The reflection originally ran in Salute, the magazine of the Military Archdiocese, and was reprinted this week in The Evangelist, the weekly newspaper of the Albany Diocese. It seems fitting as we head toward Memorial Day to hear Bishop Estabrook's message, and reflect on his words: "Faith and fear can't live in the same space."
An excerpt from The Evangelist:
It is quite interesting to me that immediately after the diagnosis at Bethesda Navy Medical Center, I found myself stopping at the Newman bookstore near Catholic University and staring into a picture of the face of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on the cover of his book, "The Gift of Peace: Personal Reflections, 1997."
As I paged through the first few chapters, I was amazed to read how all of his experiences at the onset of his diagnosis of the same disease were exactly parallel with my own. I have since read his book many times and he has been my constant companion from that moment until now.
This leads to my first insight: None of us, especially those of us who are disciples of the Lord, enter into this final part of our journey alone. One may feel isolated at times but, if anything, the intensity of the Christian community becomes almost overwhelming.
It starts with the powerful presence of the Lord Himself when, in the flash of seconds, your future is laid before you. You can actually feel the Lord take your hand and hear Him say the words, "Do not be afraid."
...The second insight: This new kind of powerful presence of the Lord helps you become aware of and understand that you yourself become a presence to others in similar situations. Opportunities to share the essence of who we are and what we believe become prominent.
The night after my biopsy at Bethesda, one of the young doctors lingered behind. He kept staring at me while I, not knowing what else to do, smiled back and tried to eat my pudding and keep it down at the same time.
I eventually asked him, "What's up?" And he asked how I could take the news they had just delivered and remain so positive. I paused thoughtfully, thinking that possibly I was just in a state of denial - but then, dismissing that, I looked at him and replied with what I knew in my heart was the true answer, then and now.
"Faith and fear can't live in the same space," I said to him. "It's eventually got to be one or the other. The Lord has put me here and it's up to me to go where He wants in the way He wants."
He said, "How do you do that?" And I told him the story of the disciples meeting Jesus in John 1:39 and repeated the answer of Jesus: "Come and see."
...We must embrace the sufferings of the moment and the fears as they come to us, but, at the end of the day, we must let joy be the victor (or consolation, as Paul refers to it) that Christ alone can give to us.
Ultimately, we must do what God wants us to do.
In all these months at MD Anderson, I've met people with some unbelievable challenges, and the question most of them have is the same as the young doctor's: "How do you do that?"
The answer is the same, and Cardinal Bernardin attests to it in his book. It's especially persuasive coming from another cancer patient: "Come and see."
How one lives one's faith within the inescapable realities in which you are called to live can have a powerful effect on others and help them on their journey as well.
A final thought: A 19-year-old Marine ran up to me suddenly one day and, grabbing me square by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and, full of fright, said, "Father, I'm not a very good Catholic, and I don't want to get out of my responsibilities, but I'm leaving for Iraq tomorrow. I'm scared and I know I've let God down in so many ways - but please, Father, will you pray for me, please?"
"Every day," I said to him, "I will."
At the end of the news every night, they scroll down the names of our military who were killed that day. Most always, they are in their 20s. It's a spine-chilling moment of silence.
With all the great gifts God has given to me in my life - almost too embarrassing in His generosity to mention - among the greatest gift has been the honor to serve these young men and women of our military. How pathetic would it be for any among us to feel any remorse at all over the conditions and challenges handed to us after witnessing what they have been called to do and how courageously most of them have done it.
Rather, these men and women, besides my faith, are my inspiration and ongoing strength. Let them be yours as well.
Read the full essay HERE.