At the close of June, the thoughts of those who live in North America turn to the long, languid days of summer and the welcome heat it brings with it. Yet, mine is distracted by a dark cloud, which has hovered over my consciousness since April when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
There is something about typing out and seeing those words on the screen – on paper – which make them more real. Saying them out loud is no different; it is “too real”. If it stays in my head and I shove it to a corner recess of my overly busy brain, perhaps it will not hurt as much. However, this is real, it bites, and it keeps that aforementioned dark cloud just at the edge of my awareness, present enough to cast a small but definite shadow.
Looking for a Light
As a child, I did not like being in the dark. It was partly why I loved having a bedside lamp, a much-appreciated Christmas present from my parents decades ago. Whenever I woke up from a bad dream then, I frantically felt around for the lamp’s chain, yanking on it for the light to come on. Until the light was on, I kept my eyelids tightly shut. I did not want to take a chance on seeing any of the monsters, which had haunted me in my sleep, by my side.
I never appreciated light as much as I did at those moments. With the light of the lamp brightening up the room just enough to soothe my fears, I was able to fall back to sleep while saying the guardian angel prayer on repeat.
When I found out about my dad’s cancer diagnosis, I felt as if a light had gone out inside of me. I felt cold. My automatic response was to start praying the Hail Mary over and over again. The words tumbled out of my mouth, almost without conscious thought. Until it happens to someone you love – someone close to you – cancer is like something, which affects other people, but never you. Where I felt the darkness creeping inside of me, I wanted there to be light.
Where There is Light and Shade
In art, all light and no shadow make for a very flat picture. I am no artist, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do appreciate drawings or photographs, which show a clear definition between the subject and the background. The presence of shadows and shading serves to give depth and increased perspective to the subject. The beauty of the artwork is not so much in one just element – whether it be light, colour, form or whatever else – but a combination of everything working together in union and harmony. In music, the silences contribute to the beauty of a song. In poetry and prose, punctuation gives pause and effect to the message being transmitted.
In life, as in art, light and shadow make for striking images and beautiful moments. It is not that I see the world through rose-coloured glasses either, for there is more to beauty and certainly life than pretty and happy situations. It would be unrealistic to hope for a life void of “bad things” – illness, mistakes, failure, death. Note this: I said it is unrealistic – because all of these things make up real life. I do not say it is abnormal. In fact, it is natural and normal not to want to suffer hardship, experience sadness and loss. It is very human.
What Makes the Light Brighter
Jesus – God made man –is the eternal Light, Which shines brighter for the dark moments of His suffering and humiliation, which He willingly and lovingly bore for the sake of our souls.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
During times of difficulty and trial, when the going seems tougher and we are at our weakest moments – these are the moments when we should turn to Jesus. We run to Him as if our lives depended on it, and many times it does.
The heart! From time to time, without your being able to help it, your all too human memory casts a crude, unhappy, “uncouth” shadow on your mind.
Go to the tabernacle immediately, at least in spirit, and you will return to light, happiness and Life. (St. Josemaria Escriva, “The Furrow”, Number 817)
This Light of the World is brighter and stronger than any sun could ever be. While the shadows may still be there, we are not alone in them. The world we live in is full of shadows, but we do not walk this earth on our own. Jesus is with us, always. With Him, the shadows do not cause us fear because He holds us close to Him.
There is Hope, Even in Cancer
In many ways, it is when we find ourselves in the cold of the shadows that our faith and hope come face-to-face with the reality of life itself. Life uncensored, unscripted and unplanned meets up with all the things I profess to believe – what do I have to show for it? When we pray the Our Father, we ask for God to give us today our daily bread. We need the strength God gives us to get through the day, the hour, the minute, the moment. We ask Him for forgiveness in the measure we forgive others, and to deliver us from evil.
We ask Him for all these things, which make up our own personal encounter with the world itself. This is our faith applied. This is our hope lived out. This is our love in practice. We need His help because the truth is we cannot do anything on our own. Left to our own devices, we are selfish, petty and weak.
St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, in his homily, Passionately Loving the World, wrote:
I assure you, my children, that when a Christian carries out with love the most insignificant everyday action, that action overflows with the transcendence of God. That is why I have told you so often, and hammered away at it, that the Christian vocation consists in making heroic verse out of the prose of each day. Heaven and earth seem to merge, my children, on the horizon. But where they really meet is in your hearts, when you sanctify your everyday lives…
Many things happen to us every single day. Much of what happens is pretty ho-hum, ordinary stuff. Some of it is life-changing and extraordinary. The significance of each moment, each encounter, each action is elevated from human to supernatural once we do it for love of our Father God. In Him, there is nothing insignificant or boring or unimportant. In Him, there is always hope, greater than anything life can throw at us, including cancer.
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)