2020 was a year marked by sickness, death, unrest, isolation, and economic difficulty — a year that has challenged the faith of many. 

And so, one might ask: What good could come out of a year like this one?

So, for our final issue of 2020, Angelus invited a lineup of writers — some regular contributors, others guests — to reflect on how they've seen God's providence at work in their own lives during this difficult year. Their reflections will be published on AngelusNews.com from Dec. 21-24. 

The cover of the Dec. 14 issue of TIME magazine described 2020 as “the worst year ever,” and honestly, I can understand the sentiment. No doubt this has been a year of suffering and distress on a widespread scale. But that doesn’t mean God hasn’t brought blessings — even miracles — out of it. 

In February of 2020, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer known as Burkitt Lymphoma. The morning after I was admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, my doctor told me that had I arrived a few hours later, my condition might not have been able to be reversed. 

Following 2 1/2 rounds of chemotherapy, my doctor explained that while the chemo had brought my cancer marker down, it wasn’t keeping it down: the marker was spiking each time I went home to regroup for the next round. 

My doctor had a difficult “heart to heart” chat with me, and we decided to discontinue the chemo. Afterward, I was referred to a hospice worker. I was, to put it plainly, being sent home to die.

It was time to prepare to “meet my Maker.” I began saying my farewells, packing, getting my business in order, and praying a lot.

There was, however, one last “Hail Mary” pass in my oncologist’s playbook: an experimental immunotherapy treatment that might at least add a few extra days to my life. 

What happened next amazed even the oncologist. The immunotherapy brought my cancer marker down and unbelievably, kept it down. This from a treatment that had no history of treating Burkitt Lymphoma. 

Today, my cancer is in remission, and I continue the immunotherapy once a month. 

Msgr. Jim Gehl with parishioners after daily Mass at St. Euphrasia in Granada Hills Dec. 15. (JohnMichael Filippone)

Throughout all of this, I never questioned God’s will for me. He helped me to be totally open to whatever he had in mind for me. Throughout my life, I’ve made a point of thanking God every day that I wake up, placing my life in his hands. There was no reason to stop doing this during my illness.

I have a long list of people to whom I am grateful to, people whom I count among the blessings of 2020.

During this time, the prayers of my parishioners, medical staff, family, friends, brother priests and bishops, and so many others whom I will never know, no doubt saved my life and helped me to live this trial with faith. I am grateful to them and to my oncologist, Dr. John Glaspy, God’s miracle worker for me and, no doubt, many others.

Since the day of my diagnosis, I have been sustained by the intercession of our Blessed Mother, who has held me close. I will continue to pray her rosary and the Memorare every day for the rest of my life.

I also thank Servant of God Sister Ida Peterfy, whose intercession I invoked for a miracle together with my priest support group. 

After 46 years as a priest, I am getting ready for retirement in June of next year. For now, it seems God has chosen to give me more days. I know not how many more, but I pledge to make the best use of each one of them as I am able, keeping in mind the words that became my mantra this year: “Everything in God’s time and in God’s way!”