Let me go back in time a bit. We were at the end of our priests’ retreat in 2005 (held then at Spring Hill College), when I got a message that my Mom was taken to hospital with shortness of breath. I was concerned but not panicky at that point. Getting back to St Bede, the following day I found they’d rushed her into emergency cardiac surgery. The office team at St Bede wasted no time; they booked me a flight to Chicago. She was in CCU in Christ Hospital, about a mile from her house. I had keys to the house, and when my brother picked me up at the airport there was no problem with where I could stay. Since her car keys were in the house, I also had transportation.
It was like stepping into a vacuum. There was a horrible silence, a stillness, in the house. My Mom’s dear friend, Kathy, had taken Peggy (my Mom’s dog) to her house, so I was utterly all alone. This went on for 4 days, as I would concelebrate Mass at her parish, Most Holy Redeemer, and then spend all the CCU hours allowed in the unit with my Mom. She’d received the Anointing of the Sick before I got there, so I simply prayed, and watched, and hoped (and knew). Her surgery took place (Lord only knows why) even though the aneurysm had burst and had taken her life before she ever got to the operating theatre. For me, the watching was simply part of the protocol to be followed, before the physicians could make a formal pronouncing of her death.
During that time, when I was all alone in the house, yes—there was absolute emptiness. And yet, as I can still remember so strongly, I felt a physical presence of support and love: the prayers of people (especially in Montgomery) praying for me and for her. This was a visceral awareness, and I will never forget it. During the funeral there were friends from Montgomery/Auburn, from Notre Dame days, and even Archbishop Lipscomb, who happened to be in Chicago for the USCCB’s semi-annual meeting. They were a great support, but it’s the prayer from a distance, in the silence, that I remember most.
I hope and pray that our enforced distancing today can have the same effect, if not the same experiential force. As I look out into an empty church, and as you watch on Facebook, we cannot experience community the way we wish, the way we are accustomed to. But we are in fact still connected; our prayers can still touch and console and strengthen one another. There’s an old Latin phrase—Oremus pro invicem (“Let us pray for one another”). Even when physically far apart, we can still be close in spirit, and in the Spirit. Ours now is a very small share in the desolation of Jesus on the Cross. Let’s bear it with endurance and offer our isolation as a prayer for the sake of the world. Let me end with a favorite passage from Scripture (Colossians 1:24): “Even now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for I am making up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of His Body, the Church.”