My friend Scott has brain cancer. He and his wife have three young sons–ages 11, 9 and 5. We grew up together in a small rural community with 35 kids in our graduating class. Our dads graduated together from the same school 23 years before us. We went to the same Catholic college (even though he was a Lutheran). He has no sisters and I have no brothers. We have filled that role for one another for the past 35 years.
Scott’s diagnosis with stage III aeplastic astrocytoma has shaken our whole group to the core. Now our bi-monthly happy hour contains less beer and more Q & A time. “What did the MRI show? How are the boys doing in school? Are you going to try to keep working during chemo and radiation? What can we do to help?” Life expectancy, life insurance, health insurance, pathology, oncology, radiology, child psychology, steroids, vaccines, surgeries, gas prices, mortgages—the list of concerns grows.
I asked Scott (a devout convert to Catholicism), “Are you ever mad at God about this diagnosis? Are you questioning your faith? Has your faith wavered?”
Without hesitation, Scott said, “No. When I was unemployed so long, I didn’t understand why. I asked God every day why this was part of the plan. I didn’t necessarily like it, but I always believed it was for a reason. As soon as our little guy started kindergarten, I got another job. After my cancer prognosis, I understand that being home with my boys for two years during their formative years was a gift. I may not have seen it then, but I do now.” That is faith.
“A lot of bad things happen, but I don’t get angry with God,” Pete chimed in. He’s a cradle Catholic. “I try to look at it from different angles to see what part of the plan I am missing.” That is faith.
I was both impressed and amazed. Is their faith because they have children and I don’t? Is that where one learns that kind of trust and patience? “Well, I hate to admit it, but sometimes I question,” I said. “I take great comfort in my faith. It is the one thing that gets me through everything else life dishes out, but I question.” As we talked, I recognized that most of my spiritual frustration is with the Church, not God. Sometimes it is rooted in my parish.
Pete didn’t agree. “I love being Catholic,” he said, “Our kids growing up with the sacraments is important to me. I think of Mass as both traditional and reflective. It’s a time to look back on the week”
Scott was nodding his head in agreement as Pete continued.
However, Peggy (a cradle Catholic) doesn’t agree with her husband. “I come to Church to be motivated, to be energized, to grow,” she says.
She is unhappy with her parish. I’ve suggested a few others, but she thinks they would offer more of the same. She may leave the Church.
“Sherry and I have the same issue,” Scott admitted. “We both have strong faith. We both believe in the sacraments and raising our kids with Catholic Social Teaching. However, she doesn’t just want to reflect every week. A lot of our weeks are tough right now and with my cancer, she wants to be inspired. I take comfort in the tradition and routine, but she feels called to more. There is no way she will leave the Church, but it bothers me that she isn’t getting her needs met either.”
I agree with Peggy and Sherry. I love the comfort that comes with tradition. I love living out our call to be Christ to one another. However, I want to be challenged–not just by life and a cancer diagnoses but by my parish community. Catholic Social Teaching is a call to action for me, not just a topic of discussion or reflection. Are the men right and the women wrong? Does a parish have to cater to one group or another? Can a parish realistically serve the needs and expectations of both men and women to say nothing of other groups with different expectations?
How unique is my 40-something group? Are we the only ones with tensions about Church running through our marriages and friendships?