The news that Tony Snow, a Catholic convert and national media figure, had lost his battle with colon cancer in the wee hours of Saturday morning was not a surprise, but it was still a sad disappointment. He is survived by his wife Jill and three children. God comfort them.
Tony Snow always considered himself a very lucky man — even during his years of struggle with the same cancer that had taken his mother when he was 17. His gratitude for his many blessings bubbled out of him like a wellspring of joy and his joy was contagious. His was the very model of an integrated life — the same person in public as in private, the same person on Sunday as on Wednesday, and the same person playing as working.
He wore his Catholic faith unabashedly and without pretense and he was not cowed by political correctness from publically asserting the value and truth of the Christian faith and hope. So precious to him was the deepening of faith that accompanied his illness that he called the cancer, “the very best thing that ever happened to me, other than marrying my wife.” In a July 2007 article for Christianty Today, “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings,” he dilated upon what he thought his illness had given him:
I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is — a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.
But despite this — because of it — God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don’t know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face….
[R]emember that we were born not into death, but into life — and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many nonbelieving hearts — an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live — fully, richly, exuberantly — no matter how their days may be numbered….
The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.
There’s nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue — for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do….
Through such trials [as a diagnosis of cancer], God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?…
What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don’t know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place — in the hollow of God’s hand.
He declared numerous times, and ever more strongly as the disease conquered his body, that he put his trust in God, that surrender was the way to approach both death, and life:
It’s not just saying “God, it’s in your hands,” but understanding whatever may come afterwards is a matter of not trying to get God to do stuff for you, except maybe to mow down some of the barriers that separate you from God, because for all of us, our vanities get in the way.
On May 12, 2007, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Tony Snow gave the 118th Annual Commencement Address for the Catholic University of America. Please visit our recently-opened channel, The Integrated Life, and read the text of Tony Snow’s address, “Reason, Faith, Vocation.”
Tony Snow, rest in peace. May all barriers that separate you from God quickly dissolve and may angels guide you to the New Jerusalem.