The story of Job is the well-known biblical account in which a person’s life goes from prosperity and security, from joy to despair. He has lost his family, his possessions, his security – and Job is the one who asks aloud what some of us only whisper – where is God in all of this? Job watches while his life unravels losing prosperity, family and feeling that the entirety of his life under assault. He has looked into his life to see if he is being punished for sin. But he finds none. And the assault doesn’t stop. He grows sick and covered with sores. No wonder he laments: “My days … come to an end without hope. …. I shall not see happiness again.”
In 1992 while riding a bicycle over Mount Weather out by Bluemont, VA – I was run down by a delivery truck. I remember moment of consciousness: laying on the roadside, in the ambulance, on a gurney moving through hallways, in the ER, tubes and wires, and voices. Far away, distant, clinical. Words lingering in the air: fractures, internal bleeding, massive skin abrasions, concussion. Many people diligently working, hands everywhere doing what was needed.
I was unconscious for most of it, but there were moments, no place that did not hurt, that fear beginning to encroach from the darkness that I teetered on. Different words, but echoing Job: My days … come to an end without hope. …. I shall not see happiness again. But one hand reached out, finding an un-bruised shoulder to make human touch, a voice of care and compassion to simply assure me that I had hope: I would walk again, eventually – I would return to the life I had known. I had what Job did not – I had a nurse who sensed what was needed most in that moment.
Job had been severely beaten down by life – he was too bruised to touch. There was no one in his life who offers care or compassion. There was no hand that touched, no voice that assured, no person who carried the hope that could serve as a beacon to shine within the darkness that has become Job’s life. Would that Job had a nurse in his life.
At my former parish in Tampa, we were the Catholic chaplains for the seven ICUs of Tampa General, a 1200 bed regional trauma center. We did rounds several times a week and were on call 24/7 for emergencies. In my 13 years I saw so many moments when when tragedy has fallen upon a person, a family and they are gripped by fear and uncertainty, perhaps wondering where is God in all this. And there in the midst of their tragedy is the hand the soothes and serves, the voice of assurance and compassion – not only to the patient, but the family too. There is the light of God’s presence in that particular darkness – the nurses that form the front line of hospital care. The ones who celebrate the joys, feel the loss, the ones about whom so many letters of praise are written from patients and families of patients.
It seems to me that the nurses I came to know in the ICUs, feel the same kinds of compulsion and passion as does St. Paul in our second reading: woe to him if he did not preach the gospel, if he did not use his grace and gifts. I suspect that describes many a nurse – certainly the letters that are written to TGH in praise of their service testifies to that.
I suspect they experience that same moment as Jesus in the gospel. It has been a long day and night. Jesus is drained, tired, and he withdraws to a quiet place to seek solace in prayer. That is when the apostles find him: “Everyone is looking for you.” You only have to watch the moments in the ICUs to see the same thing. You only had to watch the news during this pandemic. A nurse taking a moment from the energy of all the care giving, when they are called back to service. Everyone is looking for you. And they rise from their respite.
Returning to the bedside, a hand of compassion and care, one of many hands, reaching down to grasp the hand of a patient, of Job, of your loved one – reaching down to life them up from disease, from hopelessness – raising them to restored life. Sometimes accompanying them to the gates of new life.
It is the mission of nurses. It is also the Christian mission, our mandate. It is your mandate. Each one of us has the same kind of mission – in our own way to be part of those who bring new life, who reach into the lives of those around us. To be the hand that touches, the voice that assures, the person who carries the divine Hope within that shines into the darkness of another’s life.
Where is God in all this? In you and in me.
Jesus told the disciples, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”
We each have a common purpose, our own role. Like St. Paul, like nurses everywhere, Woe to us if we do not live this gospel. Because even if others do not know it. Everyone is looking for us. Everyone is looking for the Hope we carry within us.
Let us go out there, nourished by the Eucharist – God within us. Let us go to do what is our to do, to carry the healing touch of Christ to others. For this purpose, we have been sent.