Friday, September 8, 2023

The Blind Will See

“Once you let go of the world in a spirit of detachment, once you remove the things of this world from your grasp and see them without distortion, you will really have them. They will appear as they are, as God intended them. They will no longer be objects for your manipulation or possession but beautiful realities in themselves.”

- Bishop Robert Barron

“Word is starting to get out” I think to myself as I look into the pair of eyes staring back at me. From the white corner of her eye an invasive, fleshy growth extends its unwelcome branches over her once colorful and perfectly symmetrical iris. In the eyes of the last patient, I recall, the pupils were barely noticeable behind this intrusive stranger known to medical professionals as a pterygium. The next patient, an older man guided into the office by the hand of his wife, complains of progressive blurry vision over the past few years. A quick look into his eyes reveals a cloudiness that obstructs even my own vision- in it I notice the absence of my reflection. He suffers from the infamous cataract. Then arrives a child who struggles to learn in school- she cannot make out the words and formulas on the chalkboard. Her parents worry about her future without an adequate education. By the end of the month a notebook boasts a list of over two hundred names of men, women, and children whose lives have been affected by failing vision, more than two hundred persons eagerly anticipating a clearer view of the world around them.


Age and atmosphere eventually take their toll on the human senses, especially here in the remote and wild Amazon rainforest. Callused hands and feet are slowly desensitized by arduous days of manual labor and barefoot journeys on rocky, uneven ground. Monotonous taste buds are reluctantly summoned by the salt- and sugar-limiting ailments of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Deafened ears are repeatedly sounded by the constant noise of a restless, moving world slowly inching its way into the farthest stretches of the undisturbed tropics. And foggy eyes are progressively faded by years of unprotected sun exposure while harvesting land and traversing the reflective waters of the Napo River. Upon first glance, the inevitable deterioration of the senses appears to be a rather bleak reality. However, it is precisely in this distortion of the human senses that we encounter within our hearts the one sense capable of perceiving an unseen, deeper, and more fruitful reality. Faith. It is this sense that allows us to feel the intangible, savor the subtle sweetness in the overwhelming bitterness, listen attentively in the deafening silence, and walk blindly in the uninviting darkness. Through faith we see truth, beauty, and goodness in the world around us- as they are, as God intended, beautiful realities within themselves.


The long-anticipated Ophthalmology team from Spain finally appears in our narrow field of vision. In an instant, a small hospital perched along the banks of the Napo River, practically invisible and unknown to the rest of the world, transcends the gap separating two distant continents. With a long list of patients and only two weeks to accomplish their vision-saving operation, the team makes no delay and gets to work right away. Just as the Ophthalmology team has traveled the wavering air currents over the Atlantic Ocean, so too have patients traversed the calmer waters of the Napo River to arrive in Santa Clotilde. Community health workers from rural health posts begin to arrive with boatfuls of people who, for some, may be experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Special eye equipment survives the 24 hour boat ride from the city of Iquitos, and the hospital anxiously prepares extra beds and food for the imminent rush of patients. However, the challenge doesn’t stop there. Despite torrential rainfall, intermittent electricity blackouts, a faulty generator, and anywhere from twelve to sixteen hour work days, the visiting Ophthalmology team attends to 340 patients, performs 84 eye surgeries, and prescribes 223 pairs of glasses. Three hundred and forty lives seen, heard, touched- transformed.

Two weeks pass, and it is no coincidence that the departure of our Ophthalmology team aligns with the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On this special day the Church recognizes and celebrates the culmination of our holy Mother’s grace-filled life- her Heavenly entrance into God’s kingdom. Fully human just like us, Mary teaches us how faith transcends all limitations and defects of the human senses and gives us access to this same Heavenly reception. In listening without understanding, she is attentive to the request of a spiritual messenger of God even when such a task seems impossible. In feeling without touching, she nurtures new life within her womb without the intimate embrace of man and woman. In savoring without first tasting, she urges and trusts the conversion of water into wine. And perceiving life after death without seeing, she walks alongside her only Son to His death on the cross where she accepts her role as the Mother of us all. Through faith her human senses become undistorted, her gifts unpossessed and freely given, her soul fully surrendered to God’s beautiful reality.

A few weeks later a patient arrives with good news. “I can see again.” After undergoing cataract surgery, he sees the world differently, more clearly. And as he explains his experience of transformation I, too, begin to see more vividly the reality staring back at me. I sense the work of faith. It is faith that first brought a group of missionaries here decades ago to share and know God’s love. Faith that built a hospital to serve a suffering and abandoned people. Faith that formed an inseparable bond of trust and friendship between natives and strangers physically separated by space and time. Faith that sustains a hospital’s mission amidst the face of immense physical and emotional human suffering, interpersonal violence and injustice, and government corruption. Faith that brought the father of an ophthalmologist to serve long-term in Santa Clotilde and his daughter to offer her gifts and talents for the sake of others. Faith that attracted hundreds of patients to place their trust in someone and something outside of themselves. Faith, the hidden yet life-sustaining roots beneath the surface, the gateway to restored and unobstructed vision.

And in the blink of an eye, I am reminded that in the distortion and corruption of our human senses, the gift of faith renews us into the image in which we were created. As He restores our vision in His image, we appear as we are, as we are intended to be- fully surrendered, truly free, and beautiful in ourselves. I am reminded that only in letting go can we truly have that which is worth having.

“Faith is the virtue upon which Christianity rests and is the capacity to see beyond the senses to a deeper or higher reality…To be a person of faith is to know that the universe of the senses is but the tip of the iceberg, a gateway.” 
- Bishop Robert Barron

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

When Joy Becomes Flesh

I remove the plastic cutting board from the kitchen cabinet, a sharpened knife in one hand and a freshly-picked pineapple in the other. Though my taste buds desperately await the juicy, yellow fruit lying within, the less-inviting but protective spines remind me that once cut open, this gift can only be enjoyed once. One last glance at the pineapple in its wholeness sends my heart and mind on a journey to its humble beginning- a person- the seed of a fruit now flowered, gifted, fully grown, and resting in my hands.

I recently learned that a pineapple plant dies once it produces its fruit- it spends its whole lifetime (about three years) nurturing and protecting its fruit until it is finally ready to share its sweet treasure. Its main pollinators are the whimsical, colorful hummingbird and the erratic, nocturnal bat. During its growth it remains unattractively green, hard, non-fragrant, and even noxious if ingested before it matures. The ripening process is marked by the withering away of its dry, dead spiny leaves and the transformation of its pulp into a yellow, soft, and aromatic delicacy. Though each plant produces only one fruit visible to the human eye, the pineapple is actually a collection of multiple fruits which coalesce together to form a single mass in a process called inflorescence. And as I slice through the hardness and bitterness of its rind and into the softness and sweetness of its flesh, this particular pineapple paints for me a portrait of the man for whom I cared during the dark, heavy, withering moments of his life and the transformation we all experienced into a brighter, gentler, and sweeter-scented end. 

He first presented to the hospital with progressive swelling of his legs, yellowing of his skin, and difficulties breathing while walking. After a quick physical exam and some basic laboratory studies it was clear that his liver was beginning to fail. His first hospitalization, however, resulted in a hopeful discharge- with a few medications on board to help remove the fluid from his body, he left the hospital a few pounds lighter and a few breaths deeper. One month later the swelling returned, only this time expanding into his chest and filling his abdomen. His disease resisted any medications and even the removal of four liters of fluid from his abdomen. Soon we decided to pursue palliative care during what would become the last few days of his life. In this paradoxical process of dying, its life-giving fruit was beginning to make itself known. Day after day of exchanging words and gestures, working together to alleviate his symptoms of pain and restlessness, and being present to the needs of their loved one, his family and I formed a unique bond. And as the days after his death went by, the unripe, hard, scentless, and noxious reality of his death soon withered away.

A few weeks later his daughter appears outside the clinic. To my surprise, she hands me a gift wrapped in a plastic bag. She tells me they cultivate a variety of fruits and vegetables on their land, and she wants to share with me a portion of their “cosecha,” or harvest. I gratefully open the bag and inside lies a pineapple- a symbol of the fully-developed, resilient, fragrant, and healing fruit produced during one of the most difficult moments of their lives: joy. I am reminded that joy is not a fleeting sentiment nor a reward for the ambitious spirit. Just as a pineapple is planted, grown, and harvested in fertile soil, so too is joy sown, cultivated, and garnered in the ready, willing human heart. Ultimately, to choose joy is to cut through the hard, resistant rind in which it is contained and partake in the fruit hidden beneath its bitter surface.


This past month I had the unique opportunity to participate in a brigade to Angoteros, a small riverside community about seven hours up the Napo River. The last time I set out to this town it was a quick there-and-back trip on our ambulance boat to retrieve a woman who was dying from a severe snake envenomation. As I traverse this route a second time with a more joyful end in sight, I am reminded of both the challenges and the wonders of living in such a remote area of the Amazon rainforest.

The purpose of this trip was to train and prepare local community health workers to attend to the basic and immediate health needs of their neighbors. These community health workers are volunteers of varying ages often nominated by their communities to take on this important role. After a series of discussions on the importance of childhood vaccinations, prevention of anemia, identification of obstetric emergencies, and safe management and administration of common medications, over thirty community health workers walk away with a certificate of achievement in their hands and an incentive basket full of household necessities. We all leave refreshed, hopeful that they will make a difference in their communities.

Arriving back at our jungle “bungalow” in the afternoon, I am invited by one of the long-term Polish missionaries and a group of children to jump in the river for a swim. A moment of hesitancy dominates my thoughts as I anxiously recount the possible creatures, diseases, and exposures that lurk beneath the river's surface. However, with the sight of the cool, inviting water contained by the river’s bank, the hot and humid air manifest in the overactive sweat glands all over my body, and the Polish missionary’s testimony to never falling ill from a dunk in the water, I agree to jump in…

I am grateful to have gone for a variety of unique and beautiful swims in my life ranging from a frigid dip in the crystalline rivers and lakes of the Rocky Mountains, a peaceful float in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean Sea, a starlight soak in the sulfury hot springs atop the majestic Andes mountains, and a daring jump into the river of a pristine Costa Rican rainforest surrounded by a canopy of monkeys, hanging vines, and colorful avifauna. Yet, despite the splendor of all of these aquatic experiences my adventurous plunge into the Napo River with the Polish missionary and the five wawakuna (“children" in the indigenous language of Kichwa) was a unique and special gift.

As soon as the first splash emanates from the murky water’s surface, the joy that surrounds me emerges clear as day- the smiling faces eagerly anticipating the next courageous jumper, the contagious laughter spreading from one child to the next, the relief from the cool water enveloping our parched skin, and the playful juggling of a volleyball that, though separated in space and time, eventually unites all of our hands in this one memorable moment. Joy. I am reminded of this special gift that children so readily accept, embrace, and share with the world joy, a gift often unacknowledged and unwelcome in the adult’s complex and tireless pursuit of a life of success. In this simple yet purposeful moment an unseen void within me is instantly filled. Amidst this void carved away by difficult weeks of witnessing severely advanced yet preventable diseases, deaths both unexpected and devastatingly premature, and difficult situations in which I felt helpless and unheard, these children were placed in my path. I am reminded that even amidst the suffering, the helplessness, the fear and anxiety, the disappointment, the injustice, and the apathy, that joy can be found. And while the world promises a deceptively happy life free of trial and suffering hidden beneath the guise of possession, distraction, and selfishness, He promises a truly joyful life full of trial and suffering revealed and fulfilled in a transformed and everlasting joy.

I am reminded that joy, even in its most spontaneous and unexpected forms, sometimes requires a leap into murky waters, only to emerge cleansed, refreshed, and ready to continue the arduous journey with the heart of a child.

“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” 
                                                                                                                     ~ James 1:2

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. Please know you continue to be in my thoughts and prayers as well!

Friday, June 30, 2023

The Fruits of Acceptance

"Acceptance doesn’t mean giving in or giving up. It means giving yourself completely to God’s plan for your life, trusting that He always wants what’s best for you, and will help you meet every challenge with courage.”
~ Anonymous

It is six in the evening. The predictable darkness of the night has just descended over our small riverside community of Santa Clotilde. Meanwhile, electricity’s arrival is announced by the eagerly anticipated ignition of the pueblo’s untiring generator. In an instant darkness is overcome by flocks of fluorescent light bulbs peppering the nocturnal landscape and shepherding people among the town’s precarious streets and walkways. The heat of the day is replaced with a cool, though sometimes muggy, cloak of relief. And the silence of the jungle is drowned out by the sounds of an invisible but perceivable electrical current made known in the lively, monotonous cumbia beat blasting from speakers near and far. As I take in my predictable and familiar surroundings, my evening stroll is soon interrupted by an unpredictable sound. Walking by the hospital, a mother’s cry dawns on my ears.

