November 2023 By Father Stephen Durkee, Director of Priestly Vocations Through this holy anointing, may…
Isolated but not alone
By Fr. Stephen Durkee
At the moment, I am sitting in the Dominican Republic. I am “stuck” here. By the time this article reaches print, the COVID-19 omicron surge and the new year will feel like a long time ago. But in this moment, all are very present realities. I left for vacation after Christmas, and now, I am stuck here in the DR. Why? Because omicron has found me. The United States currently requires a negative COVID test in order to fly home. The day before my flight, I went to the medical center in order to receive my “negative test.” There was just one problem; it wasn’t negative. Consequently, I had to quarantine in the DR for five days. Thankfully, those have been symptom-free days.
Now many might be OK with a forced five-day isolation period in a beautiful country like the Dominican Republic in early January; especially since Michigan is in the middle of a blizzard and already has more than six inches of snow on the day I am writing this article. But I was really looking forward to going home. I was looking forward to some of the little things like sleeping in my own bed, going to Chipotle for lunch, having an American cup of coffee, and … you get the point. But I also miss the people. I miss my parishioners, I miss the staff at St. Pius X, I miss ministry and celebrating the sacraments. Missing all these things was most palpable when during my quarantine a staff member at St. Pius X responded this way to one of my emails: “I hope you continue to feel well! Your flock misses you.
Prayers for your safe return.” Boom, there it was. I was overcome with emotion, “Lord, I trust you, but help me get home soon!”
I share all of this because I had two very powerful experiences of the kindness and generosity of the local people here at the resort during my isolation period. After hearing I would be here for a few more days, one of the ladies who had been cleaning my room prayed over me. Then she said, “God, the all-powerful God, will take care of you.” Later that morning, a server named Juan brought me breakfast and learned that I needed to stay and recover from COVID. He said a few things in Spanish (I understood none of it) and departed the room. A couple of hours later, he came back with a carafe filled with a mysterious liquid. Eventually, I was able to understand that it was tea, with other things like lemon, cinnamon, lime and who knows what else – all intended to make me well and, as Juan said, “Kill COVID!” I might have been more skeptical, but the same lady who had prayed over me stood behind Juan and mimed that I needed to drink it all.
I saw God in these two people. They did not know me, but they were willing to do anything to help me during my five days of isolation. What struck me most about these two individuals was that they did not need time to stop and think, “Will I help this guy?” or “Should I move on and do my job?” Each of them had every reason to just move on; several rooms to clean and room-service orders to deliver. I think many of us struggle at times with our own selfishness, worries, and lists of things to do. In those times, we miss the people God has placed in front of us so that we can love the person in the moment who needs it most.
Priesthood is a life that is meant to be lived for others. Even though these two hotel workers are not priests, they are perfect models of the type of other-centered love Christ calls us to show in our own lives. These two wonderful and joyful people were that reminder for me. Stop, look up and see the person in front of you; you may just see the face of God in that person. May we all continue to live our lives with so much intentionality that we love the other person immediately and without delay. May our future priests have the same pastoral zeal to love God’s holy people.
Father Stephen Durkee is director of priestly vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids and pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Grandville.