One of the major perks of the priesthood is the opportunity to accompany and guide many holy souls through major life struggles and difficulties. I become a witness of the power of God’s grace and the beauty of a “tested” faith. Through my work with the Lumen Institute, a business network of leaders in the greater New York City area, I found a real diamond in the rough in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
Susie Jones (not her real name) was severely tested several times in her life — and, like gold in the fire, she came out shining brilliantly.
Her first major challenge came with her second pregnancy, more than two decades ago. During an ultrasound at the 19-week mark, she and her husband were told that their child had cysts on his lung, with only a 6 percent chance of the baby’s survival. The doctor asked her about her beliefs on abortion — as the baby would likely die in uterus, at birth or within a year of birth.
She told me about the experience later: “When we left the office, I was overcome with sadness and confusion, but one thing was perfectly clear. I told my husband I would leave that decision up to God. If the baby is going to die, that would be up to God — not me.”
Susie Jones received tremendous support from her family and friends, with plenty of prayers storming heaven for this intention. The weekly ultrasounds gave her doctors the baby’s heartbeat and the size of cyst, and, by the grace of God, the cyst never grew.
On July 17, 1995, her son was born in Philadelphia. As she told me, “When my baby was born he had no breathing difficulties, no signs of distress — and we took our son home after three days. He had elective surgery at three weeks to remove the lower lobe of his lung, with 15 cysts lumped together, about the size of an egg. His lung eventually grew to regular size after birth. Growing up, he became an athlete,” she added.
Her son — the oldest of her three children — is now 22 years ago “and is working in New York City.”
But Susie Jones’ story doesn’t end here. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just before she was diagnosed I had the grace of getting to know her as her spiritual mentor — and was able to accompany her during this first intense year of her suffering.
Her three children had to be told the news, which was a very painful experience for both her and her husband, Patrick, especially not knowing the eventual outcome.
In dealing with the fear, sadness and confusion, Susie Jones turned to Jesus in prayer. “About a year before diagnosis, I began seeking a closer relationship with Jesus by attending a rosary group and a ‘Life in the Spirit’ session at our church,” she said. “I believe this, and more, was God’s way of preparing me for what lie ahead. He knew I would need to lean on Him often. And I did. After diagnosis, when my mind drifted to fear of the unknown, which it often did in the first few weeks, I prayed the Our Father and Hail Mary over and over again until it stopped. Reciting those prayers brought a warm, comforting feeling, which I believe to be the Holy Spirit guiding me on this journey.”
This faithful woman has been cancer-free for over two years.
Many of Susie’s friends stepped it up in a big way during this difficult time — they provided meals, moral support and many prayers. Her husband has been a stabilizing force, and his sense of heartfelt compassion (and his great sense of humor) have helped make their marriage even stronger these past few years.
Today, Susie Jones has been cancer-free for over two years — and as a result of these challenging trials, she continues to grow tremendously in her relationship with God and her Catholic faith.
As she told me recently, “No longer am I satisfied with scratching the surface of my faith. Just as I have created a healthier body with nutrient-dense food and exercise, I am filling my soul with spiritual nutrition that is everlasting. I have a long way to go on my faith journey, but what a gift it is! I am thankful for the blessings I have received through this diagnosis and for the wake-up call to put God in the center.”
As St. Paul reminds us, “God brings good out of evil for those who love him.”
Susie Jones has become a beacon of light to her family and friends in and around her New Jersey town — and a reminder to all of us that God’s love prevails.
Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in the New York City area and an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group.