I enter the hospital and one quick glance from the nurse confirms the direction in which the grieving mother stoops over the still body of her child. My initial response is one of fear and doubt. Do I go to her? Will I quickly share my condolences with her and then leave her to grieve? Or do I mourn alongside her? I won’t know the right words to say…the right gestures to make. What if I make things worse for her? How can I possibly help at a time like this? Distracted by these thoughts flowing in and out of my mind, one look at the mother is sufficient to momentarily wipe away all my fear and doubt- my resolute feet begin to slowly move my hesitant mind and body forward.

Her daughter was ten months old. She suffered from the rare genetic disorder, Trisomy 18, more commonly known as Edward’s Syndrome. In their natural course, about 30% of these pregnancies will result in live birth and only 5-10% of children will survive beyond one year of age. Most children will have multiple bodily defects and health issues ranging from a small face and jaw, failure to grow, and debilitating heart problems. Taking these stark statistics and difficult realities into consideration, upwards of 75% of the lives of unborn children affected by Trisomy 18 worldwide will be electively terminated during pregnancy.

As her healthcare providers, we are aware of these statistics and these heartbreaking realities. Whenever the mother entered the hospital with her daughter in her arms, this child’s grim prognosis was always on the forefront of our minds. Our habitual response was a well-meaning act of concern, often centered on a carefully calculated reality that we ourselves could not fully understand. Her response was different- that of a mother to her beloved child- centered on the selfless love and sacrifice innate to their mother-daughter bond, a reality that only she knew and understood. That night of her child’s death, she shared with me a glimpse into that reality. It was only through sitting with her and placing my hand on her back that I could feel her pain. It was only through listening to her cries of sorrow that I could hear her suffering. It was only through watching her clothe her child one last time in the most beautiful dress and mismatched socks she found in her bag that I could see her love. It was only through prayer that our hope in this child’s new beginning could be truly known.

I am reminded of all of the people with whom this mother and daughter crossed paths during their short but impactful nineteen-month earthly journey together. A journey that started with a physically inseparable bond only visible to the outside world in the form of a mother’s growing stomach. A journey that took them from Santa Clotilde to Lima for a life-saving plastic surgery so the child could eat normally. A journey that brought them back home to Santa Clotilde where I was blessed to walk alongside them as the child’s earthly pilgrimage came to an end. A journey so unique and so difficult that I will never fully understand its depth and breadth of joy, pain, and sacrifice.

In the end, I am compelled to accept this mother’s witness to truth which was never void of love and her witness to love which was never void of truth: that this child’s life was worth living, and that this mother’s will made her child’s living possible. In her carefully-tended garden of acceptance, the fruits of truth and love bloomed unhindered. And as I walk back home from the hospital, a great and natural luminescence more powerful than any fluorescent light bulb invented by man makes its presence known. The moon in all its splendor slowly rises upward, casting its reflection on the vastness of the Napo River. I am reminded that no amount of darkness can put out the light.

“Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth. One without the other becomes a destructive lie.”
~ St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Hardly a week goes by without seeing his smiling face. Some weeks I see him getting his blood pressure measured as he awaits his monthly office visit. Other weeks I see him walking around town running errands at the local shops and outdoor market. Every once in a while I find him playing ball with the kids or quietly strolling down the street enjoying his own company. Most Sundays I see him at Mass joyfully singing and playing the tambourine in the church choir. Occasionally he can be seen dressed in his altar server robe as he helps bring the real presence of the Word of God to his community in the form of unleavened bread. And in all of these occasions he is seen with a never-fading smile. Only once recently did I witness the absence of a smile on his face when he was hospitalized for treatment of viral pericarditis, acute inflammation around his heart. But not even an acute hospital stay could extinguish the fire that is his joy.

Just as his genetics are visibly different, so too are his joy and love of life even more noticeably distinct. Though his human body lacks certain faculties, his being is whole. In his physicality, he experiences human pain and suffering as he sits in his hospital bed with the terrible cough that has kept him up all night. In his psychological expression, he shares his love in the gentle embrace of a hug whenever we cross paths and brings joy to others with his almost-permanent and infectious smile. In his social reach he relies on others for many functions of daily living, but others also depend on him. In his spirituality, he bears witness to the simplicity and universality of reasoned faith and the potentially dangerous complexity and egocentrism of a faithless pursuit of knowledge. And in his whole person one sees more clearly the soul within his body, a body less tainted by false or superficial appearances and less bound by fleeting worldly attachments.

His name in Spanish means “anointed.” Though some may merely see a man with Down Syndrome, I have come to see a person chosen and set apart for a specific purpose. And as I recall him sitting next to me at Mass this past Sunday, looking at me with his joyful smile, and singing at the top of his lungs uttering words I could not fully comprehend, I am grateful for the fearless love that brought him into this world. Witnessing the fruits of this man’s words and actions in me and in others, I am compelled to accept the truth: God has a purpose for his life.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…”
~ 1 John 4:18

Though life can be busy here in the jungle, I am very grateful for the opportunities outside of hospital work in which I have been invited to participate.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

An Unbalanced Force

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
~ St. Teresa of Avila

Though I never anticipated revisiting the subject of physics after that grueling summer course in college, I have recently been reminded of Newton’s First Law of Motion and how it continues to play out in my life. However, instead of hypothetical problems and lifeless formulas consisting of letters and numbers, I am confronted with real-life situations and living variables made of persons, places, and things. And in light of this dynamic physical and metaphysical universe, physics takes on a whole new meaning.

For those of you who also threw your physics book out the window after the last day of class and don’t remember, Newton’s “Law of Inertia” is often summarized as: an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Most of us know inertia is real- that standstill resulting from a setback, that paralyzing force designed to hold us down and prevent us from encountering the unbalanced Force that will free us from inertia’s lifelessness. At the same time, the uninspiring and monotonous movement and lack of direction of “going through the motions” places us on a never-ending and destination-less trajectory of hopelessness. It is only in letting go of ourselves that we come to know and love more fully this unbalanced Force that changes our speed, our direction, and ultimately our destination.


Christ has no body…but yours.

