Editor’s note: This week, we are blessed to share a series of reflections from guest contributor Erin McGruder Helms. Please join us daily for Erin’s inspirational contributions as she reflects upon the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary through the prism of her own life journey. Please join me in praying for Erin and her family, and for mothers everywhere who face health challenges. Lisa
My grandmother gave me a beautiful rosary with oval-shaped, pearlescent pale pink beads for celebrating my first Holy Communion and it is the same one I use to this day. Over the years, I have fallen asleep praying the rosary countless times, which my now 92-year-old grandmother still says your guardian angel finishes for you! I love the feel of the beads between my thumb and index finger. It becomes meditative as I move from bead to bead, praying the decades. It is calming and brings me much needed peace. I have come to cherish the Rosary even more, ever since I attended Marian talks a visiting seminarian (now transitional deacon) gave two-and-a-half years ago at my parish. I learned to focus more on the Mysteries of the Rosary and their fruits. I appreciated the deacon’s emphasis that during Mary’s apparitions, she consistently asked that we pray the daily Rosary, but why didn’t she ask us to attend daily Mass? Daily Mass is not feasible for everyone, but no matter what your occupation, health, status, you can pray the Rosary every day, even if it’s in the car, on a lunch break or in bed before you fall asleep. Say a decade here, a decade there and it can be done! I have three children, six years and younger, and if I can do it, I know you can, too! When I started saying the Rosary daily, I learned an additional prayer at the end that states, “while meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.” Little did I realize how personal and trying the reality of this would become.
I was pregnant with my third child and all was going well, until I found a mass in my breast while showering. Life quickly became one whirlwind after another, but ultimately, I was diagnosed with invasive mammary ductal carcinoma and the mass automatically put me at stage 2. I underwent a unilateral mastectomy when I was 32 weeks pregnant and the cancer was found in my lymph nodes, which put me at stage 3a. It was then a waiting game. I couldn’t be scanned while pregnant, but it was being fed by my pregnancy hormones. How could it not have spread? How could I not be bumped to stage 4? Any lingering cell would be fed at the same rate the mass in my breast grew. During this time, I said, “Yes,” to three separate healing opportunities (via Catholic healing ministries) and later recalled the significance of three and how it relates to our faith. I prayed fervently. I prayed continuous novenas to Archangel Raphael for healing. I prayed to Our Lady of La Leche, St. Agatha, St. Peregrine, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and countless Saints, asking for their intercession. I prayed my daily Rosary with my husband. I had family, friends, neighbors, my parish community, priests and pastor, and prayer networks praying for me. It was beyond humbling. Graces poured out over my family. I was induced at 37 weeks and my precious miracle arrived. Four days later, I had my PET bone and CT scans. Two days later, I sat nervously and awaited the results. My oncologist read aloud that they came back clear! I cried tears of joy and relief. I couldn’t stop smiling and crying the rest of the day. I offered up prayers of thanksgiving for my miraculous healing. I was able to remain at stage 3a and move forward with treatment.
I started chemo when my newborn was just 12 days old. My regimen comprised of eight rounds every 14 days. My last round was on Christmas Eve. (What a gift!) Throughout my treatment, as I continued to pray my daily Rosary, I found parallels in the Mysteries and my journey with cancer. I sat for chemo every Tuesday, which is when we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries. We are all called to be Christ-like. I want to be careful in the comparison I am about to share. I do not want anyone to think my journey with cancer relates at the same level of what Jesus went through on his road to Calvary. I have simply found similarities that provided insight and solace for me. I believe someone going through this may find comfort in the same.
The first Sorrowful Mystery is the Agony in the Garden. The pamphlet I received at those Marian talks reflects that the fruit of this Mystery is ‘Sorrow for Sins’. I relate this to my diagnosis. I picture Jesus in the Garden, in such anguish, praying to pass the cup. I know I was in pure anguish, too. In utter agony, I prayed to pass the cup. I will never forget the morning I received the call to come into the OB office to receive the results. I just knew. I collapsed to my knees, in tears, sobbing. My little ones did not understand what was going on. My husband came home early from work. I tried to get through to the radiologist that did the ultrasound and biopsy. He had told me he would give me the results over the phone, but I had heard instead from my OB regarding the appointment. The time lapse between calls to my midwife, OB and the imaging center and waiting to hear back was torment. Finally, the radiologist returned my call and told me the news. From that day on, it took months of waking up in the morning to realize this was happening, this was real. I worried if I was paying for my sins, if I had somehow caused the cancer.
I attended a Catholic women’s conference soon after my mastectomy and they had priests offering confession. I did not want to miss out on the talks, but during the last speaker right before they were ending confession, I quietly left the main room and found a priest. I cried and relayed some of my story and I explained my anxiety about my inability to forgive myself and often others. How many times I go to confession and mention how I struggle with forgiveness, how tough I am on myself. How I thought I was a bad mother, a bad wife. How I had made mistakes and this was what I got for judging myself and not forgiving myself enough, not loving myself enough. The priest showed such confusion and practically shock that I could think that I could have caused the cancer. I believe the mind and body are connected. My heart is right near the breast. Had I been taking care of myself enough? Had I been loving myself enough? The priest asked if I was familiar with the Divine Mercy Jesus image with the words, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’. I was and he said I needed to pray that on repeat and to trust Jesus.
I am sure it was no coincidence when I completed “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” (by Fr. Michael Gaitley) during Lent last year and learned the importance of praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily. I learned I could unite my suffering with the Lord and that it consoles Him. All those times while growing up, my mother said, “Offer it up!” and it never really hit me until after I read Fr. Gaitley’s book. We can offer up our sufferings and it pleases the Lord. We become closer to God through our pain. Have you ever prayed to pass the cup? Have you ever felt guilty for your sins and thought whatever pain you were enduring was punishment? Ask our Lord to help you forgive yourself, love yourself. Are you holding on to anguish from the past? Ask our Lord to help you forgive others, love others (even if it means at a distance!). When is the last time you went to confession? We are so blessed to have this Sacrament available to us. I always feel lighter after confession, such relief and release. There is pure beauty in the graces we receive.
Tomorrow I will review the second Sorrowful Mystery, the Scourging at the Pillar.
Erin McGruder Helms grew up in Northern Virginia before attending the University of Florida, where she earned a Marketing degree in 2000. Upon graduation, she moved to Jacksonville to pursue a career in financial services. Erin is blessed with a loving husband and is grateful now to stay home with her three precious children. She delights in warm weather and outdoor family activities. Surrounded by caring friends and a supportive parish community, Erin enjoys participating in various spiritual growth studies and ministries.
Copyright 2015 Erin McGruder Helms