I was a few weeks into my “I’m never going to do this again” attitude about hospital ministry, when I received a phone call from the chaplain at the local hospital. There was a woman in ER who had just been told her daughter had a brain tumor and was going to die. Could I come? The lady was Catholic and needed someone from her faith.
Well, damn. How could I say no?
At the hospital, I walked into the exam room in the ER and saw a woman, Wilma, standing in the middle of the room. She was just standing there. Alone. The bed was gone. Oh, my God, I thought. I’m too late. The girl is dead.
I introduced myself and Wilma told me that they had taken her daughter, Rene, to surgery. The doctors were going to try to reduce the swelling in her brain caused by the tumor. There was only a slim chance she would make it through the surgery.
Faced with her fear and anguish, I wanted to run out the door, but I steeled myself and stayed. One of the biggest concerns that Wilma had was that Rene might die without baptism. She explained that Rene’s father was not Catholic and refused to have the kids baptized. Was it possible to have her baptized now? Not just the emergency baptism, but a real one with a priest?
Luckily, my pastor at the time had a real strong pastoral streak, so he agreed to come to the hospital. As soon as Rene came out of surgery, we went into the recovery room and had the rite. Because I was the only other Catholic in the room, I was named as her godmother.
Several days later, much to the doctor’s surprise, Rene woke up and appeared to be just fine. Wilma called to tell me the good news, so I went by to visit later. When I came into the room, Wilma started to introduce us, and Rene said. “I know who you are. You’re my godmother.”
I always think of that as my St. Paul moment. You know, knock me off my horse to get my attention. I guess like St. Paul, I needed more than just the gentle nudge that most folks get.
Until next time….
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