One morning a call comes in from one of the rural health posts six hours up-river. Time already has us falling behind. A middle-aged woman recently turned mother has been bitten by a venomous snake. Though she was bitten yesterday evening, she only now was able to find her way to the health post. The time gap grows even wider. The health post has no snake anti-venom and they request we bring some vials to give her as we pick her up to bring her to the hospital in Santa Clotilde. Shortly after, we set out on the “hidroambulancia,” or the ambulance boat. As we pass miles of lush forest canopy and traverse the winding Napo River at a pace of 40 km/hour, no amount of engine revving can make up for the lost time. An unbalanced Force continues moving us forward despite the opposing current of the river. In passing each riparian community along the way, I am reminded of all of the patients who have traveled this same path in hope of healing. Six hours later we arrive in the small town of Angoteros.

When the boat finally comes to a stop I am told the border with Ecuador lies just a few hours away. But my geographical curiosity is suddenly overcome with worry as a group of men run down the hill carrying a motionless woman on a stretcher. We are informed that she has been vomiting blood and is no longer responsive. A quick check of her vital signs tells us she is “stable.” However, “stability” takes on an entirely different meaning on a narrow speed boat in the middle of the jungle five hours away from the nearest hospital. Equipped with two liters of normal saline, four vials of anti-venom, and one vial of adrenaline, we set off on the journey back to Santa Clotilde- no continuous heart monitor, no laboratory tests, no stocked pharmacy, no blood bank, no heart defibrillator. As night begins to fall, so does my hope in her survival. With a spotlight in one hand and the steering wheel of the boat in the other, our driver skillfully navigates the now imperceptible river which seems to blend seamlessly with the pitch black of the night sky. We arrive at the port at Santa Clotilde and work our way up to the hospital. It’s not long before the nurse finds our patient pulseless. My eyes sweep the room just long enough to know that words are not necessary to communicate what we all know to be true. Her lifeless body, the troubled face of her husband, the bewildered expression of the nurse, and the silent posture of one of our medical volunteers say it all…

Inertia quickly breeds sentiments of failure, anger, and frustration. What could I have done differently? Why does the government not provide sufficient amounts of anti-venom for the rural health posts where people continue to die from life-threatening and time-sensitive snake bites? Does the government not care about the most vulnerable of its people?

As these thoughts and feelings collide violently in my mind, an unbalanced Force makes itself known in a kind and gentle peace. The priest enters the room, rests his hand on the woman’s forehead, and begins to pray- as the woman receives her final blessing on this earth, my heart falls deep in my chest and my tears begin to flow over the brim of a small and fragile vessel. I am reminded that though her body has died, faith is still alive.

No hands…but yours.

The following week I find myself walking alongside one of our hospital custodians as we visit a family in the nearby neighborhood. During the month of May in which we celebrate and honor Mary, our mother, members of the Church go to a different house each evening to pray the Rosary. Gathered in candlelight around a visible and tangible sign of our heavenly Mother, we come together in prayer and song in the presence of the unbalanced Force that unites us all.

And as I look around the room I see hands of different ages, shades, and sizes gently holding each passing bead. Hands that in themselves contain lifetimes of untold stories, all bearing witness to the one story we share in common. With our hands we are united by an unbalanced Force that moves each finger along the string of beads. After a time of prayer we finally come full circle- we are reminded of this Force that has no beginning and no end.

No feet…but yours.

A few weeks before, the often quiet streets come alive with the sound of the high school’s marching band. As the band descends toward the river to welcome our visitors, a transparent case containing a relic of blessed Luigi Tezza emerges from the boat. In a procession through the town, the treasured remains of a man who dedicated his life carrying for the sick in Lima bears witness to the life of service in which we are called to participate. The visit of the “Apostle of Lima” connects us to our Peruvian religious sisters’ foundational past and to our collective future as partners in caring for the people of the Napo.

In learning of this prospective saint’s earthly life, the hospital and the community are inspired to follow in his footsteps. We are reminded that to be a saint is not to live an extraordinary life of our own creation, but to live our ordinary lives according to the will of our Creator. And when we gaze upon the small fragment of this man’s foot with reverence and conviction we recognize that he, too, walked this very earth, an earth often too weak and too broken to resist the hopeless inertia that stands in its cyclical path. Carried forward by the same unbalanced Force that moved him, we are reminded that we do not walk alone.

No eyes…but yours.

Another rural health campaign brings us to the river community of Diamante Azul. Here a group of three physicians, a licensed nurse, a midwife, a counselor, and a religious sister provide care and health education to a group of about one hundred patients. In some rural communities, a whole year goes by without a visit from a nurse or doctor. The long chain of patients lining up outside is a testament to this reality as patients take advantage of the opportunity to seek care for their long-neglected health problems. About halfway through our visit, a young girl walks through the door. The yellow of her eyes and the size of her stomach grab the attention of all in the room. Any hopeful momentum gained throughout the morning comes to a worrisome halt as we all come together to figure out how to care for the sickest patient of the day.

Further investigation reveals a spleen that stretches ten centimeters below her ribcage (a normal spleen generally does not extend below the ribcage) and on ultrasound, severely enlarged blood vessels threaten the entry to her liver. She suffers from an untreated disorder that has now caused a fatal liver disease with risk of bleeding from the engorged vessels in her body. Her grandfather tells us that years ago only days before she was scheduled to receive a liver transplant that would have potentially saved her life, she was abandoned by her parents, one of whom was her organ donor. Again, inertia eagerly invites us to anger, discouragement, and hopelessness. But with one look into this child’s eyes, a different Force invites us to action. Amidst the concern, uncertainty, and fear present in the superficial yellow of her eyes, a bright smile breaks through. And in the carefree smile of this child, an unbalanced Force makes known a deeper joy, security, and hopefulness. She and her grandfather join us on the boat ride back to Santa Clotilde, and inertia never enters our equation.



Though man discovered the “Law of Inertia,” he did not create it. And after witnessing all of the unbalanced manmade forces plaguing our world, I can only imagine where a manmade law of inertia would leave us- frozen still, weighed down, squeezed tight with no clear trajectory in sight. Fortunately, the “Law of Inertia” was instead created by One who has our common good in mind. We were never meant to stay put in our worldly comfort or in our worldly desolation. We were never meant to walk aimlessly in constant anxious motion. We were never meant to merely “go through the motions,” moving through life without momentum at a steady, unchanging pace. Instead, we were gifted an unbalanced Force. This unbalanced Force in our lives moves us forward, gives us hope, and is always and everywhere present. If only we open our eyes to see Him, our ears to hear Him, our hearts to feel Him, our minds to know Him, the lifeless force of inertia will never overcome His greater, life-giving Force. I wonder if its Creator knows the “Law of Inertia” by a different name: the law that guides the true motion of our body, our hands, our feet, and our eyes- this law that is the Way of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Monday, May 1, 2023


“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

- Pope Benedict XVI

Three months have passed, and the blank canvas with which I arrived has started to take form. Though I can’t predict the next stroke of the brush or the next color from the palette, it is clear that the Painter has been at work from the very beginning…

It is Sunday, January 29th, and after leaving my wintry home in the US, my seemingly cold feet have just landed on the warm and inviting Peruvian soil. A kind woman meets me at the airport to usher me to my next destination: the patient house in Lima where I rest for a few hours before continuing on my journey to my new home in the Amazon.

"There is only one way to be happy: to live for others," reads a mural at the patient house in Lima. Prior missionaries are depicted in Santa Clotilde amidst the diverse and magnificent Peruvian landscape. 

As I enter the three-story building, I learn that the patient house is occupied by persons, both young and old, who have come to the capital city for more specialized medical care. They have traveled over one thousand miles by foot, boat, and plane from their familiar home in the open rainforest to a “foreign” and congested city where they await further evaluation and treatment for diseases that cannot be treated closer to home. In my brief stay I meet a young, malnourished infant with cleft lip and cleft palate who is undergoing a series of surgeries to correct the defect which has delayed his growth. A middle-aged woman also greets me with a smile- she is receiving dialysis as she awaits a much-needed kidney transplant. I learn that each patient is accompanied by a family member and everyone works together to make it “home away from home” as they share meals, take turns cleaning, and live a common experience of hope amidst their unique trials and afflictions. Without delay I am told there is a couple who wants to meet me. I work my way upstairs where I am introduced to the older couple- they sit quietly side-by-side as if they’d been expecting my arrival. After a brief exchange of introductions, they begin to share with me their story…

They both are suffering from advanced cancer and they both are receiving treatment. Though their faces express an attitude of humble acceptance and faithful trust despite their suffering, their words reveal to me that in their respective bodily battles she is winning and he is losing. The stark contrast is noted in his pale skin and the frail build of his body. They tell me about their home in Santa Clotilde and the beautiful community of which they have been a part for so many years. They tell me about the hundreds of houses he has built for the poor and vulnerable of their community. They recount his construction of an even greater house- the house of God in which people gather every Sunday to meet Jesus in the Eucharist. This church, whose cross-topped steeple can be seen overlooking the Napo River, does not go unnoticed even to this day. They share their joy and pride in the raising of their three children and the recent birth of their grandson. They are excited to welcome me to Santa Clotilde and promise me that when they return home, we will see each other again. As I get ready to leave, they gift me a bottle of Pisco, the local liquor used to make Peru’s national cocktail- the “Pisco Sour.”


Two months later I find myself knocking on the door of their home in Santa Clotilde. Their daughter, a nurse at the hospital, informs me that her father has not been feeling well. I pay him a visit, remembering their promise to me that we would meet again. He is lying in bed, unable to move due to the severe pain from the cancerous lesions invading his bones. These same bones, all too visible through his thin and fragile skin, also testify to the cancer’s voracious appetite which overshadows any trace of normal human hunger. His previous ability to speak in full sentences is now replaced by an unspoken need to stop for air in between his terse and carefully-chosen words. From an ingrained physician instinct, I begin to think of and offer ways to make him more comfortable, but he insists that my presence is enough. In a surrendering exchange, we settle for a change to his pain medications. Deep down, I sense we all know he has only a short time left in this world. As I prepare to leave, his wife appears in the doorway- and with generous hearts, they gift me a bottle of wine. I am left to wonder how people who appear to have lost so much continue to give so freely.

Five days later it is Good Friday. As I routinely peer over patient charts at the hospital in the morning, I receive news that our dear friend has just died. The next time I go to greet him, the sun is giving way to dusk. In the impending darkness, the silence numbs any sensation of life and his solitary body lies motionless on a rigid table…

But shortly after entering his family’s home, a new and unexpected force permeates the senses. The darkness in the room is illuminated by the candlelight reflecting off the white drape over his body. The emptiness is filled with a crowd of people gathered inside and outside of his house who have come to support his family. The solitude is replaced with the solidarity and intimacy of dear friends, family, and co-workers present to remember his life. The silence is drowned out by the prayers of our religious sisters and the songs of the church choir. The rigidness and motionless are softened by the movement of hearts to compassion, hope, and love. And as I walk back home for the night, the rain begins to pour down. Despite my efforts to resist the deluge with a meager umbrella, I arrive home soaked, my clothes heavy, and so too my heart.


Two days later it is Easter Sunday- the family has returned from burying the remains of their beloved husband-father-grandfather. His wife tells me that a few days before his death he had told her it would be an honor to die on Good Friday. In so occurring, his memory and death would be forever overshadowed by the sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ. And in these words I realize the significance of each heavy and burdensome rain drop, each trial and affliction that weighs us down. For only the rain can wipe away our lingering stains and give way to new life. In the rain, a weary soul momentarily weighed down becomes a renewed soul forever lifted up.

In the end, I am reminded of the timeless interrogatory adage, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Anyone who has ever tried to tackle this age-old question knows very well that there is no easy or sufficient answer. I wonder if this is partly because the question is actually our attempt to justify why bad things should not happen to good people, a misdirected focus on ourselves as the protagonist of our own and incomplete story. That despite our efforts in a broken world, we continue to experience this broken reality. Instead, I am challenged to ask a more liberating question: “Who can transform our pain and suffering into something good?” In the eternal and abundant answer, we need only to open our hearts and minds to see the true protagonist of our shared and fulfilled story. For it is in uniting our suffering with His, that His redemption brings us home.

