One of the many, many nice things about being a deacon in the Catholic Church is that we can be married and have a family. Anyone who knows me knows how incredibly fortunate and blessed I am to be married to Wanda, my sweetheart and best friend for almost 50 years. And they know how blessed we both have been with our four children, our daughter-in-law and son-in-law, and our two grandsons.
When our older daughter, Julie, was a medical student doing her clinical rotation at a Level 1 trauma center in Brooklyn, she shared a powerful experience with us. Wanda saw its relevance to our faith and encouraged me to share it with the parish.
Julie was on call in the ER when an elderly lady was brought in by ambulance from a nursing home. The lady’s name was Linda and she was having difficulty breathing. But in addition to her physical problem, Linda’s chart showed a diagnosis of schizophrenia. This poor woman’s internal world was a terrifying place.
Julie was assigned to Linda to do a work-up that included drawing blood and listening to her heart rate. Linda was fearful of the needle, but Julie’s calming presence reassured her. With one gentle stick, Julie was able to draw the necessary blood without causing Linda any pain. Linda felt safe with my daughter and asked her name. ‘Julie,’ she gently answered.
In listening to Linda’s heartbeat, Julie discovered something irregular. The resident who was supervising her confirmed the irregularity and asked Julie to sit by Linda for the duration of her on call shift, and to watch her heart rhythms on the bedside monitor.
As she sat down in front of the monitor, Julie gently held Linda’s hand. She told Linda that she would be right there just in case she needed her for anything. Linda lay back and was calm.
Less than two minutes went by when Linda appeared agitated and called out,
‘Yes, Linda. I’m right here. What do you need?’
‘Just practicing,’ Linda said and lay back peacefully.
Another two minutes went by.
Her interior world being filled with terror, Linda needed to constantly call out to reassure herself that Julie was there. This cycle of calling out and reassurance went for hours, until Linda was moved from the chaos of the ER and admitted to a room on the elder care unit.
So, how is this relevant to our faith?
Life is a gift and it is beautiful, but the world outside and inside our head can at times be painful and frightening. And we live each day with the existential knowledge that our time on earth is limited. But God is always by our side. God will never abandon us. And when our time on earth is through, God will be there to take away our fear, to embrace us and welcome us home.
We believe this with faith and someday we will experience it with certainty. But in the meantime, we, like Linda, practice to reassure ourselves that God is there; we practice by calling out to God in prayer.
And God answers in the darkness,
‘I am here, my child, I am with you.’
That answer comes to us in the depths of our hearts, in the love and compassion we receive from others, in the grace of the sacraments; and it come to us in those unexplained meaningful coincidences, those synchronicities, that God uses to tell us he’s there. God always answers; we just have to be listening.
There have been times in my life when I was scared and felt lost in the universe: times when my back was to the wall and there was no way out. But I called out in the darkness and God always answered and made a window in that wall and pulled me through.
God has been there in the darkness for all of us or we wouldn’t be here in this room today.
Let us go through this day, this Advent season, and the rest of our lives at peace knowing that God is always by our side; and let us keep practicing by calling out to God in prayer. God always answers. It may not be the answer we expect, but God always answers – we just have to be listening.
As I have grown in my faith I have come to realize that one of the strongest forms of prayer and the clearest way to listen for God’s answer is to be an instrument of love, forgiveness and mercy for others. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has designated this new Church Year beginning with the first Sunday in Advent to be a Year of Mercy. Let us journey through this special year, and all the years that follow, by practicing, listening and being an instrument of love, forgiveness and mercy to all of our sisters and brothers – all of God’s children – without exception.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:
Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life
Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry