Last spring, I received a text from a dear niece requesting prayers for a good friend who had a few months previously been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Two weeks ago, this young lady died. She was 23. A last Facebook post, presumably written by her family, states: “I’ve been battling cancer for over a year now, it was one mighty battle and I went further than any of my doctors believed possible but sadly this battle ended yesterday morning! I want to thank all who supported me in my fight as well as anyone who’s helped me to be the person I was. I am no longer in pain and can now rest in peace.”
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes to the Philippians. How do we find peace in such challenging circumstances?
While here it is Paul who writes about praying, prayer is a major theme of Luke’s Gospel. I did as Dominique asked;
I know she prayed also. Certainly, Stephy’s Roman Catholic parents were praying, as parents always do for their children. And yet none of these prayers were answered in the way we had hoped. Still we are told that the “peace of God” will come to us. And in her post, young Stephy says she “can now rest in peace.”
It is difficult to understand why this young lady, with a full life ahead of her, should have that life cut so tragically short. Luke tells us that persistence in prayer will pay off, but when our prayers seem to go unanswered by God, or we do not receive the answers we desire, how are we still able to find peace? Have faith? Believe? How are we, as we mark especially on this third Sunday of Advent, one traditionally known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, still able to live with joy?
Pope Francis says, “the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our grasp.” (EG #128) He says that “joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty … but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (EG#6) This certainty helped Stephy’s family make their statement, even in the midst of abject grief.
God loved Stephy as much as God loves her parents, her family, her friends. And God will bring peace and comfort to them, just as God has brought peace to Stephy after a hard-fought illness. This is the joy we are called to not only on Gaudette Sunday but every day, a joy born of the conviction that whatever we are living – grief, tragedy, angst, doubt, anger – we are always unconditionally loved.
Office of Faith Development, Archdiocese of Moncton