Father Jim finds himself serving in a hospital, scrambling to "be somebody." What will save him from falling into nothingness?
My first response to the Coronavirus crisis was, “I’m going to work hard to get this Coronavirus thing right, following the Movement and the guidance of authorities.” And, “This is a chance (since I work in a hospital) to make myself somebody.” The fear that one is nobody, accompanied by its frantic attempt to make oneself somebody--is that the “deep fear that grips us at the depths of our being?” (Carron's Letter to Corriere della Sera, March 1, 2020). This is nothingness.
Long meetings with our hospital’s Spiritual Care Department, lots of information, projections, strategies to protect ourselves and others--while necessary--have not saved me from nothingness. In fact, in front of this analysis, I found myself plunging more into nothingness--the symptoms of which are my need to analyze and speak so as to show I am on top of this, a certain rigidity, fear of making a mistake, etc. As our part of the country was crawling through this process, I found myself saying, “But I have yet to meet a person with COVID-19 !” I think that was a clue.
Reality saves me from nothingness. I read the paper, and I’m perhaps more knowledgeable, but also more adrift. I go to the hospital and visit a patient who needs the sacraments, then call the patient’s husband (who is not allowed to visit her) to let him know I’ve given his wife Anointing of the Sick. His relief is real--it’s proof Jesus has risen, is with us, giving us what we cannot give ourselves. Now that our long-awaited “peak” is arriving, I have met COVID-19 patients, following conscientiously all the protective protocols, in order to give them the sacraments. Still, it is a risk. But is it not a risk worth taking? For me not to go, not to offer them the sacraments--would that not be to risk losing something much more valuable?
As I exercise my freedom in this way, I find I’m becoming someone. I have something to offer. Or better, Someone chose me, and has me to offer. I see it happening in my coworkers--physicians, nurses, aides, cleaners--each one of them is becoming someone.
Father Jim, Sioux Falls, South Dakota