My mom’s cancer was, in a certain sense, one of the best things that ever happened to her. I know, that sounds horrible, but bear with me here. She suffered with cancer from 1993 – 2010. Prior to her struggle, she was a Sunday Catholic, attending Mass every week and raising her boys with a sense of the Catholic faith. But she wasn’t very spiritual. She didn’t strive to live by the teachings of the Church and she didn’t seem to have a deep prayer life, except for the occasional attempts to pray together as a family. She was a good woman, though, a woman who truly sacrificed every single moment of her life for her family. She taught me the meaning of love through her every action.
As she struggled with cancer, a particularly painful kind called osteosarcoma (bone cancer), she was slowly transformed from a Sunday Catholic into a saint.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “The world is one long, slow defeat, with only faint hints of future victory.” And it certainly seems that way, doesn’t it? A simple look back through history and we quickly realize that the world seems to sink further and further in sin and destruction. Rather than advance into utopian futures, we use our ingenuity and capacity to create to make more and more effective methods of waging war and death.
Looking into the history of the Church is not much different. Each time the Church seems to flourish and thrive, it is ultimately consumed with corruption or beaten down into triviality, just look at what has become of “Christian America”. And when we look into our own lives we see much the same thing. Time and again I seem to be making progress in my spiritual life only to slip and fall back twice as far, or if I’m lucky, back to where I started. And there are many reasons (excuses) for this: the busyness of life, fear of failure, exhaustion, sinful habits, laziness, pride, etc., etc., etc.
I know, I’m really encouraging you here, aren’t I? But this is important to point out, because it puts the hidden truth into greater clarity. This long, slow defeat we experience ultimately becomes a victory. As Gandalf says in The Lord of the Rings, “There was never really very much hope. Only a fool’s hope.” So let us be fools for Christ. (1 Cor. 1:22-31)
As we peer through the wounds of Christ—his defeat—at the history of the world, of the Church, and of our own lives, we discover a tremendous victory and a trustworthy hope. We discover the grace of God—meek, humble, unassuming, and indomitable. All we need do is look at the Cross and the broken, beaten, bruised and bloodied body of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Read to the end of the next paragraph and then go spend time actually gazing upon a Crucifix (not an empty Cross, lest we forget exactly what our life has cost – Jar’s of Clay).
Contemplate the contradictory images of defeat and victory found therein. Don’t come back to this article until you’ve spent at least five minutes contemplating this. Here are some Scripture passages to help you:
– Mark 15:31 “He saved others, he cannot save himself.”
– Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
– Mark 15:32 “Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.”
– Luke 23:34 “Amen, I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.”
– Mark 15:34 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
– Rev 21:5 “See, I make all things new.”
Why are you still reading? I’m not kidding. STOP, go, turn off your computer, find a Crucifix (you shouldn’t ever be more than an arm’s reach away from one) and stare at it. Ponder the contradiction of the Cross. I’M NOT KIDDING… GO!!
Welcome back, friend. What did God reveal to you in your time of prayer? For me, I found hope through letting go, victory through obedience, patient love in the face of injustice and indignity, and strength hidden in and revealed through suffering.
At the end of this post I want you to return to prayer and contemplate your own life: where you have been defeated, ground down, hopeless or broken. Where in these moments was God’s grace? Where are your victories? You see, there’s no such thing as victory without struggle because without struggle, success is just a hand out. Be careful here, though. I’m not asking you to go and pat yourself on the back. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing except your sin is truly your own. As St. Augustine said, “All is grace.” But we should spend time noting in our lives where we’ve cooperated with God’s grace and found victory in the midst of our defeat!
In your prayer time, think about those moments you overcame adversity, persevered through suffering, and when you sacrificed your own desires and pleasure for the sake of another. And then thank God for those moments. Carry those moments with you throughout the rest of the day and through tomorrow. With a thankful heart raise your hands up to your Savior and rejoice in his victory on the Cross!! Because I guarantee that he will be thinking of and hoping for you.