Raven Parents Turn Suffering Into Faith, Hope and Love

“Trusting God with reckless abandon.”

That became the theme of the Weeks family as they faced suffering and tragedy recently.

When Detroit Catholic named its top story of the year it was the sad but hopeful and inspiring story of Jim Weeks, the late father of a new freshman at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Diagnosed with cancer in Plymouth, Mich., Weeks was determined to use his suffering to bring people back to God. He died Aug. 3, 2021, but not before inspiring countless people with his faith.

Battling late-stage pancreatic cancer, at severe risk to catch COVID-19, and weak and exhausted from surgery, he was under no obligation to go to Mass.

“And yet, the Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioner and father of four refused to allow his diagnosis to stop him from worshiping the Lord,” reported the paper. “So he went, week after week — even if he could barely stand.”

“Soon, an incredible thing started happening: People noticed,” said the paper. “Non-Catholic friends and family members became curious about the faith of the dying man. Jim’s wife, Krysten, began receiving questions from others. One friend returned to Mass, and another began praying for the first time in years. In a real way, God was using Jim’s suffering to further his kingdom.”

Among those who noticed was Dominican Sister Sr. Mary Martha Becnel. She wrote a piece for Detroit Catholic about how the family’s story affected her.

“The visit with the Weeks family during this time was probably one of the greatest blessings God has given me during my religious life,” she wrote. “To be standing with this family, looking straight at death, and to see their faith and utter trust in God is a grace I will never forget.

She recalled that “When faced with her father’s terminal diagnosis, Jim’s youngest daughter, my former student, reportedly quoted Blessed Chiara Luce Badano’s statement of faith during her dying days: ‘Jesus, if you want it, I want it, too.’”

In the months before his Aug. 3 death Jim Weeks, the paper told the story of how he went to the adoration chapel at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, Mich., in February 2019, after he had just been diagnosed.

A priest prayed with the family and took a picture off the wall — an image of the paralytic being lowered through the roof to Jesus at Capernaum.

“Father John showed me the picture and told me, ‘This is where you are right now. This is the cancer bringing you to Jesus, and all of your friends bringing you to him with their prayers,’” Jim told Detroit Catholic. “Then he said, ‘God is either going to heal you or He is going to give you great strength.’”

Jim and his wife, Krystin, said their whole approach to the disease changed after that.

“Even on bad days after chemo, I felt worse staying home and not receiving the Eucharist,” Jim said. “When I felt bad, I wanted and needed to go to Mass more than ever, even if that meant sitting the whole time.”

No matter what, though, Jim would always stand when the Gospel was read.

The family started a blog to update friends and loved ones about Jim’s cancer journey. “It unknowingly became a tool for evangelization,” said Detroit Catholic.

As Krystin asked for prayers, she introduced saints and novenas to friends and family, and explained to non-Catholic friends that “we ask saints to pray for us just as we would ask a friend to pray for us.”

“We talk about faith more openly with people now, which has been one of the gifts that cancer has given us,” Krystin told the paper. “We wear our faith on our sleeves.”

God used their zeal. Jim started to notice it first. One friend told Jim he had returned to Mass to pray for him. Several people told him they started praying again for the first time in 20 years because of him.

“The last two years are covered with comments like that. Sometimes I wonder if maybe God is using us to bring people back to Him,” Krystin is quoted saying. “We’ve always prayed, from the time Jim was diagnosed with lymphoma, that God would let us receive what He needed us to receive from this cancer journey, and give to others what He wants us to give. I don’t believe this is just for us. I feel there are gifts, or messages, that God wants us to give others through our suffering.”

Image: Jim and Krystin (far right) Weeks pose for a photo at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth.
The Weeks daughters are, left to right, MaryMargaret, Madeline,  MacKenzie, and Meredith.
(Photo courtesy weeks family via Detroit Catholic)

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.