A Cardiologist Reflects on Life, Loss and the Beauty of Good Friday
CINCINNATI—For a heart doctor who is “obsessively verbal,” there is one word he
particularly savors: “theophany.” It means the physical manifestation of the Lord’s
presence. For some, this might mean a spectacular sunset or a beautiful mountain vista. For others,
these moments are more closely linked to anguish.
In his daily grind as a father, husband, son, doctor and a “pilgrim of struggling faith,” he
clings to his own theophanous moments, such as watching the human heart stop in a patient who is near
death, then sputter, then start again, regular and strong. In those moments, God is present. Theophany
is all around him.
Dr. Charles Hattemer, a nationally recognized cardiologist, writes of suffering, death and redemption
in the April issue of St. Anthony Messenger, entitled “A Doctor’s Good Friday Reflections.” In
this candid meditation, which is a reprint from a reflection he gave last year at Xavier University’s
Bellarmine Chapel in Cincinnati, Hattemer writes of the healing that arises from pain, peace that conquers
despair and eternal life that ascends from death. After March 21, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.
After pondering the beauty and mystery of Good Friday one day on a beach as his young daughter splashed
around in the ocean, Dr. Hattemer writes of how suffering is so closely linked to the human condition. “We
all have suffered, or will suffer. There are among us the brokenhearted, and those who will be brokenhearted.
We know our day will come, the day when our lives are irrevocably changed by death or suffering. Our
culture thrives on distracting us from that time, on denying that time, on filling our days with wondrous
things that can make us feel that the days of awful sadness will never come,” he muses. But,
he asserts, those days of anguish will come.
As a doctor, Hattemer knows suffering and death better than most. He writes of an older gentleman
who has weathered the grief of burying a wife, a young son and grandchildren. He surfs the Internet,
volunteers for the needy and visits sick patients in the hospital. “He is my father,” the
author writes, “and for me his whole life has been a profound theophany.”
Those moments are more plentiful than Hattemer realized. Once downhearted by the death of a patient,
he was eased of his despair by a construction worker in the hospital who expressed deep gratitude because
the doctor had treated his grandfather a decade earlier. “Now I am thankful, too,” Hattemer
reflects. “Thankful to be part of things, thankful to my new friend who gave me back a bit
of life’s meaning.”
Hattemer realizes that suffering, painful as it may be, is a part of life, just as Jesus’ suffering
on the cross meant eternal life for us all. “From out of the pain and suffering will come life.
We may not always know how, and we cannot always see it happening, but if we trust, if we can muster
up even a tiny bit of faith, it will happen.
“We pray that our pain and suffering will transform us into life,” Hattemer continues. “We
pray for faith, to find our Lord on the cross, and to find him again on Easter morning, in the full
glory of the Resurrection.”
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