“Ask a Priest: How Should a Cancer Patient Pray?”

Q: I am a Catholic from Ireland. Since being diagnosed with recurrent cancer in February 2016 my faith has gotten stronger. I have been told by the doctors that I have incurable cancer, but I believe that Jesus is in the process of healing me. I am going through chemo at the moment, but I have no side effects and I am feeling great. My scan results keep showing that my tumor is shrinking. I am so grateful for life now as I’ve been through so much for two years. My experience has drawn me closer to God. Everything is looking up for me. I pray every day and night to the Man above. Question 1: Do you think I should start praying the rosary? I just pray my own prayers to God. I make them up as I go along as if I am having a conversation with him, but I always say other prayers that I’ve written out from prayer books, Internet, etc. Is this enough or should I be saying the rosary and Divine Mercy [chaplet] also? Question 2: I am thinking on fasting a day next week. Is it good to fast once in a while? Question 3: I go to confession now once a month. Is that enough? Question 4: Is it OK to watch preacher-televangelists on YouTube? They talk about the Bible and how to be saved. They have helped me understand so much and helped my mood greatly. – F.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: God love you! I am sorry to hear about your cancer, though the news of the treatments is encouraging. It sounds as though this illness has brought you closer to Jesus. This is a sign of how God can bring something good out of something bad. (When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong is a Retreat Guide that may help to bring you continued strength and encouragement!)

Let me try to answer your questions succinctly.

Regarding the rosary: Praying the rosary is a beautiful tradition in the Church. (Learn more with The River of Wisdom: A Retreat Guide on the Rosary). It unites us with the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was so much a part of the life of Jesus. By all means, if you feel drawn to pray it, pray it. As for the other prayers: If your normal way of praying is kind of a conversation with God, that is wonderful. Prayer should be a lifting of our hearts to him. Our faith is really about our relationship with God. He loves you deeply; you are his beloved daughter.

You might want to explore the tradition of Christian meditation as a way to continue going deeper in your prayer life. A helpful resource is “The Better Part,” in book form or in App form. You can learn more about it HERE.

Regarding the fasting: Given your physical condition, it might not be advisable to fast. I won’t rule it out completely, but for various reasons, I would rather encourage you to just make time for prayer, the sacraments and, as you can, works of charity for others. Accepting and offering to God the suffering and inconveniences you experience as a result of your cancer are also a way to engage in fasting, in a wide sense, because that can help unite you more fully to Christ and his cross.

Regarding confession: Monthly confession is good. Feel free to go more often. The sacrament always gives a special grace, which can help you to become a saint.

Regarding the televangelists on YouTube: If you referring to non-Catholics, then it is good to be aware that some of their views will differ significantly from Church teachings, including “how to be saved.” While they might draw excellent insights from Scripture, their worldview will not include Catholic notions such as the sacraments (especially confession and the Eucharist) or the intercession of Mary and the saints – which most definitely help us on the path to salvation.

You could easily find Catholic preachers and scholars on the Internet. Scott Hahn, for example, has helped launch a website on Scripture found HERE. We also have a library of online, do-it-yourself retreats here at RCSpirituality.org. Just go to the “Retreat Guide” section. EWTN also has various YouTube channels with their television shows.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers. I wish you well with the medical treatment.

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