Anytime I visit a hospital or a sick person in their home, I always have a strong sense of appreciation. Not in a selfish way, but an awareness that with the gift of health all is possible, no matter what. I also have an appreciation for the courage and resilient determination of those who carry the cross of sickness, with acceptance, patience and endurance. I recently, had an inspirational encounter with a young man, terminally ill from cancer. His body was weakened and made frail by the constant chemotherapy and medication he was taking in an attempt to beat off those dreaded cancer cells growing within his tired body. He lay on his couch looking out onto his winter garden. He shared his sense of exhaustion and sadness that his fight to live was no longer possible. He knew that his time was short. I guess he had, during months previously, shed many tears and fears with his partner and parents, who were very attentive and loving to him in his final days.
I was overcome by his courage and ability to talk things out in an honest, frank and very genuine manner. As he looked out at a tree, now naked and bereft of its once-green foliage, we both noticed that already in early winter signs of the new spring were alive in the midst of winter darkness, with unseasonally early buds and daffodil shoots erupting from the winter soil. Some days later, I called to visit again and noticed he had deteriorated even further. Yet in an act of selflessness and courageous insight, he gave advice to me that I would like to share with you: “Paddy, enjoy every moment; life is too short; make use of your time”.
As the build-up to Christmas is in full swing, and the hectic pace of burden and expectation is felt by many, his advice is very sound. Yes, we can text or send cards to loved ones, expressing the season’s greetings, but do we have the generosity of spirit to share our real presence with them? We can run around shops and streets and yet forget to sit down with our family. Just to sit, listen and love. As we worry about tomorrow, we may forget and never experience what it is to live in the now.
There are many millionaires who would give it all away if they could enjoy a month of health. Ultimately, Christmas is a big challenge for us all. Its expectations attached to its material message can indeed overburden, when budgets remind us of the economic crisis that affects us hugely.
Christmas came early for me this year; on 4 November, I celebrated Mass in Bethlehem in ‘The Shepherds’ Fields’ – a poor and impoverished place, where the land was thirsty for water and nourishment.
Yet it was in these most vulnerable surroundings where God became one of us. In places of poverty and human burden, great things can be born again.
To appreciate the gift of God’s presence, perhaps we have to face at times impossible moments when we find answers and meaning difficult to understand. The advice from that young man, whoce who has since passed from this life, offered me a sense of appreciation.
We are part of something great. Life is indeed a gift; we have no time like this moment.