Twitter biographies are often revealing — in some cases, quite unintentionally.
Stuart Rogerson’s Twitter bio offers a concise description of his life, from his service as a minister in the national church in Scotland to his decision to become a Catholic in 2013.
The two-line summary notes that he is happily married with three daughters and eight grandchildren, and ends with four striking words: “Dying of oesophageal cancer.”
Rogerson joined the social media network in 2019. After he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he began to write about the experience. His brief reflections, often beginning with the hashtag “#DyingUpdate,” have reached thousands of people around the world.
Recently, he tweeted:
In an email interview with The Pillar, he discussed his journey to Rome, his prayer life, and why he insists that even though his body is dying, he is not.
You’ve written that in around 1978, when you were studying ecclesiastical history at Glasgow University, you “felt God calling me to Catholicism.” What form did this prompting from God take?
Studying the history of the Early Church at Glasgow University awakened in me a clear dissonance between my experience of Presbyterian Protestantism and what became the Catholic Church. Reading also about the Tractarian movement opened my eyes to possibilities beyond my dreams. St. Augustine’s writing and experiences played an important part in my growth and in my journey.
Yet, there was a clear problem. I was a very reluctant candidate for the Church of Scotland ministry. I was happy as a teacher, happily married with a clear plan for my life, yet the call from God was clear, powerful, and very real. I couldn’t reconcile the two opposing calls. I left it to God.
To go back, I had had a brush with a possible early death from cancer, and I had a striking moment in the bath, of all places, when I came to be at peace with dying but quite clearly said to the Lord that if I survived then I would do whatever He asked of me, He could have my life in totality.
A few months later, that call to ministry came, an irresistible call that I tried my best to avoid. Only when I agreed and consented did I know a sense of peace that to this day has never left me.
You served as a minister in the Church of Scotland from 1980 until your retirement due to ill health in 2001. Did you feel like you were carrying a secret all that time: your desire to become a Catholic?
As the years passed, my desire not to be a Protestant but a Catholic or Orthodox Christian remained in the background of my daily life. It was a desire spoken of to Our Lord but left in his hands, as there was, as far as I could see, no practical way to answer the two opposing calls in my life.
When you were diagnosed with esophageal cancer, did it test your faith?
Poor health dogged me from the beginning of my journey in faith, leading to my forced retirement in 2001, although I had been unable to fulfill my duties since Holy Week in 1999.
For reasons that don’t matter, I came into email contact, in 2013, almost by accident with the then parish priest. I told him my story and wondered if it were possible to become a secret Catholic convert. I didn’t want to cause problems for anybody, or feature in the press [Editor’s note: Because of Rogerson’s position in the Church of Scotland, his conversion might have been covered in Catholic media], or make a fuss. He discussed this with the bishop, who agreed, and within a month I had been received into the Church in my own living room in December 2013.
So to skip forward to what the fuss is now: Last year, the Lord clearly laid in my heart that I was dying. I didn’t expect to see Christmas. I knew it and I was perfectly at peace with it all. I had lived my whole adult life trusting in the unexpected journey the Lord was taking me on. In February of this year, I contacted the doctor and on Ash Wednesday, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was, of course, no surprise. Eight days later, my end-of-life care kit was delivered and the expectation was that I would be dead within three months.
You are housebound and largely confined to a chair. Do you think your confinement has helped you to gain greater intimacy with Jesus?
Our Lord had answered my heartfelt prayer of decades that I would know my end, that I would have time to prepare others for my death. I was deeply grateful and at peace with an utter trust in His goodness. My body is dying but I’m not. I’m not dying, I am going home to be with my beloved Lord.
Do you have any advice about prayer for people who are caught up in the busyness of their everyday lives?
I have no advice for others except to encourage them to remember this life is a brief journey, a passing shadow on the world, and to strive to live in the presence of God every minute of the day, no matter how busy, it is to keep in constant contact with Our Lord.
What role does Twitter play in your life today?
I have shared my journey on Twitter, which seems to have struck a chord with many people. I feel God has a role for me to play which I am happy to fulfill. Although given three months to live, I am now at the time writing about to enter my eighth month of dying.
Why did you decide to share your reflections about your life with terminal cancer with others?
As someone who has been housebound for a long time, my Catholic Twitter feed became my community. Although my followers have increased dramatically since I began sharing my journey, the original impetus was simply to share with my Twitter friends. It seems from the comments I receive that I am helping many people to understand the nature of what I hope is a good Christian death. Since I first went online in 1983 (yes, 1983) my motivation was to share the faith online. That calling and my passion for tech still continues.
Are you afraid of dying?
No, I’m not remotely afraid of dying. To die, as St Paul said, is to gain. As I die, I am offering it all to Our Lord, whether it is a good day or one that is filled with sickness, weakness, and pain. I pray it is of use. If I was afraid of dying, it would be to make of my life and faith a lie. Our Lord is with me every step of the way, even when it seems He has gone missing. I don’t doubt that for one minute. This passing shadow of earthly life is as nothing to the reality that will soon be mine. And along this final journey, I am supported by the Sacraments and prayers of the Church. I draw tremendous strength from the Divine Office, from the prayers offered for me daily via Twitter. I am blessed and rich.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
There is nothing special about me. I am just an ordinary soul on an ordinary journey trying my best every day to serve Our Lord.