Richard was a widower; his wife had suffered a long and painful death from cancer. Then he met Celia; they came to love each other and each other’s children dearly.
Less than a year into their courtship, Celia discovered a lump in her breast. She had gone to the doctor alone and was alone when she received the devastating news: the lump was malignant.
Once the reality set it in, her first thought was for Richard and his children. They had been profoundly wounded by cancer only a few years before. They were still healing from it. How could she bring this terrible thing into their lives again?
She called Richard immediately and, without telling him why, simply broke off their relationship. For several weeks she refused his phone calls and returned his letters. But Richard would not give up and begged her to see him.
Finally, Celia relented and arranged to meet him to say goodbye. When they met, she could see the deep strain and hurt on his face. Richard gently asked Celia why she had broken up with him. Finally, on the verge of tears, she told Richard the truth: that she had found a lump in her breast, that it was malignant, that she had undergone surgery a few weeks before and would begin chemotherapy the following week.
“You and the children have lived through this once already,” she told him, “I won’t put you through it again.”
He looked at her, his jaw dropping. “You have cancer?” he asked. Dumbly, she nodded, the tears beginning to run down her cheeks.
“Oh, Celia,” he said – and began to laugh with relief. “We can do cancer … we know how to do cancer. I thought that you didn’t love me.”
Oh, but she did. And they got through it together, happily married.
The Gospel of compassion and reconciliation is “fulfilled” every time we act selflessly. Whether we can “do cancer,” whether we know how to comfort and listen and console, whether we can make a soup kitchen or a tutoring program work … whatever gifts and graces we possess can work great and wondrous things when done in the Spirit of the God who came to set us free.