Tuesday, October 20, 2015

OK, I'll Do It

I'm damned near close to living on borrowed time.  We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of when my original tumour was discovered.  Statistics for mesothelioma indicate that if I should make it the full year, I won't be around a whole lot longer.  Statistics be damned!  Let's just live it out and see what happens.

Here's what happened about three months into the cancer journey, last spring.

Knowing I had an abdominal tumour,  I went for a CT scan and a follow-up appointment with an oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. We learned that the mesothelioma had spread and set up new encampment in my lungs and lymph nodes.  It was a major setback for us.

For three months I had shown fortitude living with my life-threatening cancer in the abdomen, did I have it for a deadly disease now spreading in my lungs (that explained the cough) and in my lymph nodes?  It was a dismal diagnosis.

And it was one week away from Holy Week.  Lent was winding down, a Lent lived more vividly this year than ever before.  I had spent the last six weeks joining my life and death to Christ's.  I was focused, very deliberately asking for Jesus to accompany me as I do my best to emulate him in the pain, suffering, loneliness, and betrayal he endured, in the faith, confidence and almost super-human strength with which he lived.

In an absolute daze, I stood up to shake the hand of my oncologist and her student nurse, who were clearly anxious to be done with me.  Claire hugged me, tears in her eyes.  Everything was in slow-motion, crystal clear and yet weirdly surreal.

And I heard the words come out of my mouth in a conversation that I didn't realize I'd been silently having with God until that very moment.

"OK. I'll do it."  Where'd that come from?  It didn't matter, it was true;  I would do it.  I will live with this development with the same faith and hope that I had been showing so far.  (Later I asked Claire if she heard me speak; I know I distinctly heard me say it.  She hadn't.  It was truly a holy and private moment between me and God.  It was the moment I regained my direction after a slight misstep.)

"OK, I'll do it," like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday, when he asked if God might consider lifting the death sentence he was about to receive, knowing He wouldn't.  "Thy will be done,"  I had been repeating endlessly for the last three months.  But things just got different.  Things were surreal at the very same time as being very real indeed.

"OK. I'll do it," as chemo was proposed as a way to control, not cure, they disease.  "OK. I'll do it," as my morning routine, or a walk around the block with the dog, becomes impossible without being connected to an oxygen tank.  "OK. I'll do it," as I admit that my wife and kids have extra responsibilities that used to be all mine.  "OK. I'll do it," as I have to decline most guests and visitors because my health is so

"OK. I'll do it," but you're going to be there, too.  Right?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Is Everything Under Control?

My old friend Deacon Ray died last week.  He was old.  I'm sure when I'm that old (if I'm ever that
old), I won't think I'm old.  He was 88.  I actually think that's pretty young.

Ray used to see me in different places, like funeral homes and hospitals and clergy days and always greeted me by asking "is everything under control?"  I loved seeing him coming because I knew that would be his first question.  Things almost always seemed a little more under control right after he would show up and ask that simple question.

Keep an eye on me, sir.  Keep and eye out for me.  God bless you.  Everything's pretty much under control.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Catholic Schools in Ontario

There is a  creeping anti-Catholicism is changing the landscape of our society. Just this weekend an editorial in the local paper suggested that the Catholic school system was resisting the inevitable end of separate schools and that we must stop insisting that Catholic values, practices and religion classes be upheld in our schools.  Imagine that - students in a Catholic school attending religion classes!

My own feeling when people suggest we should "get with the times" and get rid of all things Catholic is that if the day comes when the only thing that differentiates us is the cross on the wall or the Saint’s name over the door, the public outcry should be loudest, not when we practice our faith in our schools,

Oh sure, people throw that old “publicly funded” argument to suggest we should abandon all Catholic practices.  Tax money goes to support you - therefore you must accept societal norms, they suggest.  I say that they should scream the loudest, we should scream the loudest if we ever do – why then would we need two very separate school systems if one wasn’t decidedly, unabashedly and sometimes uncomfortably Catholic?

That’s worth paying for.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Letter to My Fellow Christian Men

My brothers in Christ,

Being men of the world, we are often buffeted by the prevailing winds, both good and bad.  As Peter and the disciples were, we can find ourselves alone in a boat, in the dark, in turmoil and sometimes in fear.  There are times when we may forget that Christ is as close as reaching out through prayer, personal reflection, the Mass and scriptural reading.

We must never forget that we are followers of Christ first, and members of his church.  When we are torn this way and that, by requests for charity or the winds of societal change, we do well to step back from the cares of the world for just a moment and ask ourselves, "where is Christ in all of this?"

A simple rule for me and many others is to give to Catholic charities first, and if not exclusively, then preferably.  Did you know that the current ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is raising money towards a cause that uses embryonic stem cell research?  That isn't OK with us as Catholic men, though many of us know people who have been affected by this disease.  These are the storms of conscience in which we find ourselves as men of good faith. 

God be with you gentlemen.  Take a few moments from your day and spend it with Christ.  The decisions may not come any easier, but the peace of a calmed and well formed conscience will.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Trudeau to St. Thomas More: "No Thanks"

This Friday past was the anniversary of the date that St. Thomas More stood up to King Henry VIII.  It was in 1532 on May 16 that Thomas More was removed from government and imprisoned because he could not support Henry VIII's break with the Catholic church.  Thomas More could not just put his religion on the shelf as if it was something to be observed only on a Sunday, as if the lessons of the Gospels did not govern his everyday life and decision making, as if “the way, the truth and the life” doesn’t apply when running for political office.

Saint Thomas More was falsely accused of treason and with his head on the chopping block, his final words were that he was "the king's good servant, but God's first."[

If a Catholic was running for the Federal Liberal Party in Canada today we would have to first publicly renounce our faith, in the same way Thomas More was told to in 1563.   He didn’t.  Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has said that any person who does not support a pro-choice party position cannot be a candidate under the Liberal banner.  And Thomas Mulcair has said the same thing about the NDP.

I couldn’t do that.  Saint Thomas More, the patron saint of politicians, could not qualify not be a candidate in either party.  As Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto said to Mr. Trudeau in an open letter, Pope Francis himself would not be a suitable candidate for the Liberal Party. 

But this also means I can’t vote for the Liberal or NDP candidate in the next Federal election, not because of the local candidate’s position on the subject of the defense of life, the horses are already out of the stable on that one – abortion has been a fact of life in Canada since 1969 and the subject is not about to be reopened.  I can’t support a candidate who will have acquiesced to leaving matters of conscience outside of his political ambition.  In effect they will have agreed to put King before God.  

Let me be clear.  You, me, each of us have a conscience.  We are formed by our faith.  I am not telling anyone how to vote.  I am saying this.

The poor still cry for food.  Babies cry for life.  The sick and the elderly cry for dignity.   

At one time the people complained to the church and we heard them.  Acts 6:1-7 

Who’s listening now?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Another Last Goodbye

Nancy Reagan once described her husband's Alzheimer's as "the long goodbye."  One might say the same about watching a close friend beset with demons slowly drift away.  In the case of a someone I know, the demon was alcoholism.   The incubus was infidelity.  The devil was the other woman.  Shattered lives the legacy.

I'm writing this on the day we learned that another famous actor has succumbed to his substance abuse problem.  I'm not thinking about Hoffman, though.  I'm thinking of a good friend.

I'm no expert on the subject but I have had a front row seat to the damage alcoholism has done to families and friendships.  I've watched families lose their homes, marriages split up, and the final friendship end.  So many of us swear we'll stick by until the end, not really understanding what that means.

This I know.  It means a friendship and a love that will never be returned.  It means hopes dashed.  It means first empathy, then disbelief, anger, sorrow and an empty hole that can't be filled.  It means "what if?" will be a constant companion whenever we think of a friend and brother.

Two of the most brilliant men I have ever known have wasted it all - everything - at the business side of the bar; incalculable loss of productivity, of contributions to society, of success that never happened.

It means "what could have been" will never be.  Maybe hope will win out.  God knows daily prayers haven't, at least not in the way we want.  But in this, and in all things, thy will be done Lord.

And so, goodbye old friend. You live, you die, it was always your call.  We all have the choice.

You don't have to be dead to be mourned.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Follow Me. No, Really

It was no accident that Jesus turned to men who’d spent their lives in a boat and said “come ashore.”  Step onto this wet sand where I leave my footprints – the footprints of God left in the sand of our world, imagine!, step onto this shore and turn your back on all you have known and start a new way of life.  Follow me.

He didn’t ask them to stop being fishers.  Now they were fishers of people.
He doesn’t ask us to give up our careers and vocations.  If we are teachers, he will make us teachers of people, those in the medical field can be doctors and nurses of broken hearts, we can be craftsmen of damaged lives, counselors to the troubled, mothers, fathers, brother and sisters to each other.

All he asks is that we turn away from our former selves.  He asks us to do our best to be like him – loving, kind, and a servant to the other – rich or poor.  It seems so hard.  But he really asks only one thing of us and he says it quite clearly.

Come, follow me.