Mass for Cancer Care – Ennis Cathedral – Sunday January 21st, 2018
We gather today to celebrate Mass and pray for the work of the Irish Cancer Society in all the great work that they do,
The support services they provide, the counseling, the Advocacy, Prevention, Research, Fundraising and all sorts of great work for people with a diagnosis of cancer.
We support them with our prayers and presence on this occasion and always.
We pray for people with a diagnosis of cancer, their families, friends, carers, doctors, nurses and all who assist to bring about healing, quality of life and assist the transition to the next life if that arises.
Categorization of Life
A famous entertainer once categorised the 7 ages of the Human Being as follows: Pre-schooler, pepsi generation, baby boomer, mid-lifer, empty nester, senior citizen and organ donor! As we gather to celebrate the Mass for the Irish Cancer society this categorisation reminds us all of our the transcience of life, of our the gradual progression towards our own mortality. In the mean time we exist and live and get on with the business of being human. Some of that time will be happiness, contentment and celebration. Some also, unfortunately too will be suffering, misery and pain.
Life really is so short. In the depths of Winter these harsh and cold January days we can hardly imagine that in about three months time the countryside will be awash with Cherry Blossoms. Cherry blossoms are and interesting tree in that the bloom vibrantly for a short time and the beautiful flowers disappear in the wind literally overnight. In Japan they are regarded as an important philosophical symbol of the shortness of life. So too with ourselves, we are literally here today and gone tomorrow in the overall scheme of things.
The preacher in the Papal Household Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa is hugely popular and renowned not only for the office he holds, but also for his many spiritual books, CDs retreats and talks that he gives all over the world. He’s a tiny man with a typical Franciscan habit and beard and has a very interesting and easy to listen to Italian accent. In one of his books while meditating on the shortness of life he gives the reminder that once in Franciscan Friaries there used to be enormous pendulum clocks with the following chiseled, admonishing words ‘vulnerant omnes, ultima necant’. Each one hurts (he was referring to the passing of the hours of time)… the last one kills!
Shortness of Life
So in the mean time, with the passing of time – what do we do? Eat drink and merry as the phrase goes, for tomorrow we die?!!!
To paraphrase the great business man of American locomotion – Mr. Ford we continue to pay our taxes until eventually we exist no more in the eyes of this world. In between we are try to make sense out of the big question that used to be posed by Gay Byrne on a Sunday night – “What is the meaning of Life”?
While a fair share of our lives are indeed full of enjoyment and contentment – the opposite is so true as well. We all have to cope from time to time with the many challenges and difficulties that life can throw at us. Be that old age, sickness, suffering, addiction, abuse, bereavement, depression or a sadness of one kind or another.
So what ISthe meaning of life – that contains a mixed bag of the good, the bad, the joyful and sorrowful?
Shadowlands – C.S. Lewis
Listening to Lyric FM while travelling in the car is something I love. Hamilton Scores and Aideen Gormally’s Music and Musicals on a Saturday are two slots that I particularly enjoy. Aideen Gormally reminded us recently of the great film Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins. It’s a film based on the life of the renowned Christian writer C.S.Lewis. It gives an account in the early part of his life as a scholar and writer and then his delight and happiness at falling in love with a lady he eventually married, her Christian name being Joy. To his absoute horror Joy was diagnosed with cancer and his world was thrown up-side-down and into turmoil. His efforts to rationalise and cope with the tragedy led to the famous line of Lewis in the film – The Pain of nowis part of the Happiness of the past.
Happiness and Suffering – Part of one reality
The pain of now is part and parcel of the happiness of the past. The corollary or the opposite is also true. The happiness of now is part of the pain of the past. Suffering and happiness are two sides of the one coin. During Holy Week with the celebration of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are reminded of that very much.
Hope for healing as we gather for the Mass of the Sick
As we gather here today for the Mass of and for the sick and as we are about to celebrate the sacrament of healing – we seek some solace in the word of God and our faith in the message of Jesus Christ that offers us hope and healing of mind and body.
No Pain – No Gain
In some strange way pain, suffering, sickness and tragedy can sometimes bring us closer to God. Someone once said; It’s only when you have been in the deepest valley that you can know how magfinicent it is to be on the highest mountain.
When I think back on it, in my own life – it is in many ways the difficult and challenging times that have been most character building and almost certainly times that in some way led me closer to God.
Battling Lymphoma 1997
Strangely enough a personal brush with cancer 21 years ago, despite all its challenges and seriousness also became a time of growth in relationship with God. It was perhaps out of a sense of sheer and utter dependence and vulnerability that the this somehow happened. It happened as a result of letting go and letting God take over. Realising that He is in the driving seat and I am utterly dependent. This in some way leads to a sense of freedom, acceptance and even prayerful thankfulness. Without this precious gift of faith – I don’t think I would have pulled through that difficult time with such ease and acceptance.
So your probably wondering why I’m standing here telling you about all these things. I have been told time and time again by someone whose opinion I value and trust very much that a big ingredient of authentic preaching is self revelation or autobriography. Indicating how one copes with various aspects of life from a faith point of view.
The Purifying impact of faith
The great late Jesuit spiritual writer Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher in his book Faith Maps has a section on the purifying impact of faith through suffering. He reminds us of the prophet Amos who was a cutter of sycamores. The sycamore tree, it seems according to Amos, produces its best sap when one cuts into its bark. When your in the middle of enduring whatever cross you are carrying at a particular time – it may be difficult to see this particular woood for the trees, but our belief and faith teaches us it is true. I feel that is the case.
So what am I trying to say in a nutshell? No matter how heavy the cross we have to carry in life – it has meaning. It need not lead us into despair or dejection. Realising, being open to, befriending the grace of God though Jesus Christ can and will transform even the most difficult challenge that we face.
I’ll finish with a small anecdote – the night before the Connacht Minor Football final a few years ago the players on the team received a text from the Galway Minor Manager. The text said simply “winners make it happen, losers let it happen”. I think we are losers if we just let it happen – when suffering and harship becomes an impersonal battle that can take over and defeat us. However when we make it happen – when we embrace with faith the attitude and frame of mind of Jesus and cooperate with the Grace of God that is bigger than any cross laid on our shoulders, then we can achieve healing in body and spirit and that we can all become winners. We may not have the talent or wherewithall to win the All Ireland Cup, but we will be victorious courtesy of the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.