The Spiritual Journey

Joseph C. Zuschmidt

These responses are from Father Joseph C. Zuschmidt, O.S.F.S., a Catholic priest, although they are not necessarily “Catholic” answers.

I am a person who believes in a loving and personal God.  That is the context in which I attempt to respond to some of these questions.  I am also a person who has not been touched by cancer.  Would the answers change somewhat if I had cancer?  I don’s know.  Some of the questions are fairly easy to respond to, while others may require a lot of soul searching and some questions have no real answer.


Several of the questions, it seems to me, are basically the same question asked in a different way:  Why me?  Why did God allow this to happen?  Why did they get it instead of me?  WHY?  We ask that over and over in all aspect of our lives.  “WHY” deals with trying to cope with the mysteries of life.  There are frequently no answers – just approaches for dealing with the situation.  These are not easy questions.  We have wrestled with them in every religion and culture and age.  At the end, we are often left standing before utter mystery.

The question “WHY” can be applied to all diseases – especially debilitating and terminal ones.  Why do so many die in tragic accidents?  Why are there so many poor and hungry and malnourished people in the world?  Why do so many suffer the violence of war?  Why Alzheimer’s or M.S.?  The list goes on and on.  Hardly a person will escape the sufferings encountered in life.  As a believer, I believe God is right there with me.  That God knows and understands.  I believe that the research for cures of cancer and all diseases and all the profession is touching us.  I believe God normally works through the laws of nature (but I am open to the rare miracle we may experience).

We get diseases sometimes as a result of bad health habits, sometimes as a result of our genes, and sometimes it remains a mystery.

Am I being punished for something I did in the past?

No!! For me, God is not a vengeful God.

Did I do something wrong to get this?

Cancer is not a punishment. Of course, maybe I did do something wrong, such as smoking when I knew the possible consequences. Our actions have consequences and the poor health decisions we often make, with partial or full knowledge, have their consequences.

What is going to happen to my family?

I have no idea how to answer this. Each of us must do our best, with the time given us, to put our affairs in order. The more the family has a strong network of support and a strong faith, the better they will be able to cope.

Why did God allow it to happen?

Some things just happen. Did God want them to happen? I don’t know how to answer that. It is how I react and cope that is now essential. Maybe it is an opportunity to get in touch with my relationship with God or with myself and other — to look into my heart. As the medical profession is trying to cure me of the cancer affecting my body, it might very well be an opportunity for me to address any “cancers” that affect my soul. Perhaps my cancer may help doctors to understand a little bit better the disease and therefore be a help to others in the future.

What is the single most important thing I need to do?

Fight the cancer with all your strength. Live in hope and accept the gift of peace that the Lord gives us. Peace, for me, means living in right relationship with my God, myself and my family and friends. So, the single most important thing turns out for me to be a Trinity of things: Fight. Hold onto Hope. Be at Peace.

How do I pray this through to Him?

Obviously that is the question of a believer. Prayer is so personal. It involves all our emotions. When you pray it is OK to acknowledge you are scared. Pray for strength. Thank the Lord for your doctors and caregivers. Maybe you will even reach the stage where you can thank the Lord for your situation and the spiritual insight it has given you. Gradually I would hope that prayer leads to acceptance. Acceptance helps us attain the peace I mention elsewhere. “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my situation . . . My cancer . . . My hopes and fears and all that is going on inside of me.”

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