at the center of the contradiction, the center of the cross. And some day, once we are free of the constraints of human existence and the limitations of human understanding, it will all make sense: there will be a happy ending - or more truly, a happy beginning with God for all eternity. The cross is our promise of that from God; it is our answer to the problem of suffering and evil in the world; it is our receipt for God’s love.
We all have our own personal cross to carry, maybe more than one. Let us continue to do so with courage and faith, like my friend Tom, at peace in the knowledge that God is always with us at the center of our cross, holding our hand, loving us, leading us safely home.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:
Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life
Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry