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Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog seriesMark LaBelle, a seminarian and friend of FMS, shares how an experience during hospital ministry deeply affected him and allowed him the opportunity to be a witness to hope.

“You are one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”

Sure, we had only been acquainted for about 15 minutes—conversations tend to go deep quickly when you’re in hospital ministry—but it was true. She was one of the most amazing people I had ever met.

Though she was only 24 years old, she looked more like a frail old woman due to her baldness and weight loss, the effects of lupus. Born and raised in Miami, her last name sounded Haitian, but she had not grown up with any religious background.

And yet, her story was full of grace and ragged hope in the face of seemingly endless suffering. It was not only the lupus, with which she was diagnosed when she was only 17. Both she and her fiancé were estranged from their respective families—she shortly after she was diagnosed, and he when he refused to continue with the life of crime the rest of his family was involved in. “It’s just hard,” she concluded. “We’re trying to do the right thing, but it doesn’t make life any easier. Actually, everything keeps getting much harder the more we try.”

I pursed my lips and she looked down at her hands.

What could I say? There was nothing I could do to help her. And yet, as a hospital chaplain, I was there to be a witness to hope. So I told her how amazing she was for enduring, for trying to do right by her fiancé and his two children. I told her that God was calling her forward into life and that her patient endurance was a faithful response.

She and I both had tears in our eyes. I wasn’t there to convince her that she’d get better or that she wouldn’t have to worry. I wasn’t there to remove her sorrow. We both knew better than to play that game. But in the deafening silence that followed our conversation, there seemed to be echoes of hope, not so much from my own human words of encouragement but from somewhere beyond us.

I held her hand and prayed on her behalf. And together, we reached up towards the God who suffered for us long ago and suffers with us still today.

Question for reflection: Who has inspired you through his or her enduring hope in the face of suffering?

Mark LaBelle is a seminarian for the Diocese of Orlando in his fifth year of formation. He is currently on his pastoral internship year at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Kissimmee, FL. His anticipated ordination to the priesthood will be in May 2018. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mrklbll/, Twitter: @mrklbll, Instagram: @mrklbll.

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