By Fr. George Welzbacher
October 17, 2010
At St. Thomas Military Academy in Mendota Heights, a Catholic high school with an excellent college prep program, it's the custom each morning for a member of the school's Senior Class to read a short original statement in the presence of the whole student body, briefly describing an issue that he thinks is important. The issues can range from the goals the student hopes to achieve in life to descriptions of a life-changing experience he may have undergone to comments on social issues. One of our young parishioners here at St. John's, Michael Hamilton, the son of Joseph and Monica Hamilton, is in his senior year at the Academy. When his turn came to speak, he chose to comment on a decisive moment in his own young life, one that came during the months in which he observed at close hand the gradual onset of death from cancer in a beloved uncle, David Ternes, with his wife Anne and their two sons Vincent and Anthony known to many of you who attend our 4:15 Mass on Saturday afternoons. Vince, a freshman this year at St. Thomas Academy, and his younger brother Anthony, who attends St. Croix Catholic School, are the regular servers at that Mass.
A week ago Michael showed me a copy of the essay he had read before the entire student body, and he asked me what I thought of it. It is, I'm sure you will agree, a remarkable and very moving expression of a young man's religious faith. May I share it with you here.
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A Meditation by Michael Hamilton
"Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things unseen" (Hebrews 11:1). Although I grew up in the midst of a very religious family, attending Mass each week and receiving the sacraments, I never really grasped my relationship with God and the importance of my Catholic faith. I felt that I was just going through the motions.
Last year, my Uncle Dave was diagnosed with cancer. By the time it was detected, the cancer was already in its later stages. This came as an absolute shock to the entire family, and I can't put into words just how hard it was for Dave, my Aunt Anne, and their two boys, Vince and Anthony, to go through each day with the knowledge of the damage this cancer was causing. As the days went by, and as Dave continued to fight, our entire family really came together to do what little we could to help ease the pain. From just getting the boys out of the house for a while, to driving down to the Mayo Clinic or just spending the day with Dave to watch a Twins game, everyone stepped up and we all grew closer than ever before. But what amazes me still to this day is how this terrible time in their lives brought them increasingly closer to God. Their faith in God gave them the strength and courage it took to face this tribulation head on. As I witnessed my family turning to God, I, too, really began to pray in earnest.
As time went on my uncle's health continued to decline. I could see that each day was proving to be a struggle for the family, but somehow they all managed to maintain an infinite amount of hope and strength in their hearts. Dave was never angry with God, and did not complain or give up in any way. After months of fighting, praying, and suffering, Dave passed away on May 17, 2010. I will never forget how right up until the last, Dave kept his faith, and was able to be at such peace with his situation.
I could never comprehend just how Dave and his family were capable of going every day with such dedication to God. The night of his passing, I heard the story which helped me to understand just how they were able to keep going with such strength, and which made me realize the power of prayer I had never known before. St. Therese, a Carmelite nun who died at a very young age, taught that we must have a childlike trust in God. Shortly before her death St. Therese wrote, "I feel that my mission is about to begin, my mission to make God loved as I love Him, to teach souls my little way. I will let fall from Heaven a shower of ROSES." Anne told our family that she and Dave had prayed to St. Therese for years and had experienced her "promise of a rose." After Dave's diagnosis the novenas continued, and St. Therese really seemed to be interceding for them. The first instance was when my aunt experienced an overwhelming scent of roses while at the hospital, though she could not find flowers anywhere in the area. Another time, Dave, Anne and their two boys traveled to visit the grave of a well-known priest to pray for Dave's healing. While there, Anne noticed four roses at the base of the grave, one for each member of the family.
As time went on, Dave's suffering continued to grow. Dave was having an especially difficult day, and had just received disheartening news. During the ride home from the hospital, the St. Therese prayer card which Anne keeps in her car fell from the overhead visor. Just seeing this happen, and remembering that he was in God's hands, really helped lift Dave's spirits and gave him a renewed sense of hope. The Saturday after Dave's death, my aunt Anne received a statue of an angel from a family friend, who had not heard the story about St. Therese listening to their prayers. In the angel's arms were three white roses. These three roses, so soon after his passing, really consoled Anne and the boys with a feeling of peace, allowing them to feel that Dave was all right, and that finally his suffering had ended.
I understand that Dave and Anne's lives were grounded with faith in God. They placed their trust in Him even during the most difficult times, and they have provided me an example in which to live out my own life. This past year has given me a better understanding of my faith, making it more meaningful. I now know with confidence that God is with us in our lives and we are never alone when we trust in Him.
Just as my aunt kept a prayer card in her car since before she was married, I too now keep my own St. Therese prayer card in my car to remind me daily of the devotion shown by my uncle and his family. Now, I would like to end with the prayer that gave our family such comfort and consolation this past year: St. Therese, the little flower, please pick me a rose from the heavenly garden and send it to me with a message of love. Ask God to grant me the favor for which I thee implore and tell Him I will love Him each day more and more. Amen.