by Father Mark Goldasich
It took a moment to register. I was at the kitchen table, enjoying a cup of coffee and my daily dose of puzzles in the newspaper when my wrist buzzed — actually, it was the Apple Watch on my wrist.
At first, I thought it was my wake-up alarm. (My cat, however, makes setting an alarm totally unnecessary.) When I looked down at the watch, however, I saw it was too early for that.
It was 4:41 a.m. and a phone call was coming in from the nursing center.
My heart raced as I scrambled to pick up my cellphone. My first thought was: Something happened to Mom!
When I answered, a calm voice identified herself as Lisa and said there was a “situation” at the nursing facility. There was carbon monoxide in the building and, although all the residents were fine, it was necessary to evacuate them.
She asked if Sacred Heart could accommodate them, some 65 or so folks. It wasn’t even a question for me. Heck, the nursing center is where Mom lives, and the parish is just a few blocks down the road and handicap accessible.
I told Lisa that as soon as I got out of my pj’s, I’d head over to the parish to open doors, turn on lights and turn up the heat. I felt so sorry for the residents who would have to brave a minus-2-degree morning, even if just for a few minutes.
I have to admit that I didn’t really think of how big an operation this was going to be. When the first residents began to arrive, I was stunned at the number of vehicles in our parking lot. Along the curb, an impressive line of walkers and wheelchairs were lined up.
Initially, our guests were taken into classrooms, which were warmer and provided the staff an opportunity to make sure everyone was accounted for and comfortable.
Soon, the building filled up with people scurrying everywhere. Lists were checked, the kitchen crew from the facility transitioned into our kitchen, the rolling med carts were unloaded and our guests began their journey from the classrooms into our parish center.
I couldn’t help but think of Pope Francis describing the church as a “field hospital.” Boy, I thought to myself, if that ain’t Sacred Heart today. I felt that the pope would be proud that we’d thrown open our doors to those in need, Catholic or not, to “heal wounds and to warm hearts.”
I couldn’t believe the incredible number of firemen, police, medical personnel, nursing center staff and other helpers who had ushered folks into our building. They reminded me of this story about a heavy bronze bell that had sunk to the bottom of a river in China:
Various engineers had tried to raise the bell, but were unsuccessful. At last, a clever monk asked for permission to make an attempt, with one condition: If successful, the bell was to be given to his temple. Once approved, the monk had his assistants gather a huge number of bamboo poles.
Bamboo is hollow, light and practically unsinkable. The poles were taken down by divers, one by one, and fastened to the bell.
After thousands of poles were fastened, the bell began to move and, when the last one was added, the buoyancy of the accumulated poles was so great that they actually lifted the enormous bell to the surface. (Adapted from “Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement: Fifth Planting,” by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.)
I witnessed many “bamboo poles” last Monday lifting an entire nursing facility and moving it to a safe location, even if just for a few hours.
Contrary to the depressing picture of humanity that we often see in the news, these individuals showed the compassionate and generous side of humanity . . . and all that can be accomplished when people work together.
It was both humbling and heartwarming.
As James Joyce wrote in “Finnegan’s Wake,” “Catholic means, ‘Here comes everybody.’”
This past Monday at Sacred Heart, we showed it.