Neither Death Nor Life: The Story of One Woman’s Trust in God

As news is now reaching us that the Vatican has reportedly approved a second miracle toward the canonization of John Henry Newman, it's worth reflecting on the process that brought us to this point. For several years now, the Pittsburgh Oratorians have been praying that Newman would be raised to the dignity of the altar. When the Oratorians first instituted this practice, a regular attendee at the Oratory Masses approached Fr. Michael Darcy and informed him that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was hoping that she might be healed through Newman's intercession—for her own physical wellbeing of course, but also so that Newman's cause for beatification could be advanced. How wonderful it would be if a healing within the community of the Pittsburgh Oratory could serve as the miracle that validated Newman's beatification! The Holy Spirit, this woman believed, had inspired her to ask for this grace, and she was confident that God would be faithful to bring it about.

Fr. Michael was inspired by this woman's faith, though in his own telling he also felt a bit uneasy in view of her boldness. Certainly, we should cultivate a healthy expectation that God is going to perform mighty works in our midst, but we must do so without falling into the presumption that what we desire for ourselves is identical with what God wills for us. At a more concrete level, what if this woman died without her prayer being answered? What would the community think if she had died from the cancer, after they had heard her express so confidently that God would heal her?

As the woman expanded upon her thoughts, though, Fr. Michael realized that there was no reason to fear that the outcome of the illness would in any way be detrimental to the community's trust in God. If she was healed in this lifetime, the miraculous nature of the events would serve as a powerful testament of God's healing power. If she had to await the resurrection of her body for the full restoration of physical wholeness, it would be no less a testament of God's loving care for her. In fact, to think otherwise, she remarked, would be to assume that she knew better than God what was needed for her own sanctification.

Those who lack the gift of faith might view this kind of outlook as Christians wanting to have it both ways. If someone is healed from a malady, then God gets credit for performing a miraculous healing in response to prayer. But if that person dies, then God is still a loving Father who in the end made everything work out for good. In the face of such skepticism, our answer, paradoxically, is "yes." The skeptic who presses this point is approaching an important theological truth—that God's love accompanies us no matter how dire the circumstances of life become, and that the surest way to experience this love is to abandon oneself to divine providence.

The fact of the matter is that no one escapes this life alive. Coming to see this reality can be a source of great fear or it can inspire us to adopt absolute trust in the One who created us. We know from Sacred Scripture that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38–39). The woman of the Oratory community who expressed confidently that God would heal her from cancer had not simply read these words but had taken them to heart. My prayer for all of us in 2019 is that we can live our lives confident in the promise that, that the One who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). 

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