Monday, January 18, 2016

A Full Church

Will my church be full or empty?
In my family it's not a matter of if you will get cancer, but where and when. All four of my grandparents and one of my uncles have tangled with (and lost to) cancer. I have already battled thyroid cancer and I am staring down a second biopsy for breast cancer in just a couple of weeks. I don't really want to talk about dying here, though that's an inescapable part of the conversation. I want to talk about the way we live.

I was very young when my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died when I was 7 so I don't remember many of the details of his illness. What I do remember is being at the funeral home the day of the funeral and all I could see were knees in dark dress pants. I actually got lost in the crowd of business suits thinking I was still standing next to my dad. Later that day, I remember exiting the limousine at St. Patrick Church and walking through a crowd of people standing all the way out to the sidewalk. I didn't realize what that meant as a small child.

It wasn't until my uncle died of cancer about 7 years ago and there was a similar traffic jam at the funeral home and the church that I realized that both of these men had made a tremendous impact on the community around them. The church was absolutely packed for both of their funerals and the crowds spilled out onto the sidewalks with people whose lives were touched in a very real way by these men. At my uncle's funeral, I heard story after story from people who he had cared for and whose lives were better for him being in it -not because it was him, but because God called him to serve the poor and the lonely, and he heeded that call.

When I think of these men, I think of the Just Man as described in  Psalm 112: 9 "Open-handed he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn shall be exalted in honor."

My brother is currently fighting cancer and right now he's fighting off pneumonia and a sinus infection, too. It's hard to watch him go through this. John has always been the one who was more active, more in shape, more driven, more generous, really - kind of more "everything". He is a great friend and a wonderful and supportive brother. To see him scrambled and gasping for breath was disturbing to say the least.

In my grief over my brother's illness, I have realized that John's church will be full. Over the years, he has served the community in many ways - inviting those without family around to share Thanksgiving with us; donating time, money and toys to struggling local families; working as a volunteer firefighter; giving of his substance to people when ever and where ever they needed him. He, like his grandfather and uncle before him, has made an impact on his community, and, God willing, will continue to have an impact for years to come.

I want my church to be full when I die, too -not because I am so awesome (I am not), not because I am ready to die (again, I am not) -but because I am ready to live. I am ready for God to use me to really make a difference in people's lives. I am not so sure that my life right now is one that inspires a full church at my funeral, but I hope that I can live up to that charge. Just like the cancer, it seems to be a family tradition.

Photo Attribution: St. Patrick Church, Columbus, OH by Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

  1. Will pray for your brother at Mass today. And I won't forget you, too.