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Facing that Cross

First Reading: Acts 20:17-27
And from Mile’tus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 68:10-11, 20-21
Rain in abundance, O God, thou didst shed abroad; thou didst restore thy heritage as it languished; thy flock found a dwelling in it; in thy goodness, O God, thou didst provide for the needy. Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation; and to GOD, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

Gospel: John 17:1-11
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made. “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

ESV

2015-May19

Can I be honest?

My heart is a craven, shriveled thing.

I read these words of Saint Paul and I like to imagine that I would say the same thing in his position, if I were him—but can I be honest? I’m not sure, entirely, that I wouldn’t cut and run. (Have mercy, Lord, even now as I write this, for I am both sore afraid of denying you, and petrified of facing the choice to do so.)

My husband was diagnosed with cancer six months after we were married. I will never forget the moment that he told me they needed to biopsy a growth they found in his lung—one of several.

We were sitting in my brother’s tiny apartment, alone, on a bright blue couch in the fading afternoon light. I leaned my head against his chest, that chest which I suddenly realized held inside it cells gone completely mad—and those cells, tiny and instinctive and completely out of my control, might completely brutalize our happiness.

I shed one single tear.

I remember that I couldn’t believe there weren’t more. But that one tiny droplet of streaking saltwater said a lot. It said, “I don’t want you to have to face this.” It said, “Thy will be done. Maybe. Yes. No. Dear God no.”  It said, “If only I may finish my course.” (It didn’t, but if it had recalled this Scripture, it would have.)

From the moment he first told me there were cells going mad inside his barrel chest, I started to melt into the cross in an entirely new way. I wasn’t the sick one, I know—but oh, the idea of losing him, the man I had fought through so many things to love, the man I had only just wed myself to—it was a sickness, too.

I wasn’t prepared for it. And I didn’t want to feel it, but I had no choice.

My husband had the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick before his biopsy. He told me about it, and I felt as though he had been to the holy of holies and come back alive. He said he felt more united to the cross than he ever had. My heart shouted NO. Don’t say that. (Forgive me, Lord)

My husband’s steady, calm acceptance of this illness reminds me of both Paul and Christ—he did not display resignation, as though there were no hope, but he remained still in the face of death. It was like watching a miracle take place. My husband’s body underwent immense strain—burning, destructive drugs administered intravenously by a nurse practically wearing a hazmat suit—the inevitable nausea and all that followed—the tiredness, the tiredness.

People offered to pray with him that God would miraculously take the sickness away. He politely and graciously explained that he believed he was meant to walk through the sickness—that he was to take up his cross, this cross of cells gone mad and a body turning against itself, and follow the Lord. His illness was not just about him.

Saint Paul may have been talking about his persecutors inevitably catching up with him as he traversed the known world speaking Gospel truth, but my husband faced the very same choice as Paul did—and he chose the very same.

He crawled up onto the cross with Christ and stretched his arms out and breathed, ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.’ It will forever be one of my greatest privileges that I got to witness that and be instructed by it.

Thy will be done, thy will be done, thy will be done. I shall repeat it on loop until it is both my song and my shield. Thy will be done. Yes. Yes, Lord.

(It would be good to tell you that my husband has been cancer-free for nearly three years. God be praised. God’s will be done.)

Pray the Lord’s prayer slowly and intentionally today. Lift up those very things in your life which you fear the most and say, Thy will be done.

photo credit by Laura Jensen

Audrey Assad is a wife, mother and musician. You can find out more about her here.

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