The Christmas season came to an end this week, and it still seems a blur. I’m remembering the words of Cardinal Avery Dulles, “The Incarnation does not mean that God saves us from the pains of this life. It means that God-is-with-us… Christmas gives us a drill that lets us burrow into the heart of everything, and there find it shimmering with divinity.”
The last two weeks of Advent were very different for me this year. So was Christmas and its Octave. Throughout my mantra remained, “God is Hiding in Plain Sight,” borrowing the title of a book by Dean Nelson. The book’s title included: “How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World.” I felt my world suddenly qualified as chaotic. A second part of my mantra became, “Lord, that I may see!”
Advent had been going as expected until I woke with a very slight cough on Gaudete Sunday. Three people from the church office informed me a day or so earlier that they had Covid. Feeling healthy, I went out to eat that Gaudete afternoon with my mom, my brother Sam, and my sister-in-law Jenny as runup to my birthday the next day. My mom had already made my favorite cake. Then next day—my birthday–I woke up with heavy congestion and strong, forceful sneezing, and yes, the rapid self-test confirmed, I was positive for Covid!
My concern from that point was my mom’s health. My worst fear since the Covid pandemic began in 2020 was coming down with Covid and exposing it to my 95+ year old mom. I had been as careful as I could possibly be. Now, almost three years later, my worst fears were being realized. As I quarantined, I checked on my mom every day, praying that she would be okay. Then by mid-week, she was coughing more than usual and feeling bad. A friend went over to test her, and yes, my mom tested positive. As did my sister-in-law Jenny in Tuscaloosa. Very bad news. I was especially grateful to my friend who went to test her, risking her own exposure! God was hiding in my friend’s generosity.
On the 4th Sunday of Advent I began staying with my mom since we both had Covid. For four days I had been taking Paxlovid, the highly recommended anti-viral drug, and was feeling 100% better. I even bragged about my robust Covid antibodies. I tested negative on Dec. 19th and again on the 22nd. I had done so little I had planned for Christmas, but at least I was well!
Sadly, my mom was not a candidate for Paxlovid. That Sunday night I checked her oxygen saturation level and found it dangerously low. Her doctor had made it clear my mom would need hospitalization if that should happen. After checking with the on-call nurse, I whisked her off to the hospital, hoping beyond hope something could be done to help her.
We arrived at the hospital ER about 11 PM, and the doctor decided to admit her, but there was “no room in the inn.” She was to stay in the ER until around 11 AM the next day before a hospital room became available. The nurses who attended her were extremely caring and she was relatively comfortable. God was again hiding in plain sight.
After a battery of tests, an anti-viral, and some medication, my mom was discharged on Wednesday, the 21st. She actually tested negative that night when she arrived home. My brother Michael was driving in from Houston. My mom was okay, just very fatigued after Covid and her already-bad eyesight had worsened. My family gathered for Christmas Eve at mom’s house, and I joined them after the parish Christmas Eve Masses.
We had an enjoyable evening even though my mom wasn’t feeling her best. It was late when I left my mom’s, and I was extra-tired. I was looking forward to driving to Sacred Heart the next day with Sister Margaret Mary to spend the day with the Sisters.
Christmas Day, I awoke to a surprise. I was sneezing, full of congestion, no energy. I tested Covid- positive again. I was having a rebound! I spent the day alone and feeling poorly, sleeping on the sofa, listening to all of Handel’s Messiah and watching the PBS Christmas episode of “Call of the Midwife.” The program was so touching it brought tears to my eyes and made my nose run all the more. God was truly hiding in plain sight and giving me a Christmas gift like no other. The gift of his presence. The gift of Emmanuel: God-with-me-in-this-chaos. God was giving me the grace to “burrow into the heart of everything,” and there find the shimmering grace of his nearness.
As I continue to stand convinced that “God is hidden in plain sight,” and as I continue to pray “Lord, that I might see,” I find it a bit humorous that just a few months ago I had cataract surgeries in both eyes. I’ve found that new lenses can do amazing things. Seeing life through the lens of faith, being watchful for the divine presence in the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of human life does amazing things for the soul.
By Sister Madeline Contorno, OSB