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Based on a reflection by Sister Romona Nowak, OP
Our journey of life can at times take us to a place of unbearable suffering where we would rather not go. As Jesus gently warns Peter, there will come a time when “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will put a rope around you and take you where you would rather not go” (Jn 21:18). Our Sister Romona shares with us her own reflection on suffering as she struggles with terminal cancer. She leans on Christ who is with her on this road. She writes:
I have been in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asked his Father for exactly what he felt and truly what he wanted, “Don’t let me suffer anymore.” Finally, he was able to say, “Not my will but your will be done.” Like Jesus, my tears have flowed. They express my fears, hurts, and longings. I learned that my suffering and my cross is my cancer, and the journey is my way of the cross. When the pain is so deep that I cannot even pray, I hold my rosary cross and in holding it I remember that Jesus is holding me. This is a blessed assurance of what is most important—remaining one with my God.
My struggles have been many: acceptance of my journey, review of my life with its sinfulness, grief in letting go of what I know, etc. Cancer, and especially metastatic cancer, has left me feeling out of control of my life; a basic human need. I am incredibly vulnerable, dependent, and so often confused. I sought another medical opinion just to verify my untreatable condition. A sobering thought to hear, “no treatment will change the course of the cancer.”
I needed friends that would help me think through my thoughts and get the feelings out. I believe it must be nearly impossible to go through cancer alone… I am blessed by many wonderful friends. You have affirmed me when I have been so hard on myself. You have been an incredible blessing that has not only helped me accept, but also stop the temptation for withdrawal that accompanies fear and anxiety. God’s action is amazing through you.
Just like most of humanity we strive for perfection. My failings, faults, and mistakes in mind and action (i.e., being overly critical, judging others, pride, etc.) make me aware of the constant need for forgiveness... Discouragement comes. Faith helps me find peace. When I turn my weakness and my whole life to God, sometimes in a mantra of just the name of “Jesus”, or scripture, or a short “Have mercy on me” I experience a calming. Other times the fear of death overwhelms me. I’m too sinful to be welcomed by God. Then someone reminds me that God didn’t ask us to be perfect, just to trust in him. “Jesus, I trust in you.” Please hold me in your prayer, because the battle with these temptations, especially self-forgiveness will continue because of my humanness.
I am still alive. This length of days is for God’s mission. Although I will not be physically cured, hopefully, this journey will enable spiritual healing. The cross doesn’t get lighter nor the suffering easier, but I can embrace the journey with your companionship in presence and prayer until I am one with my Beloved—in the great surrender.
What has been your experience of religious faith in hard times?
Sister Romona’s reflection was informed by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, The Gift of Peace, Michael Paul Gallagher, Into Extra Time and Jim Willig, Lessons from the School of Suffering.
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