A church friend in his early fifties has just been diagnosed with cancer and is awaiting medical tests and therapies. The news was rather shocking and disturbing to say the least, not only because of his relatively young age, but also because he is a very well-respected and popular figure in the Chinese Catholic community here in Toronto, known particularly for his charity and holiness. The heartbreaking news came only one year after another beloved church friend of about the same age had succumbed to lung cancer and passed away.
Anytime an unfortunate incident happens, our immediate reactions are inevitably sadness, disbelief, or for some people even anger or a refusal to accept. As emotions subside, our inquisitive instinct kicks in and we begin to ask ourselves questions with the earnestness of a philosopher caught in deep and perplexing reflection: Why do righteous people suffer from misfortunes? Why doesn’t God give them special protection? Is He incapable of doing so? If yes, how can we say He is almighty? If no, how can we say an almighty God who allows the righteous to suffer is just?
Similar questions have been explored elsewhere in my talks and in other articles previously written. Being not quite in a philosophical state of mind at this moment, I am not going to revisit these issues here. What crosses my mind though is the very real possibility that one day similar misfortunes might just happen to me. The thought of dying is never pleasant. And yet there’s no denying that with each and every passing day we are inching closer and closer to our graves.
Far from living in the grip of fear, the realization of the imminence of death is actually making me work harder to ensure that the years that the good Lord gives me are used as productively and meaningfully as possible. I am already in my late fifties. The youthful days when death was like a foreigner from a distant land who had nothing to do with me were long gone. What has once seemed so remote is now breathing down my neck; what has once been written off as essentially irrelevant is now a stark reality.
Let’s face it; anyone at my age will readily admit that the good and productive years still left in them probably can be counted with just two bare hands. Beyond that, the years of visiting doctors and taking medical tests, of being rushed in and out of hospitals; and the endless idling moments of gazing at a fish bowl in a senior home just may not be too far away. People often suggest that my early retirement has given me more time. With this new perspective in mind, I actually feel like I have less time! This explains the urgency of my personal ministry.