One year ago I met my friend Kris while on mission with Life Teen in Mesa, Arizona. The youth minister at a parish we served with called us to come meet Kris and told us a little of his story. Kris was 19 years old and not Catholic, but had been invited to Life Teen events by a friend and kept coming back for a while now. She told us that we weren’t to meet Kris at the parish, but in a local hospital where he had already been for several weeks.
Kris had cancer and it was bad. The cancer had spread throughout the entirety of his chest cavity and the doctors didn’t see it stopping anytime soon. The youth minister asked us to visit Kris, talk, and pray with him in his hospital room.
As we introduced ourselves to Kris we asked him to tell us his story. Kris had been in and out of foster care for years, having come from a very rough family life himself. He shared how his friend, Gabe, had invited him to hangout at the youth room after school one day and to Life Night. He shared his plans for college, to play football for ASU and major in sports medicine. After he shared his story and his dreams, he shared with us about his cancer and that the doctors had only given him until Christmas to live.
I didn’t know what to say. Here was this young man just discovering the faith with dreams of sports and college ahead of him laying in a bed with a deadline of Christmas. What do you say in that situation?
We did the only thing we knew: we prayed with Kris. We prayed for his health, that he might be healed from the cancer. We prayed for his hope and faith in the Lord’s will. We prayed for all of the ways the Lord wanted to use him as a witness to his friends, family, doctors, and strangers who would hear his story.
As we finished sharing our stories and praying we knew we would be back. Kris was a friend and we wanted to journey with him.
I couldn’t shake Kris’ story. I kept thinking about that deadline of Christmas on his life, how this Advent season he wasn’t just waiting for Christ’s birth, but also his own death. Yet he so badly wanted to be healed, to realize the hopes and dreams he had.
I started thinking about this season of Advent, how for generations God’s people were waiting for God’s plan to unfold, for the promised Savior to come and free them from their poverty, their suffering, and the wars all around them. They dreamed of Him to come on a golden chariot and destroy all of their enemies. They hoped for a glorious King to come and restore their land and to defeat their oppressors.
Instead, Christ was born in a manger and lived a life of poverty, spending His time with the sick and suffering, meeting His own oppression and being hung on a cross. These people had waited so long for the Lord to come, and when He did, He did it in a way no one ever expected, but He did it in a way that was so much more glorious than anyone could ever imagine.
We kept coming to visit Kris to always pray for his healing. We visited him for months, and he did make it past Christmas, all the way until July.
Kris wasn’t healed through our prayers. He did not realize his own plans of playing football at ASU or finally getting that date with his favorite nurse, but the Lord’s plan for his life was so much more glorious than we could have imagined.
While Kris was in the hospital, he chose to enter the Church. A priest came to him and Baptized and Confirmed him their in his hospital bed. He received the Lord’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and graces in the Anointing of the Sick. Most importantly, he received his savior for the first time in the Eucharist. After that first time, he hungered to receive Him more and more, daily if he could. He desired it so much that my mission brother, Miller, was trained to bring him the Eucharist so that he could receive him as much as he desired. Every time we would visit him, Kris would always ask, “Did you bring Jesus?”
As July came and Kris was approaching his death, the cancer had spread into his throat, making him unable to speak. He could only communicate by writing notes. On the day he died, he wrote one last note, saying that he wanted to receive our Lord in the Eucharist one last time before dying.
Kris is in Heaven. I have no doubt about that. A young man with that much desire to receive the Lord, with that much love for Christ in the Eucharist is the miracle. Our hopes for Kris’ healing were not realized, but only so that God’s plan for Kris’ salvation would reign. That plan made a young saint who not only experienced his own conversion, but witnessed to so many by his great desire for holiness and the Eucharist.
God’s plans don’t always look how we imagine or desire, but only because they are so much more glorious. He is always working for our best. May we grow in faith and hope as Kris did as we seek that unity with our Lord in the sacraments. And may we always offer our desires and dreams to Him knowing that His plan may not be at all what we hope for, but it will be everything that we need and so much more.
Perhaps this Advent, we can ask ourselves where our hopes lay. Are they in our own plans for our future, or do we long for the Lord’s will to be done, whatever that might mean?