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Getting over speed bumps to live the faith

  • August 17, 2022

On my way to becoming a Catholic I kept hitting speed bumps. There were certain things the Church taught that I could not get my head around.

But as my love for the faith grew, I decided to bow down before the collective wisdom of the Church Fathers, the saints, myriad popes and theologians. They knew far more than I ever would and for once in my life I buried my ego in humility.

However, one teaching I continued to struggle with. It was the idea that God could bring good out of evil. What good could come out of what seemed to me pointless pain and suffering. I rankled when I read about some awful situation in which a prominent Catholic would tell us to rest assured that whatever tragedy had just occurred God would extract good out of it.

I just couldn’t see it. The means to that good seemed so awful. But I decided not to obsess and simply rack it up to a mystery and put it aside.

The other day, I was having lunch with a young friend of mine, a priest who has been studying in Rome but was back in Toronto for a spell. We spoke about many things and then I brought up the difficulty I had with the idea of good coming out of evil. That’s when it hit me.

And it was personal for me. I’ve written about my chronic spinal pain, 11 years and counting, and then getting cancer a few years ago. (Thanks be to God I’m now in remission). I can honestly say I understand physical suffering. But I wasn’t sure what was good about it.

I had an extreme case of spinal stenosis. It’s a condition in which the spine narrows and squeezes all the nerves. Think of a dentist drilling without first administering novocaine … and then multiply that pain by 100. I was in so much pain I could barely function. The morphine I took to control the pain caused me to hallucinate. Sleep was impossible. It was a complete mess.

There was something else. I had always identified with being a newspaper journalist. It was who I was for many years. I knew that had likely come to an end. Suddenly I was no longer sure who I really was. That was frightening.

After a while I learned to accept my situation. After all, what choice is there?

I decided that this was a chance to read all those books I never had time for when I was working…that it was an opportunity to really plunge into my faith. I had a great collection of books on the faith, everything from St. Augustine’s Confessions to the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila to Pope Benedict’s Introduction to Christianity. I began to read… and read and read.

I bought CDs that were lessons on Church history, moral theology and understanding St. Thomas Aquinas. I even found some CDs on the Trinity.

I was soaking in Catholicism. The more I read the happier I became. Then I began auditing courses through St. Augustine’s Seminary. That was a real gift. The great professors and my fellow students, almost all seminarians, really helped to clarify my thinking. It was also a chance to ask questions that books didn’t always answer.

Eventually I also began to think about what it means to be a Catholic every waking hour. How should I live my life of faith? I’ve always loved the Epistle of James in which he wrote “faith without works is dead.”

I took that to heart. I decided I could do things to promote the teachings of our faith. I began to write for The Catholic Register and the National Catholic Register in the U.S. I started doing lectures aimed at battling the legalization of euthanasia. Then I began volunteering at a palliative ward, ministering to Catholics in their last days.

Suffering made me feel great empathy for others who were suffering. God had in fact extracted something very good out of what I thought was a disaster.

I won’t lie. I miss travelling, hiking, cycling and a host of other activities.

I sometimes ask myself: If I could, go back in time and somehow ensure that my spine stayed healthy and the cancer never came, would I do it? I used to think the answer was obvious. Now I’m not so sure.

(Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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