From the start of my journey in a hope-filled, three-story building in Peru, this man was placed in my path. In our brief journey together, he showed me the direction in which we all are invited to travel and the final destination lying patiently on the horizon. His family’s friendship was also placed in my heart, tangibly communicated in their gifts of Pisco and wine. In our encounter, I am reminded that this man whose earthly life was taken by a cruel and careless cancer was never the loser in his worldly battle. Rather, through his steadfast faith, hope, and love in Christ and through his partaking in the perpetual gift of His sacrifice made tangible in bread and wine, he had already won. And with certainty and confidence, it is this man’s witness that “gives [my] life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”


Thank you for your continued thoughts, prayers, and support! You all continue to be in my thoughts and prayers, and I wish you all a blessed Easter season.

“We don’t grieve like those who have no hope; we grieve as those who know that death is not the end; 

that’s why death no longer has the sting that it used to have.” - Fr. Mike Schmitz 

Enjoying a toast at Easter lunch with our missionary team, Peruvian doctors, and visiting volunteers. 

Lunch included Spanish huevos rellenos, Peruvian lomo saltado and chicha morada, and a classic American chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Work Beyond the Work

“The sign of man’s familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives ‘to till and keep it.’ Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation.” 

- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 378

In my short time here in Peru I have begun to pick up some new vocabulary. It is not uncommon to hear the words chamba and chambear multiple times throughout the day as people refer to the impending work dauntingly lying ahead or the accomplished work gratefully set behind them. Rumor has it that the word chamba has its roots in the tongues of Mexican immigrants who sought work in the “chambers” of commerce throughout the United States during the 1940s. If this is true, the word, like its pioneers, has also migrated its way into a foreign land- a beautiful and amazing testament to the human interconnectedness that transcends manmade borders and designations. 

Unlike the interesting, and maybe folkloric, roots of the word chamba, the ubiquitous Spanish word for “work,” trabajar, has painful historical roots in its Latin origin. It stems from the word, tripalium, which refers to the three sticks used as a form of punishment for slaves in ancient times. Over time, the word “work” soon became the linguistic label for any activity associated with physical pain and suffering. In this expressive reality one also finds the significance of the word “labor” as a general term for work and also the extremely painful experience of childbirth. The words “work” and “labor” seem to have taken on an unpleasant tone over time. Indeed, amidst the towering stack of paperwork or the overflowing deluge of e-mails, the line of dissatisfied, impatient customers or the waiting room full of ill and suffering patients, the long hours sitting at a desk or the bone-breaking hours of heavy lifting, it can be easy to see our work as an unjust burden, a source of suffering, a form of punishment. But we do not have to look far to know that the work of human hands was not meant to be seen this way from the beginning. 

Indeed, the real origin of our work lies in the truth, beauty, and goodness of a garden- a garden where invisible, though constantly real, scientific organic processes give way to visible, though momentarily imperceptible, blooming of fruits and flowers which we ourselves do not create. We tend to the garden with the use of nimble hands and hydrating water together with the participation of nourishing soil and photosynthesized sunlight, all of which we also do not create ourselves. In the end, our work in the garden is not merely a product of our own doing but our participation in, and collaboration with, the work of something much greater than ourselves.

The garden challenges us. We can choose to work the garden or merely work in the garden. We can choose to help the garden thrive or let it wither. We can choose to use the garden’s fruits and flowers for the garden’s common good or merely reap its yield for our own benefit. In the garden we are reminded that our work is not a burden but rather a free and willing participation in a work greater than that found in the humbling limitations of our own faculties- the “work beyond the work.”

The labor of the past few weeks has been trying. With staffing shortages, the arrival of hundreds of school-age students for the start of the school year, a broken X-ray machine, complicated and often care-limiting bureaucratic restrictions, several extremely ill children, hot and humid afternoons, and multi-day stretches without internet, it can be easy to become defeated by the difficulties of the day’s work. Thankfully as a physician, the eyes of the suffering human person staring back at me are a constant reminder that the work never ends with me, a constant motivator to continue tilling and keeping the garden even when conditions may appear dark, dry, and devoid of necessary nutrients.


Morning rounds begin and the hospital is the fullest it’s been in the past two months. In Bed 1 rests an incompletely vaccinated 3 year-old boy who stepped on a nail five days ago. My mind immediately worries about the possibility of tetanus while his mom worries that he can no longer walk. His delay to care is a combination of living in a remote community, lack of money for boat transportation to the hospital, a well-meaning effort by his parents to care for the wound with herbal remedies, and a lack of understanding of what constitutes a medical emergency. With three antibiotics his infection continues to progress and his parents refuse transfer to the city for further care- the addition of a fourth antibiotic, a final effort, finally calms the infection. We all breathe a sigh of relief as he leaves the hospital a week later.

In Bed 2 lies a nine-year-old girl who came to us with prolonged fevers and swelling of the lymph nodes of her body. A quick blood test and a detailed look under the microscope reveal acute leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer. The team works diligently to refer her to the city for a consult with the oncologist. For our team in the middle of the rainforest, acute leukemia is a medical emergency. However, emergency referral to the city hospital is denied because she is otherwise clinically stable. We worry the delay in care will prevail over the reserve of her body. Days later she begins the journey by boat to the city and one week later we receive news that she has arrived at the pediatric cancer hospital in Lima- we are hopeful for her healing and grateful that she has survived the long trip thus far.

In Bed 3 a two-year-old boy is cradled by his mother. He arrived with an emaciated body and thin, fragile, discolored hair. The outline of his ribs and the undulation of his hollow intestines are visible just under the surface of his skin. A few measurements, calculations, and tests confirm a moderately malnourished child with a burden of parasitic worms. His equally thin parents explain they do not have enough money for food which is evident in the voracity with which he cleans every hospital plate, bowl, and cup. One week later and almost two pounds heavier, life returns to his face.

In Bed 4 I see a 7 year-old girl who is unresponsive- we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the water plane that will take her to the city for a chance at continued life. She has not passed a bowel movement for two weeks, and while her intestines lie dormant the other organs of her body begin a final sprint to keep her body going. A couple days later as I pass the bed in which she lay, we are informed she has died, the cause- a ruptured abscess of her appendix obstructing her colon. My heart aches for her family, and I begin to wonder if I could have done anything differently.

Bed 5 houses a man under a mosquito net who is suffering from the painful and dehydrating effects of the mosquito-borne dengue virus. Meanwhile, a team from the hospital goes house-to-house in the community in an effort to eliminate the harboring reservoirs of these blood-thirsty arthropods. Thankfully he does not show any signs of significant complications from the disease. I am reminded to keep lathering on the mosquito repellent day after day.

