My dear friend Karen Goodwin writes a beautiful reflection on her recent pilgrimage to Lourdes. She titles it “Eucharisteo,” the deepest gratitude. She writes:
In the prior six months, I’d suffered a breast cancer recurrence, received two subsequent diagnoses of different types of colon cancer, and later the threat of a cervical malignancy.
In my professional experience as a producer, “Stage 3” designates a rehearsal space for a play or a sound stage for a TV show or movie. But at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Stage 3 means an unfavorable diagnosis, although not necessarily a death sentence.
There is a delicate tension between hope and fear in the interior life of a faithful Catholic – or anyone – who receives medical reports of this sort. The patient needs an action plan, a team of medical practitioners, and above all the truth, because false hope can be more toxic to the suffering soul than chemotherapy is to the afflicted body.
I can attest to the fact that prayers at such times may seem to go unanswered. But I can also testify that despite the anxiety and sorrow that accompany such news, in short order the paradox of unbidden blessings flows.
Of the reality of prayer, she also writes:
I was schooled by the Daughters of Charity to offer each day’s prayers, works, joys, and sufferings in reparation for my transgressions and for the intentions of my loved ones too. My body became a sort of burnt offering each day in the last year as it was slashed, poisoned, and seared in hopes of restoring me to health.
Gentler remedies were also tried. But the most mysterious weapons in the arsenal were prayers said, candles lit, and kindnesses given by family, friends, and even strangers.
Reflecting on Lourdes, she writes:
Was I healed? Most transformations occur over time. Epiphanies such as St. Paul’s on his journey to Damascus are rare, but however long it takes, the point of a journey to Lourdes is the same: a conversion of the heart more than a cure of the body. And some passage of time is usually required for either outcome.
My cancers are in remission, and I trust time will be my friend. A particular broken place in my heart is beginning to mend, and this is miracle enough for me.
During the Fortnight for Freedom this summer, I sat down with Cardinal Wuerl before a prayerful celebration of freedom (which culminated in Eucharistic adoration). While the media seemed to think the Fortnight was some kind of Republican convention warm-up act, he emphasized education and prayer. When I asked him about the prayer — why he’d be encouraging it rather than, say, a march on Washington, he brought up Karen’s trip to Lourdes. The cardinal said:
In the long run, we as people of faith, we know that how you change the social order is by changing hearts. If you change enough hearts, then you change the culture. And you begin changing hearts by asking God’s grace to touch those hearts. That’s why we pray. Anyone who has prayed for something knows prayers are answered. They may not be answered exactly the way we want them to be answered, but if you look back over your life, you see prayers being answered. I had the opportunity, not too long ago, to be at Lourdes and there, it is so evident that prayers are heard. There may not be physical miracles every day, but there are miracles of the heart every single day.
And so, we pray. We pray, and many are affected.
Let us pray. For our nation. For our loved ones. For the sick. For our enemies. For those who need our prayers. For those who have no one to pray for them. For our priests. For religious liberty. For our political leaders — and, yes, even the ones we disagree with.