Fr. James Brent hosts a Dominican Friars’ video on suffering. YouTube screenshot

Charles Lewis: I’ll continue to pray and offer up my pain

By 
  • November 17, 2021

The month of a November has become a time of darkness and confusion for me.

As I’ve written before I have liver cancer. In September the third tumour popped up but this one is more problematic than the first two.

The first one was burnt off with electricity. I was told it would be a bit uncomfortable. A bit uncomfortable in doctor speak means painful.

The second was destroyed using radioactive seeds that were directed by a catheter right to the cancerous spot. Surprisingly comfortable.

This new one is not going to be as easy. And as I wait for the outcome, I feel like I’m fraying around the edges. If I’m lucky, it will be removed by surgery. However, if the new CT scan later this month shows cancer cells have invaded the liver’s blood vessels, then I’ll need chemotherapy.

Such great choices. Too bad it’s not a game show and there’s a Jeep Cherokee for participating.

I only learned about the chemo option a few weeks ago and now I wish I hadn’t.

The great thing about the Internet is it has a ton of information. The terrible thing about the Internet is it has a ton of information … especially about the side effects of chemotherapy.

The child inside of me keeps asking God: “Haven’t I suffered enough?” I’ve had a painful spinal condition going on 10 years. Shouldn’t that qualify me for a reprieve? Apparently not.

I think I’ve read every book and seen every video on suffering that the Catholic Church has produced. At times, I feel like I understand. We align ourselves to Christ’s suffering. The incarnation made our flesh holy, so suffering is in effect a holy act.

I watched a video by a Dominican priest, Fr. James Brent, on this subject called “Offer it Up.” It’s probably the clearest explanation I’ve heard about the idea of “giving it up.” You should really watch it. It’s amazing.

Then a week after watching it I forget what it said. It’s as if the reason I suffer becomes clear and then the fog moves in. Perhaps in a state of anxiety absorbing this kind of information is more difficult.

I try hard to be a faithful Catholic. I pray every day, I go to Mass, to the confessional and I volunteer. I read lots of books on Catholic spirituality.

I also realized that all the books, articles and videos on suffering always omit one crucial thing: That eventually you get sick of the whole thing. It gets old. You can barely stand to read about it anymore.

It feels like a couple who hate each other trying to work out their issues through therapy over a course of 10 years. At some point one partner might think: maybe this just isn’t working.

I spend a few days a week visiting the dying. What I marvel at is that their fears of death are completely altruistic. “What will my husband do without me? Will he get enough to eat? Will my wife be lonely? God let me suffer more to take away the suffering of my son.”

I’m in awe of these people. The deeper their suffering the stronger their faith becomes. They’re not angry at God but sometimes I think they should be.

Bishop Robert Barron, in a video on prayer, said that sometimes the most honest thing in a friendship is to get angry at the other person. Friends, whether with another person or with God, should be honest with each other. He’s not talking about hating God but loving Him and being angry.

God doesn’t make us sick but it’s hard not to wonder why He won’t swoop in and take it all away. It’s a mystery.

I’ve reached the point where I think I know that my future will see an end sooner than I hoped. It’s not for sure but it’s what has been on my mind after three liver cancer diagnosis.

I don’t want to be afraid or negative and yet these feelings have crept in. I’ll pray, as always, for peace of mind and courage. I’ll also pray that my attempts to offer it up are working, even on the days when I’m not sure what offering it up really means.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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