I have had a bad week of it. My quarterly CT scans for cancer recurrence are approaching again, and every time they bring fear and anger with them. I struggle to prepare myself for three futures simultaneously:
“Congratulations, still no cancer! See you in three months!”
“Hmm, there is something uncertain going on here. We need to run more tests.”
“I’m so sorry. You have relapsed.”
I do not get to choose which one of these three divergent roads I travel by. And that has made me furious, and weepy, and impatient, and persnickety, and even sick to my stomach with terror. I sleep poorly. I have nightmares. I eat my feelings. I throw pans in my kitchen, and talk a mile a minute, and cry at odd times. These are the days I’m most likely to tiptoe up to the question I have told myself I will not ask: “Why?” These are the days that my temper turns inward and I berate myself for lacking the virtues necessary to arm myself against such a challenge: Faith, hope, patience, prudence, gratitude, fortitude, humility, bravery, perseverance, satisfaction with my state in life … Basically I am woefully equipped for battle. And it shows.
Nevertheless, I put on my meager armor and turn to Confession and the Holy Mass to be my strength. Because no matter how weak and unprepared I am, He always come through. This weekend was no exception.
The Old Testament reading from last night’s Vigil Mass was taken from the book of Isaiah, chapter six. In it, the prophet receives a vision of the Lord and his angels in all their glory. He is overwhelmed and frightened by what is set before him. He cries out, “Woe is me! I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Oh, Isaiah, how I feel you, buddy.
The prophet knows he can’t handle what he is going through alone. He is woefully equipped, and he knows it, so he cries out honestly —“Woe is me! I am doomed!”
How does Heaven respond to this imperfect man, who is unclean and unsure of anything except his own sin?
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.’”
When we come to him weak and sinful and fearful, but honest, and conscious of our own inadequacy, he will always come through to provide us with the armor we need for battle. When we cry that we are doomed in the sacrament of Confession, he will remove our wickedness. Then he will send his angels to touch our lips with the white-hot brilliance and almost painful holiness of the Eucharist.
These gifts are graces in and of themselves. But they are also means to another end:
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?’
‘Here I am,’ I said; ‘send me.”
Send me, O Lord, down the path of good health, joyfully proclaiming your mercies for another three months.
Send me into the waiting room of uncertainty, resting in hope and witnessing in fear.
Send me to share your love from the operating room, the radiation machine, the chemo chair.
Send me wherever I can serve you best, wherever your people need you most.
Here I am, Lord.
I am weak, but I am ready.