Before you read
In these days of isolation, it's natural to feel alone. Not simply alone in our homes or our rooms, but cut off from familiar sources of strength and love – including God! We might feel helpless as we look out our windows or at our screens, as if we're watching a devastating storm. Alone, or with a friend, consider:
- Where is God in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?
- How can a loving God allow something like this to happen?
- What is the hopeful news you've heard in the past 24 hours?
These are some heavy questions, and you might not have great answers to any of them right now. That's OK. Be patient with yourself and be open to what you might discover in the following article. Also consider discussing the content of this lesson with a parent, teacher or other trusted adult.
Keep in mind while you read
It can be frustrating to be isolated, without much to do about coronavirus other than to pray. You're not alone. Sisters are praying, too! And some, including the sister you're about to read about, are serving the sick and dying. How can her story focus or deepen your prayer?
I'm providing health care, and prayer, during COVID-19
In early March, I sat with two other New York City emergency medicine colleagues as part of an interfaith sharing at Fordham University, titled "Where Faith and Medicine Intersect."
A Jewish physician, a Muslim physician assistant and I, a Roman Catholic religious sister and physician assistant, shared about the moments where our faith intersects in our medical practice. Our hospital in New York City serves the underserved. We spoke of the importance of prayer and how important it is in our work every day. A cycle of prayer, ministry, prayer kept us grounded in the cases we encountered.
Since then, our lives and medical practice have changed drastically. Experiences where human touch were used in respect, compassion, assurance and healing were tempered as the threat of the coronavirus loomed.
In the days that followed I thought, "At least if people can't feel my touch, they can see the warm, compassion, concern and regard in my face." And so, I worked at really being present and letting my facial features act in the physical way. Now, I wear a mask that is suffocating and muffles my voice as it covers both my mouth and nose — over half of my face — and I pray to God that the compassion, regard and concern I hold for my patients at this time is expressed in my eyes. That is all I have now.
In midst of my own physical limitations of healing — my touch and facial expressions — I am being asked to see patients who may very well have COVID-19 but are not "sick enough" to get tested. I talk with them, hear their fears and validate their concerns for their health and the health of their family. I examine them and try to reassure them before I give them very strict instructions as I send them home to "be" with others. We are now far enough into the experience of the virus to know that most of these patients will get better, but some will get worse, needing to be intubated, and some may even die. Patients that I have sent home may come back and die.
This is a new reality for me in medicine as I have always prided myself on doing the very best for my patients and really going the extra mile. I have advocated for patients who have nothing. Now there are times I feel like I have very little to offer. The reality of shortages of tests, resources and the deep desire for people to get out of the hospital if they are not sick enough to be there has brought me to a different level of medical care.
The guilt is overwhelming. Have I provided the correct treatment? What if I bring this home to the people I live with? What if I am the reason people get sick? Then there is the guilt I feel when reassuring my family and congregation members that I am doing everything I can to protect myself, when I live with the reality that protective materials are not always available. I feel guilty for assuring people I will be all right.
"We battle a war we never signed up to fight and an enemy we are learning small bits about each day with every new patient."
The reality of health care during this virus is that treatments that have saved lives in the past cannot be used because they would spread the virus. Breathing treatments that have saved people's lives in the past cannot be used because these very same treatments would spread the virus. Now the only option for patients who need help breathing is to put them on a respirator. That protects their airway, helps them breathe and protects those around them after they are intubated.
Families may come to the hospital with the patient, but they are encouraged to turn away at the door and wait to hear by phone about their loved one. If they do stay — under a big threat for their own safety, sitting amid other patients waiting for treatment — we can give updates, but they are not allowed to see the patient. This is heart wrenching. Admitted patients are sent upstairs and can only connect by phone. Those who are intubated can only listen. The loss of physical touch and presence is now overwhelming. I know deep in my heart the days ahead will involve dire need and difficult decisions.
I pray with deep desire these days. I pray all day. My prayer is like it has never been before; real and dire, filled with petition for those I have treated and for those I love. Prayers for those who will die alone and prayers for those who love them. I pray for my family's safety and my religious congregation — for time to be with them all again. My prayer also includes prayers for me and my co-workers as we battle each day. We battle a war we never signed up to fight and an enemy we are learning small bits about each day with every new patient.
I echo and remember the words we spoke that day as we presented on Faith in Medicine — the Jewish Shema — "Hear, O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" and the gift of a Mitzvah (a good deed). The Quran and the belief that a good deed done for one affects all, and the Gospel of Matthew in Chapter 25:40: "Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me." These words all have new meaning as we hold them at the very core of our being and our medical practice. Hoping and praying that we will heal in a new way blessed by our Creator and steeped in our tradition of prayer.
I pray for the time when we can take off our masks, gowns and gloves, the time when it is safe to reach out and hug another person without fear.
The landscape, as of late March, continues to change drastically as the virus progresses. Our days are filled with stress and our loved ones worry terribly about us. People we have worked with have died, and each death makes the threat real. One man to whom I was very close, our custodian, had only six months of retirement. He deserved so much more.
We are intubating more and more patients — and they are not normal intubations, so we are learning how to adapt. Calls for respiratory therapy are constant, all over the hospital, as empty spaces and more rooms are made available for patients. Whenever a room opens up for one of our patients waiting in the Emergency Department (ED), I say a prayer for whoever was in that room and their family.
And I think of the Gospel of Lazarus at the tomb — "And Jesus wept." I know Jesus weeps with me in my quiet moments. So many of my co-workers say what a relief the tears are these days. Even our crying has to be sterile, as I would never want to touch my face with infected hands.
I know now that my eyes are a place of compassion as I wink at patients before they are intubated and reassure them with my hand on their shoulder and a gentle word: Relax. I know that it is the best way for them to live. It is the only way that they will live, as we use borrowed and new ventilators. I cry with the psalmist today, "Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side." And I know that the Lord is my Shepherd and that my head is anointed with oil each time I am at work. Ministry now has a meaning I would never have conceived of 20 years ago when I started my ministry. And I deeply feel the presence of Jesus.
There is an overwhelming, raw concern and regard for all of our staff — from environmental and clerical, to anesthesia, respiratory and the ED staff. We are so supportive of each other — wondering if there will ever be a time when our ED will be normal again? We are supportive to each other — sharing resources of prayer and meditation. We are solicitous of the ones who weren't trained to deal with the death we are seeing these days. Everyone I know knows someone who has died or is fighting this illness.
Our greatest resource right now is ourselves, and so many people are praying. It is their prayers that get us through each shift. We continue to pray too, unceasingly as we worry about our physical and emotional health. Knowing in our hearts if we are standing there, we are fighting the fight and we will make it. The courage in our vulnerability is palpable, and we are courage.
The life of those I treat is very much mine these days. There is little that separates us. We all have the desire for health and life. I pray for the time when we can take off our masks, gowns and gloves, the time when it is safe to reach out and hug another person without fear; I pray we will do so in a new way. A way that speaks of understanding and acceptance. A way that offers peace to our world. A way that lets us all know WE ARE ONE.
After you read
Alone, or with a partner, consider:
- How does prayer support Sr. Mary Catherine Redmond in her hospital ministry?
- How does she show compassion to her patients and her heath care colleagues?
- Name one or two new things you discovered in this article that you might pray about.
The story of Lazarus, which Sr. Mary Catherine Redmond mentions, is very emotional. Lazarus, one of Jesus' closest friends has died. Lazarus' sisters are grieving. Everybody — Lazarus' sisters, Jesus' disciples and even a crowd of Jews — is wondering whether Jesus could have done more. Jesus himself becomes deeply troubled as he approaches Lazarus’ tomb. John's gospel tells us:
"And Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him.'
But some of them said, 'Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?'"
[Before answering, read the full story: John 11:1-44]
- Why do you think Jesus wept?
- What do you think when you see someone who’s usually strong and composed — such as a TV news anchor, a government leader or an older relative — weep?
- Jesus was aware that everyone was watching him, wondering what he’d do. Why is it important that his first response was to cry?
Jesus' tears might show his own sadness over losing a friend or his compassion for those who mourn Lazarus. People sometimes are encouraged not to cry, but in stressful times like these, our tears can be a healthy first response that help us move forward.
For another perspective on this story, click here.
To reflect further on the raising of Lazarus, explore this lesson.
The church's call
Crisis situations seem too common. Hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings and this coronavirus crisis can overwhelm us. It's natural to wonder why bad things happen, as well as why God would allow them to happen. Like the onlookers at Lazarus' tomb, we might wonder "Couldn't God do something?"
Our faith offers answers to this question, but they are complex. They require a lot of effort and patience to understand and accept. Here are key points about what the church teaches [explore these more deeply in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 298-314, found here]:
- God, who created us, is always in control. This includes enabling us to take action. [CCC 301]
- While God saw everything he created as good, it wasn't created complete. God guides creation toward perfection. [CCC 302]
- God gives his creatures dignity by inviting us to cooperate in his master plan. [CCC 306]
- Becoming "co-workers" in God's plan includes not only our actions, but our prayers and sacrifices. [CCC 307]
- We must stay faithful to God. We can’t achieve God’s plan for us without the help of God’s grace. [CCC 308]
- Why does evil exist? God didn't create a perfect world, but a world journeying toward perfection. Good and bad forces exist side-by-side. [CCC 309-310]
- God gives us free will, allowing us to choose between good and evil. God can bring good from the consequences of any evil. [CCC 311-312]
- God works for good for those who love him. Only at the end, when we see God face-to-face, will we understand how he has guided creation. [CCC 313-314]
These are highlights of deeper truths. They help us wrestle with questions about this current crisis. Alone, or with a partner, consider:
- How is God in control of the coronavirus pandemic?
- What actions and choices are we called to make today in order to cooperate with God's plan?
- What gifts does God give you to make a difference in this situation?
- We're used to instant answers. How does it feel to wait in wonder about what God is up to?
For these and many other questions, there are no quick answers. Pray for patience with yourself, with others and with God.
Synergy with sisters
Sister Mary Catherine Redmond's congregation, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, promote the values of hope, justice, freedom, and human dignity. Learn more here about their ministry, which includes work in the health care and social service fields.
Health care workers such as Sr. Mary Catherine Redmond make great sacrifices and take great risks in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Here are a few ways that people are supporting them:
- Making masks, shields and other protective devices [or donating to people making these]
- Purchasing meals from local restaurants to be delivered to hospital staff
- Staying home and following official guidelines to limit the spread of coronavirus
- Sharing messages of support
Consider these ideas or dream up some of your own. Then reach out to the volunteer or community relations coordinator at your local hospital [do not contact medical staff] to see what needs you can help meet.
Loving God, you are in control.
Please give us the wisdom, patience and courage
to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Please guide and strengthen those
who serve people who are sick.
Keep them safe,
Help them stay healthy and rested
and let them know they are not alone.
Help us place our trust in you
as we seek ways to place our gifts
in service to all your children.