The dying reflections of a man who kept the faith
During the last two months of his life, as he faced the increasingly distressing symptoms of motor neurone disease, Leonard Cheshire V.C. meditated deeply on the nature of his illness and its challenge to his faith. His thoughts were recorded by those closest to him, and one of them, Fr Reginald Fuller, edited them for publication. They are now published by the St Paul's Press under the title Crossing the Finishing Line. Here we present extracts.
Emptying the self As you advance into this disease you feel your body getting weaker. You can do much less physically. You also find yourself carrying this tremendous weight of tiredness, so that it's an enormous effort to get started. Now this fact makes me think of two things. Firstly, the most fundamental of all, the really important thing for us to do, is to empty ourselves, to encourage self-emptying. A Jesuit will talk about it as self-surrender. But it is the emptying of everything self-centred, even if it is a good thing. Your attachment to earthly things is dissolved so that God can fill you totally. If you read most of the theological books about Our Lord you find that at the heart of it the writers are saying that his life consisted of total self-surrender, selfrenunciation. So that is my first point.
Praying out the negatives
As YOUR bodily faculties go, so you can remind yourself that that is just what you should be doing internally. In a curious way it helps you. I used to have an addiction to coffee and I knew that I really was hooked on coffee. If anybody said that they thought I should cut it down, I found a good reason for not doing so. But now coffee means nothing to me. I used to drink seven or eight cups a day and now I just ust manage one and a half. Secondly, an insight from the life of St Therese of Lisieux. Towards the end of her life she experienced a great tiredness because she had TB. She felt cold and weak. But every time she felt something like that she said, "I'll offer it on behalf of a missionary who is too tired to make his next jour ner'. ow, that's a lovely thought and you can do that as well. You can say, "Well, I'm just lying in bed here and I an offer it for my wife or for anybody close to me, for members of the Leonard Cheshire Foundation or even somebody I don't know at all". You feel that you are being given a wonderful opportunity for giving, in a more constructive way than when you had your full faculties about you. Well, I don't want to make compari sons because really you can't. You have no criteria with which to judge. But I still feel very deeply indeed that you can achieve more from the inside than you can from the outside. I feel this because when God came to save the world he didn't do it from the outside with the manifestation of an immense power, before which we would all have had to fall on our knees and agree. This would have been a form of compulsion. Rather he did it unseen and from the inside. No one saw his footprints and he is still doing it now all the time. This is what Jesus did. He worked from the inside not only in this world but in the world of the dead as well. He entered the world of the dead. His work wasn't finished when he died on the Cross. We know that he reached even the most distant sinner, so that he could express a solidarity with every single person in the world no matter what his state. He did this in the hope of bringing them as a part of his Body, the mystical Body of Christ, his risen, glorified Body.
So IF that is the way that God works, then if you find yourself inside a disability. there must be ways in which you can work with (I don't like to say "for") disabled people; ways which you can t actually describe or see; working in a more profound way than you could as a very fit man on the outside. That gives me great joy; a kind of joy that wants to well up inside me. I say that with hesitation because when my family took at me and obviously see me slipping away I must respond to their need and be careful not to sound unkind. But if it is joy within me, then in some way that I don't understand, it's going to be shared by those I'm close to. That is the most significant part of this disability to me.
The inner reality
You ASK is this the inner reality of the disability for me? I can only answer, yes, I think it is. You see, you are doing two things. Firstly, you're doing what you can to complete your duties, your external duties on earth; secondly, you are trying to spiritual ise (if that is the right word), trying to complete the spiritual work that God has given you. Jesus invites us, as members of the Church which is his Body, to share in his redeeming of the world not only through the sacraments but in all its work properly undertaken, and through all its members.
So you and I have a part in this, both for ourselves and for others, not through our own merits but uniting our efforts and suffering with those of our Saviour who died for us. I know one has to be careful saying that because you mustn't sound presumptuous, but it is true. St Paul said, "it is now my joy to suffer for you for the sake of Christ's body, the Church, I am completing what still remains for Christ to suffer in my own person", but such participation presupposes a degree of spiritual maturity. So St Paul goes on to say that to make each one Of you a mature member of Christ's Body, "I am toiling strenuously with all the energy of christ at work in me" (Col. 1:24. 29) Physical weakness helps you understand our total dependence on God. You and I see a picture of two people standing up in that photograph on the study wall: I can see they could stand up all day. and now think how on earth could they do that. You see I can't stand for 15 minutes before I begin to wilt. I feel my own weakness and I think: "But God is sustaining the entire work. the entire cosmos." And that is the least of his activities. He has been doing it ever since the beginning and will do it until the end. So we have the new heaven and the new earth; and what then?
Emerging perspectives SOMEHOW your own weakness makes you understand in a more realistic way the immense power of God; a power which is Love. This is very badly expressed but I am struggling to say something important.
What I am now finding is that concentrating the mind is difficult. It just wanders. I know one's mind wanders anyway but far more in this condition. You can be at Mass and suddenly a thought is sparked off and you follow it, to quickly end up mites away. You can lie quietly in bed intending to keep an hour's silence but just end up mentally floating around anywhere. So I would like to try and address this problem. Obviously prayer is a means to an end and not an end in itself. In the Family of the Cross we adopt the prayer of silence.
A means to an end
THIS PRAYER of silence is a means towards an end and if we find that we can't keep it in that form then let's change the form. I think individual members should be free to do that. It is very easy to get trapped into systems of prayer that you have been trained in. I think that looking at the whole of life even the best people can confuse the means for the end. With the Jews the Law was every thing; in the Catholic Church you can end up saying: "I'm a member of the Church, I go to the sacraments, I'm all right".
This is to forget that the sacraments are merely there to assist the re-creation of yourself into the new person you have got to be.
Present realities To REPEAT once again my mind is woolly. It is difficult to hold it down on to something. Even dictating a letter. I now have great difficulty focusing my mind on the letter although it is quite specific and held in front of me. This also happens to me at Mass. My hour of prayer in the morning, the time I used to really love, is now just sitting and finding I'm all over the place. I still hold an insight that came to me forty years ago. in Midhurst when I had TB: I saw it was necessary to use the events of your daily life to be led into prayer. Perhaps I thought about stupid things. For example, when you go through a front door just reflect briefly that one day, please God, we will walk through the front door of Heaven, or when the telephone goes, offer a short prayer for the person you are going to speak to: the briefest of prayers for saying the right thing. A telephone call could thus be another symbol of a little inward prompting from the Holy Spirit. You can look at it in many different ways.
The new day
I FIND that the beginning of the day as you wake up is important. You are waking up to a new day. Picture in your mind in a very general way a whole world waking up with you. People are getting organised to go out to their work: some of them are leaders of government, others are going to sweep the streets, others, ill or disabled are at home.
But there in that moment you have the whole world waking up, we hope to pus the day to the best advantage. The morning light is brushing aside the night's darkness. That also symbolises the fact that just as we are all in a state of becoming and evolving, so God is at work all the time, recreating the present earth and heaven into the new heaven and the new earth. So that process is also going on: identifying with it. Don't try to be clever and think it out — just have that thought in your mind. Beauty is springing out of darkness. As the darkness goes the light draws forth beauty in the same way that God's Holy Spirit is working in us. If we allow him freedom, he is going to bring out a beauty in our lives. Somebody once said: "the things that we see help us understand the unseen things." I like the linking of what we do and what we see with a prayer aimed at the spiritual counterpart: "The shining sun looks down on all things and the work of the Lord is Wit of his (Ecclesiasticus, 42:16)
By Fr Reginald Fuller NOT LONG before Leonard became incapacitated by his illness, he invited me to supper at his apartment in Maunsel Street, London. Instead of talking about the Cheshire Homes he had founded, as I rather expected, Leonard produced a little book and asked me if I had read it. I had.
The title is The Cry of Jesus on the Cross ( 'My God, my God, who have you forsaken me' [Mt 27:46; Mk 15: 34]). This cry, says the author, expresses the greatest loneliness imaginable, the experience of the absence of God. Not something, one might think, that the son of God could undergo. Nevertheless, he chose to be tempted (Heti 4:15) in every way that we are, though without sin. Leonard was greatly moved by this thought amd its consequences for us. Our response, he said, must be to give nothing less than everything in return.