March 5, 2009
Belonging to a prayer group -firstname.lastname@example.org and reading the many prayer requests for people suffering illness, and for some the approach to death, it humbles me to witness, so to speak, the living out of these last hours by those who are ahead of us on this path, and the moments of grace that have come to them, I'm sure. We will all face this suffering sooner or later, but we can hope and pray the Lord's Grace will accompany us.
We are all aware of Padre Pio's sweet admonishment, "If you knew the value of suffering..." And I keep remembering the last words of the dying priest in Catholic writer Georges Bernanos' great story, The Diary of a Country Priest. A parish priest is on his way to give the dying priest the Last Rites, but won't get there in time. A friend who is watching over the dying priest voices regret that he will not receive "the final consolations of our Church." The dying priest, holding his rosary, is barely able to speak, but puts his hand over his friend's hand and utters the words, "Does it matter? Grace is everywhere..." He dies "just then..."
God is everywhere, and no matter the circumstance at our end, we can hope for His Grace....
And so I wanted to share a huge dose I came across on the website of a young man, Philip Johnson, a former officer in the Navy, who is entering a seminary. philipgerardjohnson.blogspot.com
After he finished his entrance procedure, he received a diagnosis of a brain tumor. He wrote in his blog:
"My first evening at the seminary, I received a phone call from my Neurosurgeon. He informed me that the biopsy results were worse than expected, and I have been diagnosed with a Grade 3 cancerous Astrocytoma. Brain tumors are given a Grade of 1 (slow-growing) through 4 (fast-growing) to judge how fast they grow...While the average prognosis for a Grade III Astrocytoma is 18-24 months, my young age increases my chances, and most importantly, so many people are praying for me."
In a later blog, he continues: "In early January 2009, I wrote a letter to Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, after reading his touching book, "A Priest Forever: The life of Fr. Eugene Hamilton." Fr.Hamilton was a seminarian suffering from cancer, and he was ordained a priest on his deathbed in 1997. I have drawn much inspiration from Fr. Hamilton's pursuit of the gift of the Holy Priesthood, and I wrote to Fr. Benedict to tell him my situation and to thank him for writing the book."
You can scroll down to Jan 26th, 2009, on Philip Johnson's website for Fr. Groeschel's most beautiful reply. Then young Philip wrote:
"Because the treatments are starting so soon, I have decided to take a trip from February 4-February 16 to visit Lourdes, Nevers, and Rome. Lourdes is the site of the Marian Apparition to St. Bernadette, and Nevers is the location of Saint Bernadette's convent, where her uncorrupt body rests behind glass."
Philip Johnson took so many wonderful pictures during his trip, which you can see if you visit his blog. You can also read the many responses and prayers he has received from priests, bishops and friends.
But here is the part that I think is so truly beautiful and which I wanted to share with all of you. Later, he posted:
"Ever since I received my 'poor prognosis,' there has been much discussion about miracles. Miracles happen all of the time, but only when it is the will of the Father. As I have commented before, it is not necessarily a blessing to live for many years. The biggest blessing we can receive is to die in the state of grace and spend eternity in heaven with God. Sometimes this happens early in our lives, but a 'good death' is a blessing no matter when it may occur.
"In the Rosary, we ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray for us now, and at the hour of our death. If I am to die soon, should I be sad that I have had so much time to repent and grow closer to God before facing Him for my judgment? I think not!"
Grace is everywhere. . . .
I know we will all offer prayers for Padre Pio's intercession for this young man to attain his priesthood andlive a life of serving the God he loves.