I got a call recently out of nowhere from a friend that works in the Diocese. She asked, quite randomly, whether I had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet. I briefly told her my story of woe: the many times on the internet, the “All Appointments Filled” sign that seemed to follow me, the tales in the papers of people driving for hours only to discover that their appointments had been canceled.
As I finished, she told me to get right over to a local hospital, that they had reserved some vaccines for priests. I had been particularly vexed by the exclusion of priests from all the ‘essential workers’, but here was a break in the clouds! She asked me if I was over 65. I thought, “Bless you to be asking!” I proudly said that I was 70 and a half! And so, I got into my car and started to head right for that hospital. I kept telling myself not to get my hopes up. It could just be a false lead. But I was determined to check out every lead. Growing in my heart was that rare flower nowadays called
Hope can regenerate you, but if it is a false hope it could cast you down. Hope is essential for living a happy life. But the length and the persistence of this virus challenged hope day in and day out.
The closure of all culture in the city, the inability to comfort or even visit the sick of the parish, the growing paranoia of getting together with anyone except on the phone or on the computer all had the effects of the opposite of hope—dejection, depression and despair.
This was at so low a grade that I did not realize that it was affecting me. That is until I was in that car headed for the hospital and hope began to shine into the dark and soggy corners of my spirit.
When I got there, I met a whole group of elderly priests. They were all as excited as I was and a little scared. It was great to be with other priests, sharing in this small amount of hope that sprung up so quickly.
After the interminable paperwork we were escorted into a large room with other people who were not priests. We waited in line like obedient sheep, happy for a time not to have to shepherd others.
It felt like a relief when the needle sunk into my left arm. I was thankful for all the hard work that went into the development of the vaccine and hoped that any side effects would not be too severe. Luckily, except for a sore arm for a few days, I was spared any big reaction.
But it gave me some hope that we might be turning a corner on this terribly destructive disease. It has been such a long time, especially for us New Yorkers. As you might recall, we were the first epicenter and it was very bad here for a while. Unfortunately, it never left us since we still have too many funerals and too few open beds in hospitals. The sheer length of the medical emergency that the pandemic was, not to mention the economic, social, educational and cultural fall out that we will be experiencing for years to come, makes even the possibility of herd immunity cause the flowering of hope in our hearts.
To be without hope is a terrible thing. Dante relates in his epic poem “The Divine Comedy” that there is a huge sign on the doors to Hell on which is written: “Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here”. Could there be any more powerful statement of the importance of hope and the tragedy of despair? The French writer Georges Bernanos has the single most succinct statement of what Hell is: “The souls of the damned would warm themselves at the embers that we call despair.” How is that for frightening! That is how central hope is. Who can go on without it?
It is, along with Faith and Love, given to us at our Baptism. Would that we nourish and develop this virtue! Lent is the time for Spring and Hope and Growth. I can think of no greater virtue to reflect on this Lenten season that the virtue of hope!