The mosquito net of Bed 6 shelters a 12 year-old girl with anemia and an enlarged spleen. Her body fights malaria, a disease spread by a closely related sister mosquito of that which has infected the man next door. Though their ailments are different, the blue nets draped over their beds remind them of a shared culprit. A few days later, an inverse healing process makes itself known: her spleen begins to decrease in size while her iron stores slowly rise.

Under the covers of bed 7 sleeps a woman awaiting a blood transfusion. She has been bleeding from a mass in her cervix, likely cancer. She comes from a remote community and has not had access to routine cervical cancer screening. With a heavy heart, I watch her leave the hospital as she refuses further evaluation and management. Though I am happy she has received pain relief from the natural herbs and remedies of the local curandero, I fear that the treatment of her cervical mass is beyond any of our capabilities.

The patient in Bed 8 is seen behind a transparent, plastic wall. Through the impermeable barrier I see the smile of an emaciated young man with a new diagnosis of HIV and a type of pneumonia that only affects those with this immune system-suppressing disease. Though this wall serves its purpose as we rule out the possibility of highly contagious tuberculosis, when he leaves the hospital he will suffer from the invisible walls of stigma put up by those in the community. I am reminded of the men, women, and children with HIV I have met here who have been reluctant to share their diagnosis with their doctor.

Bed 9 is found behind closed doors and is occupied by a woman who quietly suffers from a first trimester miscarriage. Just down the hallway beds 10 and 11 are shared by two mothers who have just given birth to their healthy, crying newborns. The somber silence seems unjustly overcome by the festive fussing.

Bed 12 safeguards a child bitten by a venomous snake. She has received the necessary vials of anti-venom and after a few days is now able to walk on her leg again. Only two weeks before, a young girl bitten by a snake arrived at our ER with severe hemorrhage and developing compartment syndrome (increasing pressure from swelling that can cut off blood circulation and nerve conduction). She, too, is walking again.

In Bed 13 lies a middle-aged woman who is paralyzed after falling from a tree many years ago. The constant pressure of lying on her back without moving has eaten away at her underside, revealing bones and muscles that are not meant to be exposed. We struggle to understand how this woman was neglected for all this time. Meanwhile, I remember the 17 year-old boy who used to lie across from her bed; he also fell from a tree, sustaining a spine fracture resulting in paralysis of his legs. In a severe depression, it took him over 2 months to find the will to take his wheelchair outside to see the sunlight. On his last day in the hospital, I found him outside with a smile on his face playing with one of the younger patients. He was beginning to “move” again.


On March 25th our hospital celebrated the feast day of The Annunciation, a day in which the Church remembers the free and willing participation of a humble and trusting woman in God’s loving plan for mankind. In fitting recognition of both man’s and woman’s participation in the creation of human life, Saint John Paul II designated this same day as the International Day for the Unborn Child which, not coincidentally, occurs 9 months before Christmas. On that day here in Santa Clotilde, the perpetual sacrifice of the Mass culminated in a community walk for the protection of the vulnerable, unborn child as well as for the fight against tuberculosis (celebrated on March 24th), a disease that continues to plague the most vulnerable in our world. 

With this special awareness, I am reminded that the human person is the most beloved garden of all, a burgeoning life deserving of the most caring hands, the most life-giving water, the most nourishing bread, and the most transforming light. I am reminded that just as the garden challenges us, so too does our most vulnerable brother and sister. We can choose to tend to our sister or merely pass our brother by. We can choose to help our sister thrive or let our brother wither. We can choose to help our sister seek her common good or use our brother for our own benefit. We can view our sisters and brothers as a burden or we can freely and willingly participate in their flourishing. In the end, it is not the handiwork of the individual gardener but the “work beyond the work” that bears much fruit.

“Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal.” 
- St. Clare of Assisi

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Motion in the Stillness

One of the most notable differences moving to Santa Clotilde is the absence of lane-marked roads, busy freeways, and four-wheeled cars. In the US it is nearly impossible to live without a car; here in Santa Clotilde, it is entirely impossible to have a car. In the US, 5G networks extend into suburban and rural lands; here in Santa Clotilde, one’s cell phone only occasionally registers a futile one “G" signal. In most of the US electricity currents run twenty-four hours per day; here in Santa Clotilde, it is necessary to plan your phone charging, laundry washing, and blender mixing operations between 8AM and 2PM and 6PM and 11PM (assuming the power doesn’t unexpectedly cut this time short). In the US, fingers of physicians and nurses quickly sweep across keyboards to record pertinent patient details; here in Santa Clotilde, the pressure of the tip of a pen glides over a tinted film sandwiched between an original and a carbon-copied document to chronicle a patient’s story. 

Upon first impression, the town of Santa Clotilde may appear to be a stagnant puddle resting on the outskirts of the rushing river of the “constantly progressing" world. A still pool of water overshadowed by the roaring waterfall cast down by the “developed” global reservoirs extending far beyond its reaches. But first impressions can be deceiving. A deeper dive into the still waters of this isolated Amazonian pueblo reveals the clearer reality of a unique and subtle dynamism. Even stagnant puddles boast an immense kinetic energy present in their invisible molecular bonds and cascade-fed pools a strong, hidden undercurrent capable of sweeping even the strongest swimmer into their depths…

Motion takes a different form here in the daily stillness of the Amazon rainforest. I first become aware of this upon awakening each morning. The cyclical passing of time from night to day is announced by the crescendo crow of overeager roosters and the staccato song of their aerial accomplices. Shortly after, I am spurred into motion with Mass at dawn. From the chapel window of our hospital’s convent I see the steadily arching sun rising from the east and the slightly faster current of the Napo River patiently crawling its way down south to meet the Amazon River. Within the chapel walls I hear our hymns and prayers soaring upward to our Creator while, at the same time, I see and feel His real presence coming downward to meet us in the form of bread and wine. After the morning nourishment of the Holy Mass, I make my way to the hospital with a persistent, though often difficult, intention: to share this sustaining bread I have received with others. Depending on the mercurial mood of the tropics, fog rises up, gratefully consumed by a hungry, bottomless atmosphere, or rain plunges down, received with open arms by a thirsty, porous earth. A quick glance into the horizon reveals patients approaching slowly, but surely, as they climb up the hill to register their appointments. Alongside the patients, hospital staff conspicuously clothed in an array of scrubs and Ministry of Health uniforms set a quicker pace, signaling the forthcoming start to the work day.

