Amid the suffering, acts of bravery are the pandemic’s grace notes

Chaplain Bill Simpson talks with a patient in the emergency room at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Shawnee, Okla, April 23, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Nick Oxford, Reuters)

It is always impressive to hear the stories of people who rush toward danger when others are fleeing. Remember Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus? He lost his life when without hesitation he rushed into the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to stop a mass shooter.

Remember Lt. Jason Menard, a member of the Worcester Fire Department in Massachusetts? He died while trying to save residents in a burning building as well as members of his own crew.

This is what heroism looks like in normal times. But in this time of pandemic, we have come to recognize how widespread bravery is, and how it resides in places we don’t always think to look.

Like my own family. My oldest sister, Mary Agnes, runs a Catholic Charities Center in Los Angeles. She serves the homeless, the undocumented and, in growing numbers, the unemployed. In one day, she and her team feed more people than they used to feed in a week.

It is difficult to do social distancing in such a setting, and she certainly isn’t locked down. What drives her each day is the great need she sees and what she feels is her responsibility to meet that need. She rushes toward those who are suffering.

My sister is one of thousands of Catholics serving in parish food pantries and Catholic charity centers. They are joined by volunteers bringing food and medicine to shut-ins or helping neighbors who are isolated and lonely. These are people who rush to serve.

I think of the many Catholics working in hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units, people like Sr. Mary Catherine Redmond. A Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she is also a physician assistant in a New York hospital that treats the underserved, a hospital swamped by COVID-19 patients.

Surrounded by the seriously ill and the dying, with too few means to help them, she kept working. “Our days are filled with stress, and our loved ones worry terribly about us,” she wrote. “People we have worked with have died, and each death makes the threat real.” Still, she rushes to serve.

Or hospital chaplains like Fr. Paul Marquis in Portland, Maine, who in the midst of the pandemic gives the anointing of the sick to the grievously ill people in his hospital. Dressed in safety gear, he has to take great care when anointing them that he neither becomes infected nor inadvertently infects others. Sometimes he can’t even enter the room. Still, he rushes to serve.

Our heroes are all about us, staffing our emergency medical services and our grocery stores, maintaining supply chains, doing medical research, even burying the forgotten dead.

Many of these stories are being told by the Catholic press. Being a Catholic journalist sometimes means reporting the bad stuff, the stories of abuse or neglect of duty, the stories of persecution and suffering. But it also means reporting about the bravery in our midst.  

And these are the stories of our Church. Our Church is more than just its institutions — its hospitals and hospices, its pantries and shelters and schools. Our Church is first and foremost its people. And it is the great honor of the Catholic press to remind us that for every bad story, there are a thousand good ones.

We aren’t promised an easy ride in this life. Our faith, in fact, challenges us to rush toward need, not away from it. But it is important to know that in our small acts of kindness or huge acts of bravery, we are not alone. These are the grace notes in a time of plague.

Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at [email protected].