Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 10 October 2023
Yes! I have proven this most truest when we pray for the sick, especially for babies and children. And when we are also sick or, very sick.
The late Fr. Henri Nouwen said in one of his writings that “life is precious because it is fragile.” I have gradually grasped and experienced this most wonderful truth of life only these past two years when I was assigned as chaplain at the Fatima University Medical Center in Valenzuela City.
Every Sunday after Mass at the University chapel, I visit our patients to bring them communion (viaticum), hear their confessions and anoint them with oil. One of our patients last Sunday was a young mother named Rachel who delivered a sickly baby boy Saturday with difficulties in breathing.
Rachel was crying when we entered her room. After receiving the Communion, she asked me to visit and pray over her baby at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I readily said yes to her request then asked her if I can baptize her baby and what name would she like to give him. “Daniel Steven, Father,” she said softly as she wiped her tears.
After putting on my hairnet and gown and slippers, the nurse led me inside the NICU where I saw two doctors and three nurses gathered around Rachel’s baby. Soon enough, both doctors came to me to explain the delicate – “toxic” – situation of the infant as we walked closer to him.
It was “solemnly silent” inside the NICU that morning with the warm light above the baby giving that holy feel like being before a Belen or a creche; the scene was so “disarming” that I just felt praying to God deeply from my heart, begging him to please bless and heal this baby who is much like Jesus Christ who was right away subjected to dangers upon birth in Bethlehem. I prayed too to God to remember Christ’s special love and concern for children, warning anyone who would harm them that angels look after them (Mt. 18:10) to keep them safe always.
At that moment, the baby opened his eyes – and sparkled as I saw his face lit up despite the little tubes connected to him. At that instance, I just felt something like a giant wave gushing within me like a tsunami and, boom! I burst into tears as if that giant wave inside washed me.
It was a very good cry, like a catharsis, so pure that seemed to have cleansed me resulting in joy within with the baby seemed to be looking at me, making sounds from his little mouth.
“My God, did he hear me praying?” I asked myself while standing there, praying with my arms still outstretched as tears rolled profusely to my face mask. After a few minutes, I wiped my tears and came forward to pour Holy Water on his head, saying, “I baptize you, Daniel Steven, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Ihave visited many sick children in our hospital with the most unique even bizarre sickness and diseases and accidents. They have all moved me in pity but it was only Daniel Steven who had made me cry.
That moment when he opened his eyes and “looked” at me even though I knew infants could not recognize nor actually see, I felt God was ultimately the one really looking at me, listening to my prayers. At the same time, it was then when God fully opened my eyes and my heart to see him in baby Daniel as the One always listening to our prayers especially when we are facing dangers like death – the greatest and ultimate danger we all face in life. It is in such moments of great dangers when God is most closest to us in Jesus Christ who became human like us to be one with us in everything including death (but except sin).
Less than 80 days from now it would be Christmas but, have we realized this reality of how Jesus Christ have seriously faced death right after his birth being born in an “unsanitary” manger to being transported in harsh conditions to Egypt when Herod tried to kill him?
It is in sufferings and death when we truly experience the preciousness of life, the value of every person, no matter how small like a child or how old like any senior citizen. It is in the face of death when we are most human, truly and naturally weak and fragile that we also realize deeply, existentially the meaning of being alive when we are close to its end. That is when we feel life is precious because that is also when we feel it slipping away from us, slowly losing it.
That fragility of life is most evident when we struggle for breath, gasp for air, and reach out to someone’s hands to hold and clasp in order to rise again, to cling to another human and simply to be alive. From that we experience life’s meaning and value when it is shared and lived in God who is life himself through others. That is why we also feel closest to him at those moments when we see those sick and suffering and dying when we are close to God who comes most nearest to us in those grave moments.
Back in 2007 when I was in my first assignment as one of the teacher-administrators of a school in Malolos while we concurrently ran a parish, I felt burned out being there since 1998. One Friday afternoon during a Holy Hour, I begged God to give me one good reason why I should stay in that assignment when I was asked to answer a sick call in a nearby hospital. When I got in the hospital, the doctors and nurses were resuscitating the patient I was supposed to anoint.
Quickly upon seeing me, they let me come to the patient to pray over him and anoint him with oil. After that, I stayed in the room to watch the doctors and nurses struggled to revive the patient. Then another doctor arrived who turned out to be the son-in-law of the dying patient (also an ex-seminarian ahead of me in the minor seminary). After conversing with them, that doctor told them to stop the procedures as he would explain everything to his wife, the daughter of the patient.
Soon enough, the patient flatlined and died. His son-in-law called me and told me the patient had died and if I could bless him again. I did bless him again with Holy Water. As the doctor thanked me for being there at that crucial moment, I also thanked God for listening and answering my prayer in giving me a sign why I should remain in my assignment. What a precious sign he had given me, the first patient I have seen dying in front of me.
Now as a hospital chaplain, I have lost tracked of how many patients have died before me after praying and anointing them. But in each one of them, I have felt God present among us, saving their souls in eternity. But most of them, God had kept alive and healthy until now because he always listens to our prayers. Amen.
*Daniel Steven is still in the NICU, fighting for his life that is so fragile, so delicate. And most precious. Doctors said these first 72 hours are very crucial. Please help us pray for him so he would get better and live life into maturity like most of us. Thank you.