Current and retired health care professionals from around the diocese gathered Nov. 4 in the Sacred Heart Chapel of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph for a special “White Coat” Mass in recognition of their dedicated work. The Mass, which takes its name from the white coat most commonly worn by those in the medical field, was held to acknowledge the caring outreach practiced by health care professionals. The event was sponsored by the Diocese of St. Cloud, Sisters of St. Benedict, St. Cloud Hospital and St. Benedict’s Senior Community in partnership with the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. The following is the homily given by Father Tom Knoblach at the Mass.
20 years ago, I was living in Houston, Texas and going to grad school in philosophy. The study of Schopenhauer and Kant does indeed stimulate thoughts and questions … for instance: What on earth am I doing this for? Where is my life heading when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and I am reading about Dasein – being there – which ironically simply makes me think of lots of other places I would rather be?
I needed some diversion from Plato and Hegel, and so I answered a postcard on the philosophy department bulletin board, looking for a volunteer to take an older couple on local errands once a month. And that is how I met Dr. Marian Krzyzaniak in Houston. If you are a diligent student of business economics, you may have heard of him – a Polish native, a published economist, a retired professor from Rice University after some 30 years, by then largely forgotten, struggling towards the end of his life with Parkinson’s disease and cancer. Most striking, though, he had survived 4½ years in the concentration camp of Auschwitz during World War II. You could still read clearly his prisoner number tattooed in blue on his forearm. One day, as we got to know one another better, he told me the story of his arrest. He was a young officer in the Polish Army, leading a squad of his men through the woods, when they were captured. Though he spoke fluent German, he pretended not to know a word of it. So a young German soldier who knew Polish was brought in as an interpreter. Dr. K was amazed to hear this young man lying to spare him … no, he was NOT an officer, it was a borrowed uniform, this man knows nothing important. For some reason, the interrogators believed him; and after they had left, Dr. K. asked this young German soldier, “Why did you do that? Why did you lie to save me?” The young man said simply, “Because I believe in God.” There, in the face of fear and torture and the threat of death, in the midst of such a dark time in human history, the light of God’s love shone through, and Dr. K found, against all odds, one who loved him in a way that literally saved his life that day. And, while he had many other terrible experiences at Auschwitz, because it began this way, with hope and faith and a demonstration that divine love could reach even into that misery, he managed to survive where so many others did not.
This is the Love that is at the heart of all ministry – love for God that flows over into love of neighbor, and love for those around
us that leads us back to God, our common origin and end. Whether we praise God or serve one another, we are called to live immersed in this mystery of divine love, made visible, tangible, salvific … just as your patients and families and all those you serve encounter through your service, and just as Dr. K experienced it from a man he never saw before or after, and never even knew his name.
“No one dared to ask him any more questions,” Mark tells us; and indeed, questions are an occupational hazard of being human and being a disciple. We may wonder many things that seem hard to reconcile with our faith, and you deal each day with questions that admit no easy answers. Factual questions are sometimes easy enough … the lab results, the clinic hours, the room number. But there are other questions not so simple … what do I do now with this cancer diagnosis? How can I get over this addiction? Why did this happen to my child? Those are questions answered best, not with professional knowledge and the possibilities of technology and pharmaceuticals, but with compassion, human concern, a listening heart … with love.
We bring our skills and our answers to serve those who are sick, troubled, uncertain, fearful, angry, sad … but even more, we bring our questions and theirs to the mystery of the Cross, where death becomes life, loss becomes victory, and human pain becomes the occasion to reveal God’s redeeming love. Thank you for that witness … the Gospel lifted off the page, brought to life, and sharing in the healing mercy of God. Love, received and given, assures us that we are not far from the Kingdom of God.