Preparing for Christmas — with Cancer

This post is addressed to those who, like me, have some form of cancer and are doing their best to prepare for Christmas.

It isn’t easy, is it? It’s difficult to hide the fact that energy levels aren’t what they were, or that nausea and dietary restrictions make the foodie element of Christmas festivities a minefield to tread rather than a source of enjoyment. It must be especially hard if you are a Mum or Dad or a much-loved grandparent, because one of the few things families seem to agree on is that Christmas should always be the same. If one isn’t up to producing that wonderful spread on Christmas Day, or doing that traditional Beach Walk after lunch or whatever, there is a feeling of failure. Then, too, at the back of one’s mind, there is the thought that this could be my last Christmas, and if so, I want it to be a good memory for everyone. In a monastery there aren’t quite the same individual expectations although, as a member of a small community, I sometimes chuckle when people airily advise me to leave something to others. There aren’t any others for some things, and although I hope the spiritual focus of Christmas is unaffected by our ability or inability to maintain certain traditions, I know in my heart of hearts that not to have the Martyrology sung on Christmas Eve, or not to be able to sing the whole of the Christmas Office, does make a difference. Is there a remedy, and if so what?

I think the remedy is the one we have been thinking and praying about through the whole of Advent and especially during these last few days when we have been singing the ‘O’ antiphons. We have to hand everything over to God, knowing that when we cannot, He can. It doesn’t matter if we can’t manage this or that, although we’ll continue to try. It doesn’t matter if Christmas doesn’t come up to our expectations, provided they come up to God’s — and unless we deliberately choose to reject Him, they always will. However awful we feel, however much we fear disappointing others, we can be sure that God will work his very own Christmas miracle — a miracle that is not about success or material perfection but about his indwelling. It is when we have the fewest defences that God is able to draw closest to us.

So, be of good cheer, fellow cancer pilgrim. The Christmas God has prepared for us is the one that will bring the greatest joy to ourselves and all whom we love. No matter how empty and unprepared we may feel, we do not come empty-handed to the celebration. It may sound old-fashioned, but we can ‘offer up’ our weakness and our sense of guilt and failure. With our prayer we can reach out to the millions of suffering people throughout the world, to the refugees and displaced persons who have no home, to the impoverished who go hungry or thirsty to bed, and to those dying alone and unloved. We can, in a very important way, bring Christmas to them. What a wonderful privilege that is!