Fr. Anthony Nguyen with the core Prayer Group
at St. Charles Parish in Gold Beach, Oregon
WITNESS TO THE DIVINE
(Oregon, USA, April 29, 2016) – For the third consecutive year, Fr. Luan Nguyen invited me to celebrate the Triduum and Divine Mercy Sunday at two parishes he serves as pastor in Oregon – Star of the Sea in Brookings and St. Charles in Gold Beach. The drive from Berkeley takes more than seven hours, but memories of the West Coast scenery and the beautiful weather proved irresistible yet again.
Driving up the West Coast, I was caught up in awe and wonder just looking at the scenery: magnificent views of the ever-changing ocean, rugged boulders strewn along the shore, and ancient majestic Redwoods reaching toward the heavens. I felt immersed in God’s loving presence just being in this beautiful natural paradise, but my soul wasn’t profoundly touched until I witnessed the Divine in three people stricken with terminal cancer – Sarah, Helen and Jerry – and the generosity of the St. Charles Parish community.
Diagnosed with liver cancer, the medical professionals told Sarah that her life journey will come to an end early in May. Helen, a devout and prayerful elderly Christian, suffers from colon cancer but strives to maintain her dignity and live independently. Jerry is a gentle soul battling a fierce case of lung cancer. Their words of wisdom and unique ways of dealing with terminal illness offer insight about how to accept physical suffering in a more courageous and spiritual manner, and how to live each moment in the presence of God.
Sarah lives courageously, although she suffers severe pain and is losing her strength and energy. “At this stage of my life, God is allowing me to use the rest of my time on earth to glorify Him in my suffering and daily struggles,” she said. “When I was told that I won’t live very long, I gave most of my belongings to those who are in need. Now I live a very simple life.”
She begins each of her remaining days with prayer. “I invite God to be with me, to be my companion, for another day here on earth. Whenever I encounter pain, fear or loneliness, I try to offer them as another form of prayer and unite my struggles with the suffering and passion of Christ. And when my friends and the other parishioners show me concern, care and love, I never forget to thank them for showing me the face of Our Good Shepherd,” she said.
Grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the Triduum and Easter liturgies once again this year, she said that she appreciated hearing the messages of “Peace” and “Be Not Afraid” because they lifted her spirit. “I’m ready to meet our Heavenly Father in the house that Jesus has already prepared for me. I am so glad to be a daughter of God,” she said.
Sarah lives a wonderfully spiritual Christian life, and exemplifies one of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. Incidentally, Sarah converted to Catholicism and I baptized her at the Easter Vigil a year ago.
Helen is a devout retired woman with a reputation for prayerfulness within the entire parish community. She spends many hours in private prayer, and after morning Mass the church becomes like her own private chapel where she often goes to meet God.
Medication no longer eases her pain, so she considers every day that she is able to be in church to pray a very special blessing. “It doesn’t matter if it is raining or sunny, being in God’s house is my joy,” she said. When other parishioners realized that Helen is living in constant pain, they enveloped her in love and now take her to church, make sure that she keeps her medical appointments, and help with her shopping. These generous people are the very definition of true disciples of Christ.
For decades, Jerry was known as a great sacristan and member of the parish council. During the Triduum, I was surprised to learn that lung cancer now limits his participation in many parish activities. Quiet and unassuming, Jerry is universally loved. He was mentioned by name during the Prayer of the Faithful at every daily Mass, and he became teary-eyed each time he heard his name mentioned.
“It is wonderful to have someone pray for you in the house of God,” he said. “I hope that every victim of cancer is always remembered in prayer every day.” Jerry reminds me that being a good shepherd is not only looking for lost sheep. Remembering the weak and the vulnerable during every liturgical celebration is at the core of our Redemptorist charism. I ask a huge favor of my confreres: Please remember the victims of cancer in your daily prayers, and ask that they be granted the blessings of peace, hope and healing. A million thanks!