The day seems to be picking up speed, but only for a moment. Uninhibited, absent-minded motion is shortly overcome with a single-minded stillness as all staff come together in one large circle. It is here that our multidirectional daily motions are united in a unidirectional trajectory originating in the Sign of the Cross, a brief reflection, the Lord’s Prayer, and a prayer to our Holy Mother.

As the day goes on, I am reminded of the stillness that surrounds me here. It is in this stillness that I discover a beautiful, necessary, and carefully designed paradox: motion in the stillness.

I have been in Peru for just over one month now, enough time to witness this paradox in full force. Sometimes the stillness is more difficult to bear and understand and the motion more difficult to see and appreciate. But one thing I know for sure- God is always active, working even if and when we don’t see it…

A child with a swollen abdomen arrives by boat from a community eleven hours away. The doctor orders a stool exam to check for parasites. Through the lens of the microscope, the lab technician recognizes the dormant egg of a round worm named Ascaris. The diagnosis becomes clear, the culprit of the child’s swollen belly a load of mobile parasitic worms. The lab technician gives us more valuable information. The boy also has a condition in which his kidneys are dumping out protein, causing fluid to shift into his tissues; this better explains the swelling around his eyes and in his legs. After two weeks of daily exams and frequent ultrasound evaluations it’s time for him to leave the hospital. Only this time what is usually our quick friendly exchange of a daily high-five turns into a firm grasp of my hand that doesn’t let go. Motion in the stillness.

At the break of dawn the hospital administrator and I set out on a “rapid” boat to evaluate a pregnant woman with bleeding who lives a couple of hours away. When we arrive her bleeding has stopped, but, as Doppler soon communicates to us, so has the heartbeat of her unborn child. The woman accompanies us on the boat ride back to the hospital. Though we are gliding over the water too quickly to make out the various animals swimming in the murky river waters, I feel the stillness that is present in the fruit of her womb. But I need to see it, confirm it with an ultrasound, before we decide the next steps; so, we keep moving. A while later, an ultrasound divulges the secret: the hidden motionlessness of her child’s heart. Motion continues- tears stream down the mother’s face, inadequate words of consolation depart from my mouth, a boat arrives to take her to the city of Iquitos to induce labor where replacement blood is more readily available. In a moment of stillness I recognize God’s guiding hand in it all- the rural health post was getting ready to send her home; had we not been sent that morning, the mother may have suffered from severe infection, bleeding, and possible death. Motion in the stillness.

I am in the outpatient offices when I receive a message that an elderly woman has arrived at the emergency room with severe abdominal pain. I make my way to the ER where the woman is writhing in pain and a gentle touch of her abdomen is met with a rigid jolt. With a sure sign of what health providers call an “acute abdomen” and without any words she tells me to get an X-ray. My US-trained mind secretly wishes for a CT scan, but I know that’s not available here. A quick review of the X-ray by my novice eyes reveals an obstruction of her bowel. We try to arrange transfer to the city for definitive surgical evaluation and management but distance and weather present themselves as a logistical shield to any forward movement. I consult our visiting gastroenterologist from Spain who reviews the still black and white image of her abdomen. Edema, swelling, in the walls of the intestines, he explains, is the X-ray’s way of communicating to us that her bowel is already dead. After a brief moment of hopeless inertia, I soon recognize this encounter as a working blessing in disguise. If it were not for the standstill imposed by inclement weather and transportation limitations as well as the gastroenterologist’s expertise in X-ray interpretation, we likely would have sent the patient out by water plane to Iquitos. In transport, or far away from home, she likely would have died without her family at her bedside, without a spiritual blessing from the priest in her last moments of life. We are able to alleviate her pain and distress with medications, and she passes from this life the next day. Though her body appears lifeless, she lives on in the life of her great-grandchild present at her bedside and with the reconciliation of her soul, she begins her journey along a celestial path. Motion in the stillness.

Just when I think the day can’t get any busier, a mother runs into the emergency room carrying her daughter in her arms. Though I am easily distracted by the abnormally-shaped skull of the infant in front of me, I try to focus my attention on the emergency at hand. The infant suffers from a rare condition called pancraniosynostosis, a result of premature closure of the spaces between her skull bones. The nurse determines the infant has a fever, I quickly recognize the infant is having a seizure, and the mother explains the unresponsive infant has been having abnormal movements for more than thirty minutes. Together we arrive at a diagnosis: complex febrile seizure with status epilepticus. I scramble to determine which anti-seizure medicine and its proper dose to give while the nurse scrambles to place an IV. An injection of anti-seizure and anti-fever medicine into her muscle does nothing. The pediatrician happens to walk by and begins to assist me with additional medication dosing. Only after one hour and three additional doses of anti-seizure medication does her predictable, rhythmic jerking finally come to a relieving halt. Tranquilizing stillness slowly replaces distressing spasm. Only now the stillness brings uncertainty- how will the infant recover from this prolonged cerebral attack? The next morning, the infant is heard joyfully cooing from behind the curtain as her mother gratefully welcomes another day to love her child. Motion in the stillness.

An elderly woman arrives to the emergency room in her wheelchair. She has a history of severe heart failure and an abnormal heart rhythm. As my stethoscope touches he chest the frantic beating of her heart makes me nervous, and I see a similar feeling in her face. She can’t get enough air to speak in a full sentence, but her body gives us enough information to act in full force. We give her some oxygen, try to remove some fluid from her body with medication, and start her on antibiotics for suspected infection. An ultrasound reveals a perpetrator of her heart’s chaotic motion, an unwelcome and dangerous pocket of fluid surrounding her heart. Unfortunately our hospital does not have the medicines to slow her heart down or restore its normal rhythm or the equipment to relieve the fluid around her heart. Her heart continues its solitary race despite the silent protests of its exhausted teammates: her worn out lungs, frugal kidneys, and stiffened blood vessels. I explain to her and her family that we are doing all we can. Her body cooperates just long enough to say, “Thank you, doctor, and God bless you.” With her last words to me, the life-taking motion of her heart moves my heart in a life-giving way. Motion in the stillness.

“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” 

- Exodus 14:14

It is common for the power to go out here unexpectedly (like at Mass one evening in the picture above). Fortunately, the light always works its way into the darkness just as His motion works its way into the stillness of our lives.

The Blind Will See

“Once you let go of the world in a spirit of detachment, once you remove the things of this world from your grasp and see them without disto...