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By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

I daresay that whatever else the Covid-19 pandemic is, it is good for our prayer lives.

I’m guessing there are some people out there who haven’t bothered to utter a prayer in decades who are now on their knees almost sweating blood. No doubt the rest of us are praying pretty earnestly too.

It reminds me of the time my youngest son lost his pet frog to a case of too much loving attention. We asked him if he wanted a little graveside prayer service and we were pleased when he showed his eagerness.

We dug a little hole in the yard, put the frog’s cadaver in the hole, and asked him if he wanted to say a prayer. He nodded yes. So we told him to proceed.

Hands folded, head bowed devoutly, he prayed: “Please, God, send me another frog.”

Light years removed

Today we’re light years removed from such unfettered optimism.

We know that those lost in these terrible times are lost to us forever – now frequently without the opportunity to assure them that we love them, to hold them, to tell them goodbye.

In New York and in other places, they are dying by the hundreds, alone or in the company of strangers, often needlessly for lack of equipment that is just down the hall saving someone else’s life.

Servants leaving us

Here at the Yeshua Institute we teach S3 Jesus-like Leadership. We call people to live, love and lead like Jesus as Servants, Stewards and Shepherds.

So we believe it’s important to acknowledge the sacrifices – especially the supreme sacrifices – of people who fill those roles.

The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed and is still claiming the lives of priests, men and women religious, physicians, nurses, other medical personnel who were exposed to the merciless pestilence while ministering to others afflicted by it.

In Italy at least 60 priests, four nuns and 24 doctors have lost their lives to the coronavirus. More than 5,000 health care workers there have become infected.

Here in the U.S. the numbers are smaller – so far. But good servants, stewards and shepherds are risking their health – some making the ultimate sacrifice -- for the rest of us.

On March 31 The New York Times reported that surgeons at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan were being asked to volunteer “for the front lines because more than half the intensive-care staff had already been sickened by coronavirus.”

Two nurses in city hospitals there have died.

Recall that in China the doctor who first tried to sound the alarm about the virus – and was excoriated by government officials for doing so – eventually died from it.

On March 20 a Franciscan friar, Brother John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, 59, became Washington, DC’s first COVID-19 fatality.

This past Friday in Brookyn, NY, Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, just 49, an immigrant described as “a beloved pastor” who served the predominantly Mexican community at St. Brigid’s Parish, became the first priest in the U.S. to die from Covid-19.

Into the breach

Some of us will have the misfortune to contract Covid-19 despite all our best efforts to “socially distance” ourselves and quarantine at home.

Others – healthcare workers, priests, men and women religious, lay ministers – will go into the breach again and again in the days ahead, as they have been doing, to help the rest of us recover and survive. No doubt some of them will pay the ultimate price, just as some of their colleagues already have.

As I write this I think of a dear priest friend of mine, 83 or 84 years of age, leaving the safety of his isolated cabin in the woods to venture out to preside at yet another funeral – actually just a graveside service – hoping to provide comfort to the living as much as prayers of mercy for the dead.

He’s high risk and he knows it. But he’s a priest too. He’s been a selfless servant, steward and shepherd for 58 years. He’s not going to quit now. He doesn’t know any other way. He couldn’t say no to the survivors.

I’m praying for him and all the others – heroes in this time of unspeakable suffering.

He’s not alone.

As I write healthcare workers are boarding planes across the country, headed to the emergency rooms and ICUs in New York. A photo of one plane full of them showed them holding their hands in the shape of hearts.

We’re all in this together – but some of us are in it more than the rest.

I’m praying for all of them. Join me, please.

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