In face of death, deacon finds grace

This story continues a monthly series featuring the faith testimonies of Catholics from all walks of life. To see a video of Deacon Dusty Martin sharing his testimony, visit www.OneBillionStories.com.

In the midst of suffering, many question God’s existence.

When Deacon Gregory Martin was told cancer would soon take his life, he only grew closer to him.

The 59-year-old Catholic convert, known as Deacon Dusty, was told a year ago mesothelioma had enveloped

his stomach, leaving him an estimated 18 months to live.

Now his faith is immovable.

“I’ve never asked, in prayer, ‘Why, God? Why did it come down to this?” he said. “It has not crossed my mind that God was involved with this and that for some reason he gave it to me or he allowed it. My relationship

with God never faced a real challenge because of this.”

Rather the cancer has set him free.

Every moment is spent considering God’s will and being present to his surroundings. If he’s at home or ministering to a parishioner at St. Pius X in Aurora, all that exists is that moment, he said.

“I ask, ‘What is the Lord asking me to do with what I have at this point?’” Deacon Martin said. “From the moment my eyes open in the morning, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for this day. May whatever I do shine

favorably on you.’”

His faith wasn’t always so focused.

As a child of a career military man, Deacon Martin moved often with his family after he was born in Wisconsin. His parents were not regular church-goers, although he was exposed to the Baptist faith at a church called Audubon Heights Community Church in Colorado Springs when his father was stationed there.

Deacon Martin attended high school in Virginia and returned with his parents and siblings to Colorado Springs when his father received his last assignment.

When Deacon Martin was in ROTC at Colorado State University, he met his wife, Angie, who was Catholic. They married in a Catholic church in Leavenworth, Kan., and they attended Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn.

He realized once his children Eryn and Patrick—they had also lost two children—were baptized that he had made a commitment to raise them Catholic.

“Predominantly, the faith of the Church is lived through mom and dad, which was me and Angie,” he said, recognizing his duty to pass the faith onto their children.

He decided to follow through on his commitment.

The deacon entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and became Catholic at Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora some 25 years ago.

Slowly, God began to reveal his truth to him and his faith deepened over time.

“Every time I hear the Gospel, I hear something new,” Deacon Martin said. “I still do.”

The more the deacon has desired to know, the more Christ has fed him the good news, he shared.

The gift of faith and understanding from God was furthered when he and his wife committed to one year of eucharistic adoration.

“That whole year of holy hours made a big impact on me, because it was in that setting that I think the kernel of ministry in the Church started to grow, which lead me to the diaconate,” he said.

Deacon Martin was ordained in 1994 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception by then-archbishop Cardinal James Francis Stafford. He has served as deacon at St. Pius Parish for 18 years.

His faith journey changed when his wife rushed him to the emergency room Dec. 26, 2011, because of difficulty breathing. Physicians discovered fluid under his abdomen.

The origin was malignant cancer.

When they asked about treatment options, he said the doctor told them, “There’s not so much we can do but make you comfortable.”

He said, “I was stunned.”

After the news he and Angie went to St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Aurora to pray, and he began recalling a litany of people he had encountered in life.

Since his diagnosis, he has called the cancer a blessing.

“The biggest blessing is when you’re told something like that, it has allowed me to focus on the here and now,” Deacon Martin said.

He no longer plans for retirement, as others in their 60s may do. Instead he sees each moment as a grace from God.

“If I had any words of wisdom, I would say take time to understand and enjoy the moment you’re in.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash