The Easter octave was full of family, friends, and travel, celebrating events and feasts with people I love. That has continued this past week, though it has definitely taken on a more thoughtful and reflective tone.
When I returned from my Spring Break travels on Divine Mercy Sunday, I received news that one of my close college friends' leukemia had returned for the third and "last" time. They are admitting him into hospice.
This is my friend Dan, whom I've mentioned on this blog various times since he was first diagnosed with ALL in 2009. You may have also read the blog that he and his wife Hanna have kept during their journey these 5 years:
Here's a pic from 2003 during our senior week at CUA
About 8 years later at our friends' 30th birthday in 2011:
And 3 years later- taken this weekend with some other CUA friends in Dan and his wife's apt.
This news has hit all of Dan's friends and family hard, but we have come together in the way that we know best- prayer.
The day following the news, my women's prayer group and I started a novena and also made plans to go to Adoration that week to pray for Dan. I also made plans to see and spend some time with him.
The two times that I was fortunate enough to spend with Dan this past week were truly blessed. I hadn't seen him since a fundraiser we had done in his honor a year or two prior as his health had been up and down since his bone marrow transplant in 2012. I wasn't sure what to expect, but he was in great spirits and we were able to make jokes and reminisce and tell each other that we love each other.
When at CUA, my friends and I attended weekly Praise and Worship Adoration which was held Wed nights in one of the chapels on campus. It had apparently been a dream of Dan's to have his wife Hanna experience this event. So my friends brought praise and worship Adoration to Dan and Hanna's apartment this Saturday:
My CUA friends came into town and we celebrated Mass in the apartment together...
These readings during the Easter season reflect the beauty and the mystery of the Paschal Mystery. Jesus has suffered and overcome death. The apostles are delighted but also deeply confused. I can say that I gain more and more insight into what the apostles experienced in those days as I continue my own journey with Jesus.
In that "upper room" on Saturday, we came to better understand what the apostles must have felt. Their friend was telling them that he was going to leave them. They begged Him to stay because they did not understand. But they trusted with faith that He would continue to lead and watch over them. This is the Paschal Mystery that I teach to my students- we all must suffer and die, but we rise and ascend and it is because Christ did so that we have the consolation and the hope to do so as well.
There have been times in my life where I doubted or even regretted the way I spent much of my 20s- devoting hours in prayer and service to the Church. There have been moments where I questioned if I was "doing it wrong" since the rest of the world put priority on partying, dating, money, and self-pursuits. This weekend, though, there was no question. I was SO glad for the foundation that my friends and I have been given and the choice we all made to devote ourselves and time to Christ and each other through prayer and service at a young age. In times of hardship like in this present time, we went immediately back to what we knew and what we did well- coming together in prayer.
I encouraged my students today at school to pursue their faith in some way in college. My experience this weekend was too powerful to not share and to not want that for young people today.
Dan and his wife left for PA today where he will do his hospice care. Please continue to pray for him, but as some of my friends have noted: we don't worry about Dan. He's going to be fine. It's the rest of us that we will need to worry about.
It was exactly like this with the apostles in the early Church after the Ascension (which that feast is coming up later this month). They were confused, afraid, but had the solace and the understanding of the teaching they were given by their Rabbi.
The first readings from Acts have been about the apostles enduring all kinds of suffering as they spread the Gospel message. In one of the passages, they are actually rejoicing because they are enduring suffering for Christ. I myself still struggle with this. But then I see someone like my friend Dan, taking on suffering and integrating it into who he is and his relationship with Christ so well. I see his wife being extremely generous and giving with her time to him and to each of their friends even though she herself is suffering. I see my friend who has lost two parents to cancer reaching out in ways that no one else can because she has been through this twice. So many apostles for Christ- rejoicing in the midst of suffering. I can't possibly complain or explain.
And the Gospel passages have been about the feeding of the 5,000. A reminder that when we doubt, when we are hungry, God provides for us in abundance. New life comes in new ways that we can't expect or imagine, even in suffering.
Today's Gospel is the follow up to last week's miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus addresses the fact that it isn't the SIGN or the miracles that satisfy, but the nourishment that the people received. That's what keeps them coming back. I can attest to this fact. We have all been praying for signs, but what was the most special, the most important this weekend was the foundation. The relationship. The encounter with Christ and with each other. That spiritual nourishment and encounter is what truly satisfies, more than the surface level signs.
I am so grateful again for my friends, for our foundation in faith, and for the Paschal Hope in time of great pain and mystery.
I will end with this image and some last thoughts on my friend and this mystery of suffering, death, and resurrection. I saw many flowers on my walk/jog (mostly walk ;) today, but this one flower surrounded by unopened buds struck me. Sometimes we are the flower standing alone, waiting for something or someone to join us. Sometimes, we are the buds looking on at a flower that has already bloomed in great admiration. My friend Dan is the flower at this time. We are all looking to him because he has achieved so much in such a short time. We are in awe and inspired.
At the encouraging of some friends that were staying with me this weekend in my apt, I posted a note Dan had written to me on our Senior retreat. In it, he said to me: "Follow love always. It is worth fighting for."
I want to follow love always in whatever forms it presents itself. I want to fight like my friend has fought. He has reminded me what the Lord has already shown me- shown us- Love *is* worth fighting for.